Troubling Parallels

When Tuesday’s primary results led to speculation about a brokered GOP convention, Donald Trump predicted (threatened?) that an effort to deny him the nomination would be met with riots.

It is harder and harder to avoid the parallels between the improbable emergence of Donald Trump and the social and political conditions that enabled Hitler’s rise.

I’ve always appreciated Godwin’s Law. Facile or offhand comparisons of contemporary bad behavior to the holocaust–a period in human history that remains inexplicable to civilized beings–is profoundly insulting; the effect is to trivialize atrocities.

But as Godwin himself recently noted, admonitions to be careful with analogies to Hitler and the Nazis should not be taken to mean that those comparisons are never apt.

I have always wondered how Hitler gained power. Where were the good people? How did a civilized, cultured population breed a movement of vicious, violent racial “overlords”?

Like many other Jews, my antennae are especially sensitive to intolerance and bigotry–but I’m also aware that I am at risk of overreacting to thoughtless comments or to the existence of hate groups composed only of a few damaged individuals who don’t represent a broader threat.

Back in December, CNN ran a very thoughtful article asking the question: is Trump a fascist? The author, Peter Bergen, goes through the precursors to and characteristics of fascism: a sense that the nation faces a crisis beyond the reach of traditional political solutions; the asserted superiority of the leader’s gut instincts over abstract and universal reason; the belief of one group (here, working-class white men) that they are victims, and that their victimization justifies extreme actions; the need for authority to be exercised by “natural leaders” (always male), culminating in a national ruler who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny.

Bergen finds the Trump phenomenon squarely meeting those criteria. But he points to one characteristic that Trump does not share– “the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will when they are devoted to the group’s success.”

There is no hint that Trump wishes to engage in or to foment violence against the enemies, such as immigrants, he has identified as undermining the American way of life.

That may have been true when it was written, but it is clearly not true now.No one who has watched Trump deliberately fomenting violence at his rallies can have any doubt.

When he urges supporters to punch protestors in the face, when he promises to pay the legal bills of those who rough up hecklers, when the violence becomes so threatening that at least one rally has to be called off, when he speaks longingly of the days when “political correctness” didn’t prevent silencing dissent by beating up the dissenters or worse–the parallels are too close, too obvious to ignore.

And those calls for violence have been escalating.

A few years ago, one of Trump’s ex-wives reportedly said that he kept a volume of Hitler’s speeches on his nightstand. At the time, I dismissed the accusation as the product of divorce bitterness, but I believe it now.

I keep reminding myself that the United States is not Germany, and the year 2016 is not 1933. The differences matter. But the question we all face is: what can people of good will do to prevent a contemporary replay of one of history’s most horrendous periods?


  1. @Sheila

    “I keep reminding myself that the United States is not Germany and the year 2016 is not 1933.”

    To understand things better, try not to concentrate on just the year 1933. In many respects, we’ve gone past that year in the U.S.

    People of good will, in the words of Aung San Suu Kyi, “Need to raise their level of their courage.” If they don’t. Forget about the future. It’s gone.

  2. Trump’s hatred has become more and more blatant over the past weeks of his campaign; Hitler’s rise to “control of the masses” took a few years. Without the current mass media spreading of personal views of candidates and the supporting public with few facts included, Hitler had to depend on word-of-mouth to spread his venom and empty promises to gain support of the masses in Germany. He spread his Jew hating and baiting with no laws to hinder him; Trump has a larger varied victim group and, while we do have a few laws protecting minorities, he has worked his way around all of them. He is the ultimate snake oil salesman and his tent-revivals have his version of “brown shirts” to control anyone who protests and protects those who physically protest the protesters. Freedom of speech is only valid regarding Trump’s rants and freedom of the press has probably been bought and paid for with his family wealth and ill-gotten billions. He alone has managed to bastardize the 1st Amendment to the point of it being useless to the American public.

    The Republican party has disintegrated to level that would not have been tolerated 20 years ago…by either party. The differences between Hitler’s Germany and Trump’s America matter but are being ignored for reasons far beyond my level of comprehension. More than 17,000 people, across this nation, spoke out publicly a few years ago to remove Trump from the Pace Car in the 500 Mile Race here but the salvation of the entire nation seems to be less important than the pride of race fans in our local world-wide fame in sports. Trump’s rallies are reminiscent of the 500 Mile Race “snake pit” on the eve of the race before it became controlled by law enforcement.

    Trying to reason with Trump’s supporters, forget reasoning with this out-of-control fool, brought to my mind Proverbs 16:22…”Understanding is the wellspring of life for him who hath it; but the instruction of fools is folly.”

    Are we doomed? We will know in a matter of the next few months and I have little faith in our salvation. “Money talks, bullshit walks” Too many are turning their backs and walking away from the problem, refusing to become part of the solution because they support or don’t believe Trump’s level of power has any meaning for them.

  3. There are a lot of people who have been finding Trump’s rise “inexplicable,” and nobody has any idea of how far it can go. All the predictions have been wrong, while the campaigns of his opponents have mostly imploded and everything done to stop him just seems to give him more momentum. Very frightening to think about it.

  4. BBC has an article out right now – Trump presidency rated among top 10 global risks.

    “The research firm warns he could disrupt the global economy and heighten political and security risks in the US.
    However, it does not expect Mr Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton who it sees as “his most likely Democratic contender”.
    He is rated as riskier than Britain leaving the European Union or an armed clash in the South China Sea.”

    Wow, that’s saying something right there Professor.

  5. This is all very frightening. The Trump supporters that I know get even more motivated to support him every time there is some type of Trump ‘behavior issue’ made public. His supporters are yelling louder and louder by the week and they are becoming angry with anyone who doesn’t have the same beliefs.

    Sheila, your comparison of Trump to Hitler seems to be more realistic by the day. I might normally have the tendency to say that people get what they deserve. However, if he becomes President there will be millions and millions of us who do not deserve to be forced to live under his rule.

  6. Some people are standing up and speaking out. The NYC Mayor was very blunt on MSNBC last night. He called it for what it is. This Trump business is very very serious.

  7. I saw several facebook posts from people that announced “if you’re a Trump supporter, please un-friend me now. I don’t want to be associated with the likes of you.” I’m close to that point but most of my ‘friends’ don’t touch politics on facebook. I wish a few of the holy rollers would stop posting their religion though.

    Trump is a clown show; his supporters are the real problem and danger to us ALL !

  8. When good people murmur, it’s hard to hear, hard to have an effect on anything… God is not far right, nor far left… He’s dead center… Been there since the resurrection… Politics with all of its embellishments, prejudice and discrimination, murdering, greed chasing, working for the highest paying lobbyists, trampling on the rights of common people, gerrymandering, “kingdom” seeking, vote controlling (and the list goes on), etc. is what has brought this country to where we are today…

  9. We have a political movement that is oozing out of the sewers. We see it. We smell it. But we are just hoping it goes away on its own – that perhaps a spring rain will come and wash it all away. But now, it is nearing our homes and we have realized that we should have jumped in the gutter and gotten dirty when it first appeared. No one was willing to do that… it is probably too late now plus we still don’t have anyone that is willing to get down in that gutter and fight it. Most people I know are still hoping for rain… good luck with that strategy. Good luck to all of us.

  10. When I was in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, I told my wife that if (and I was not predicting it to actually happen) we were to experience an analogous phenomenon to that of Hitler’s Germany, I would have to speak out – regardless of the consequences. We have seen what happens when people are bullied into acquiescence and silence. I hope, of course, that it never comes to that. But, I must commit out loud that I will not sit quietly by if our nation starts down that path.

  11. Trump is obviously a master manipulator, but we have, as a people, given up our duty to democracy by ignoring governance, by not seeking truth, by not voting. The Republican machine that created the climate for Trump, now panics at what it has wrought.

    Though no one really knows who actually said it, one favorite quote is, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Too many have done nothing for too long. We have to find ways to defeat apathy, if we are going to survive as a democracy.

  12. “When Tuesday’s primary results led to speculation about a brokered GOP convention, Donald Trump predicted (threatened?) that an effort to deny him the nomination would be met with riots.”

    An AOL news headline this morning referenced Trump agreeing with a comment from one of his supporters after his “predicted (threatened)” riots. The comment was, “Riots are not always a bad thing.” How do you approach anyone with that attitude? Why would Trump inspired riots not be a bad thing but the riots in Ferguson, Mo, are still causing problems in the St. Louis area even to the federal level. His goon squads have been cheered “removing” protesters from his rallies no matter how violent the situation became.

    In approximately 1970 when busing school children was a major issue here, I attended the public meetings. The first was held at Arlington High School and the audience was met with SWAT members in full riot gear carrying shotguns. Ah, the good old days.

  13. Of course the fascism that Trump spreads is a result of the culture that conservatism has been advertising for decades. While many are aghast at what it has led too his rise was a product of their advertising through mass media entertainment disguised as news.

    How? America was built on a love of democratic freedom – the power to choose who governs built on respect for how. We, the people empowered by enormous respect by the Constitutional design of our government.

    Conservatism attacked that design. They argued that the design was hopelessly flawed and the power of the people to choose who was inadequate, that freedom could only come from limited government not the choice of who governs.

    Talk about an effective sucker punch.

    Effective because of the timing. They pulled this deceit off exactly as technology integrated the entire globe into one highly connected and interdependent entity.

    They created the Petri Dish, Trump’s ego populated it.

    Fascism at it’s core is religious. It is based on worship of a person and the relinquishment of control to him as necessary protection from imminent threats. Of course the fascist leader creates the threat to buy the alligiance.

    Here and now conservatism built the threats that created the fear that The Donald advertises himself as the solution to.

    Power to the people doesn’t come from limited government but from the people carefully choosing who governs. Limited government is an anathema in today’s world. Strong government is required. In fact more and more the UN, our world government, is required to pull off the collaboration that is the only hope for mankind. The Secretary of State has become the most essential public servant of the Federal Government.

    Intellectual rigor must keep the worship of an individual at bay and eventually replace it with what we’ve been led away from – respect for effective government as specified by our Constitution. Failure to do so will end the great experiment in Democracy and plunge not just us, but the world, into dark chaos.

    It is our time and turn to save the world.

  14. I wonder what he would use as his Reichstag Fire? Another San Bernardino? It would have to be Muslims (i.e., Communists) since Americans who shoot large numbers of people aren’t a threat [sic].

    I know a few nutty left-wing twenty-somethings, and from what I’ve heard I would advise Mr. Trump to stay away from whatever his version of Dallas would be.

  15. Bergen’s “There is no hint that Trump wishes to engage in or to foment violence against the enemies, such as immigrants, he has identified as undermining the American way of life.” is not quite correct. There were heavy hints from the beginning.

    Earlier on, when Trump vowed to expel the 11 million undocumented foreigners living here, a journalist (I can’t remember who) asked him half seriously how he intended to do that. He quite seriously responded that he’d employ special detachments for the job (of police? army?). Unless each and every undocumented person marched into exile meekly, violence would be logical component of this forced removal, no?

    This was of course when Trump was seen as a loud mouth clown given to outrageous declarations of intent …. instead of the in earnest psychopath we now believe he is.

  16. I am reading DARK MONEY. The Koch connections to Trump are under the surface as they are intended to be by the systematic plan of Koch and Americans for Prosperity. Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager worked for Americans for Prosperity as East Coast Regional Director of Voter Registration. The Press has focused on his Bully behavior. Little is being said about the Koch plans for organizing state and local voter revolt and how this is connected to Trump. But it is working. Tangentially, I was shocked to read about Ball State’s recent grants from Koch to fund their business program. This is exactly part of the Koch plan to influence college programs.

  17. We can stop worrying about Trump because Hillary will beat him. What we have to worry about is a brokered convention that will give us a Ryan or a post-election Trump who tasted near glory and now continues with his narcissistic/fascistic ways in preparation for the next election since he cannot bear the title loser and has the money and brown shirts to keep the battle going.

  18. America’s current challanges are not immigration or terrorism or jobs or alternate sexual orientations or religion or military prowess or trade or taxation or not that we’re not great or don’t make good deals. They are all under adequate, never perfect control.

    Our problems are preparing for a viable future through massive changes in education and energy.

    Energy because as expensive as it is to mitigate climate change it’s way more expensive to adapt to different weather.

    Education because of the explosion in what is now known vs our ability to impart enough of it to the next generation.

    Don’t let nefarious power hungry golden calfs lead your attention away from what’s essential to what’s flashy.

  19. A brilliant article and fine comments. I hope each of you is doing your part to share your thoughts with everyone you touch, especially the ones who aren’t sure about what to think. There are plenty of good people who, for whatever reason, don’t engage until it’s too late. It would be morally reprehensible for those of us who see what is happening and want to stop it to speak about the danger only in circles where everyone else knows and agrees.

  20. Trump’s early advertisements featured Nazi soldiers. He is following a fascist template for his arguments. When asked to raise their right hands if they were going to vote for him, many of his supporters raised their arms in a sig heil style salute. Because they are in on the undertone of Trump’s campaign. Trump is running on a fascist platform. He is making fun of the pc reluctance to call him out on it.

  21. There’s such a great temptation to compare, to equate Trump with Hitler; however, in fairness, there’s no record of Hitler publicly speaking about his penis.

  22. Please, don’t dishonor Adolph Hitler by comparing him to Donald Trump.

    Hitler was a decorated war hero. From what I’ve read, Trump avoided military Service.

    Hitler created a mass movement. Trump didn’t create the Tea Party. Give that honor to George Bush & Sons and the Koch Brothers.

    Donald Trump is a bully, who is using what’s call GAS LIGHTING manipulation. He has never led anyone before, except maybe in his dreams. He’s a big talker, a chiseler, and “couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag.”

    The real danger is the TEA PARTY & FRIENDS. And until there is the will to take them on, the likes of a Donald Trump presidency is a “grotesque reality.”

  23. On a serious note, have we, whether Democrat or Republican, considered drilling down into the root cause, the very basic underlying foundation of voter wants and needs that support a non-establishment candidate such as Trump? Before discounting Trump as another Hitler, I suspect Trump’s message is tapping into a long-term unspoken need from forgotten voters across the nation, and I suspect we’d do well to identify and to address this need.

  24. BSH,

    “Before discounting Trump as another Hitler, I suspect Trump’s message is tapping into a long-term unspoken need from forgotten voters across the nation, and I suspect we’d do well to identify and to address that need.”

    I agree with what you say about many things. But the one thing I have observed from your comments, in the past, is the reluctance to use RCA (root cause analysis) on examining the fascist core which lies at the heart of the Tea Party, especially since that would bring up the place of Christianity in all of this. And what Christian would want to do that?

  25. Trump has identified and given the American public permission to let all their racism hang out…he has addressed their need. They do not want to hear from the rest of us.

  26. Marv Kramer, please know I have no more comprehension, background information, or previous and current interest in the Tea Party than my 2-year-old grandson. Drawing conclusions and making inferences about a person from blog comments may be a litmus test for you, but it’s not for me.

  27. I wasn’t around when Hitler rose to power, but I have read about it and asked lots of the same questions you raise about this. My take is that WW I left German pride, its infrastructure, buildings and families badly damaged. Anger and resentment over defeat created a need for some unifying force to rally around and Hitler stepped into the void and rose to power by charismatic speeches aimed at restoring German pride that took a hit after losing in WW I.

    Jews were targeted as scapegoats. I’ve read that Hitler’s serious hatred for Jews came about after his mother’s death, which he blamed on medical malpractice committed by a Jewish doctor. I don’t know if that’s true, but there’s no evidence that German people, in general, hated Jews to the extent of planning their annihilation before Hitler came into power. Most Germans didn’t generally hate Jews after Hitler rose to power, either, but also didn’t do much to stop Hitler from carting them off to concentration camps.

    The parallels with Trump are that some people are very upset over the lack of security of our borders and the sheer numbers of illegal immigrants that keep coming with little being done to stem the tide, they resent the fact that the Obama Administration refuses to enforce immigration laws, they resent the notion that people who violate U.S. immigration laws rarely suffer serious consequences, and despite being in violation of the law, that they are permitted to live and work here, their children receive health care and an education, they resent dilution of English as our language, and so forth, all of which leads to feelings that the U.S. has lost prestige, identity and “greatness”. They also resent outsourcing of US jobs to lower-paid foreign workers. Trump’s speeches fill a need for restoring national pride just like Hitler’s did. I think it is oversimplification to call these feelings racism.

  28. BLH,

    I don’t have any other means for drawing conclusions or making inferences for a litmus test other than from this blog. Do you have any other suggestions? Have you written anything on the subject?

  29. Both Hitler and Trump labeled religious and social minorities as scapegoats for the economic and other ills of the society. Hitler and Trump encouraged violence against these minorities. Like Hitler, Trump has been comfortable supporting war crimes. Trump finally backed off when military and national security figures said our soldiers would not obey orders to commit war crimes. As someone said, Trump is a bully in a china shop.

    So far, polls indicate Trump does not have majority American support. BUT if he were the GOP nominee, I worry that one of nation’s enemies will force a scary international incident or even a domestic terror event to trigger Trump’s tough guy stance in the national media and spur more voters to support him. If I were North Korea’s unbalanced dictator, I’d much rather have a unprepared Donald Trump in the White House (who the British Parliament has considered banning from their country) than a Hillary Clinton who has a strong relationship with allies around the world.

  30. Am I the only one who is seeing and hearing a mix of Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler in the Donald Trump Show? This one really scares me!

  31. I am amazed that ‘trumpery’ is an actual word inn the dictionary (with multiple meanings). From Oxford Dictionaries website;
    1. Attractive articles of little value or use.
    1.1Practices or beliefs that are superficially or visually appealing but have little real value or worth.

    1. Showy but worthless:
    ‘trumpery jewelry’
    1.1 Delusive or shallow:
    that trumpery hope which lets us dupe ourselves

    Late Middle English (denoting trickery): from Old French tromperie, from tromper ‘deceive’.

    I am hoping that we learn the lessons of the past so as not to repeat them. It is clear that Mr. Trump is a polarizing individual who’s ‘trumpery’ invites us to eschew common sense relying only on raw, gut emotions, the source of which is our primal fear. In order to bring us to this point he must convince us that we are in dire straights, that this country is in dire straights, and that his vision is of a more prosperous future is there only solution (perhaps the ‘final solution’). He is adept at pointing to others as the cause of our problems. First you target people who are already marginalized; later you target anyone who disagrees with you.

    A huckster, in order to sell his product, words everything in way that only allows for a ‘yes’ response in us. His job is to get us to say ‘yes,yes’ over and over again. If he does this long enough there will come a time when our response, which would normally be ‘no’, is in fact ‘yes.’ That is how he sells what would normally be unpalatable ideas/doctrines/policies. If enough people continue to say ‘yes’ others will begin to fear saying ‘no’. Thus the huckster will cause a group mentality that buys his particular ‘product’.

    It seems that Mr. Trump is appealing to our baser instincts. He is giving us an irrational emotional ‘fix’ so as to hook us on his addictive fear-based drug demagoguery (aka. Trumpery). It is time for Americans to ‘Just Say NO’ to Trump. Otherwise in a few months or years we will all be going through terrible withdrawals (metaphorically speaking); or worse.

  32. Betty wrote, “Am I the only one who is seeing and hearing a mix of Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler in the Donald Trump Show?”

    Betty, yes, you’re the only one who is seeing and hearing a mix of Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler in the Donald Trump Show. And, by the way, my apologies for taking advantage of your perfectly tossed post into this forum.

    Trump is a loose cannon.

  33. Fascism has long been a part of America. When Americans decided to take the land from the Native American for “development” it was the Army and Militias that were the spear point. Marine Corp General Smedley Butler back in the 1930’s realized the Marines were the enforcer for American Corporate interests primarily in Latin American. Twenty years or so years later IKE warned us of the gathering power of the permanent military-industrial complex. Since WW 2 the USA has been the most militarily aggressive country on the planet.

    Our history has Howard Zinn has pointed out in the Peoples History, has been one of political and some cases violent suppression of the 99%. We have a rigged system controlled by a Plutocracy. They control and influence every level. Anyone who thinks the Corporations and 1% do not rule America have had their eyes and ears closed.

    This establishment has now perceived the threat of a restive population manifesting itself in Trumpism.

  34. “Anyone who thinks the Corporations and 1% do not rule America have their eyes and ears closed.”

    And, a huge shout out to non-establishment presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for speaking the truth, from years ago to today.

  35. Sheila continues to entertain, even as her brain turns to mush.

    Trump is racist? Is he as racist as the white people who took over the ONS and Herron-Morton, and threw out all the black people? Is he as racist as IUPUI, the leadership of which is 99% white?

    Obama violated the damn War Powers Act by invading Libya. That’s a very low hurdle, one which he skipped. No president has ever violated the WPA.

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