Trump is the new Hitler……really?
It was almost inevitable that as Donald Trump inches towards the Republican presidential nomination, voices would be raised comparing him with Adolf Hitler.
Much as I would be happy to see Trump unveiled as Satan himself if it helped to remove him from the political stage, he isn’t the devil, or the Antichrist for that matter.
But another Hitler? It’s easy to understand why, at least on a superficial level, there are those who liken him to the Fuhrer. Xenophobia, lies, rabble-rousing rhetoric and an angry personality are all trademarks of Trump, just as they were Hitler’s.
But here’s where the similarities break down:
Hitler started with nothing. He had very little formal education. He came from a petty bourgeois family. Unlike Trump, he didn’t inherit a multi-million-dollar fortune, or benefit from an Ivy League education. About the only similarity between their early lives was that both had overbearing fathers. Want and privilege tend to produce entirely different psychoses.
Hitler created a grassroots organisation. From his early twenties, he was in politics. After the First World War, he created a network of followers who faithfully spread the word over a decade, even while the man himself was in jail for his part in the Munich Beer Hall putsch.
Before 2015, Trump, on the other hand, had only dabbled in politics; he achieved little except when lobbying politicians for his own interests. Even if you could describe his current following as grassroots, his organisation relies on his money, making his organisers effectively employees. Should he end up in jail as the result of his business failures, you couldn’t imagine any of his acolytes keeping the flame alight while the leader was busy scribbling his manifesto in a prison cell.
Hitler’s agenda was to subvert the state. From the formation of the Nazi party onwards, he was never squeamish about taking down institutions and people that got in his way.
As for Trump, it’s easy to imagine that as president he would use his executive powers to the limit in order to ride roughshod over those who get in his way. But amend the constitution in order to shift the balance of power in his favour? I don’t think so. He wouldn’t get the necessary support. Effective as he is at campaigning, manipulating the levers of power beyond the bounds of the constitution is another matter altogether.
Hitler’s political focus was narrowband. Trump’s is broadband. Whereas Adolf banged away at the Jews, the Communists and the Western powers that humiliated Germany at Versailles, Donald mouths off in all directions – at Muslims, immigrants and any other target that suits his purpose. Both sought the resurgence of their nations. But Hitler’s focus was ideological, whereas Trump’s is opportunistic, as witness his frequent changes of position over time. Nazism was coherent enough to be treated as a political philosophy. There is no Trumpism.
Hitler was a war veteran. He won the Iron Cross twice, was wounded in battle and served in France for the entirety of the First World War. While many of his contemporaries were serving in Vietnam, Trump was studying at Wharton Business School and subsequently working in his father’s property business.
Hitler created a personal mystique based on writing, speaking and action. He wasn’t subject to the scrutiny of the internet, the social media and TV as he built his myth. For him, less was more. He could point to his war record and his leadership of the Munich putsch to establish a reputation for personal courage and direct action. His private life was carefully guarded. His indiscretions were kept secret.
Trump, on the other hand, lets it all hang out. He is a living, breathing brand. His wealth, his marriages, his children, his likes and dislikes and his personal eccentricities are on view across the internet for all to see. Hitler didn’t have to deal with public debate about the size of his hands, and, by implication, of his sexual organs, even though he probably had more to be defensive about on that score than Trump.
Hitler’s acolytes developed power bases in their own right. Subject only to absolute obedience to the Fuhrer, men like Himmler, Goering and Goebbels were able to create fiefdoms of their own with a high degree of autonomy. Trump’s assistants are largely anonymous. The only person in the spotlight is him.
Hitler was 44 when he came to power. Trump is 69. It’s reasonable to suppose that whereas Hitler’s best years were theoretically ahead of him, while Trump faces only physical and mental decline. Hitler looked forward to perhaps another thirty years in power. Unless Trump uses his money to unlock the secret of immortality, he has a maximum a decade before he enters his dotage. No thousand-year Reich in prospect for Donald.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the two is that Trump is clearly not the monster Hitler was – but whereas the Fuhrer took six years to destroy half of Europe, a President Trump could destroy the world in a matter of minutes.
Much as Trump’s detractors would like to fix the equation of him as a modern-day Hitler in the minds of American voters, the comparison doesn’t stand up. Encouraging supporters to raise their arms at rallies, and persuading his Secret Service minders to remove protesters do not make him a would-be fascist dictator.
Countering smears with smears will not neutralise the man. His opponents will have to be smarter and more principled than that.