Just about every unpopular politician has been compared to Adolf Hitler. So much so, in fact, that calling Donald Trump the Fuhrer may have lost some of its power somewhere along the campaign trail.
Yet, one historian who has closely studied Adolf’s life and wrote the book Explaining Hitler, Ron Rosenbaum, has finally come out to say that, yes, Donald does have a lot in common with one of history’s most hated men.
Ron stayed relatively quiet during the election despite several solicitations to share his thoughts on the rise of Trump, hoping that what he called the “simple-mindedness” of the candidate would lose out to a discerning electorate. Furthermore, Rosenbaum was hesitant to compare anyone to Adolf in fear of downplaying the Holocaust. Hitler’s bloodthirstiness, he thought, could not honestly be compared with Donald’s lack of integrity.
Yet, Ron’s latest piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books has a much less forgiving message: Adolf rose to power through the forces of complacency and normalization, something that must be firmly combated with Trump. In particular, Rosenbaum focuses his criticism on one specific similarity: Hitler and Donald’s relationship with the media.
Adolf had an especially acrimonious relationship with German newspaper Munich Post, where reporters heavily criticized the rising politician, from his early days to when they were completely shut down in March of 1933. Before its closure, Hitler and his followers pillaged the paper’s offices multiple times and were suspected to have ordered attacks on its journalists. Later, some of them even ended up in a concentration camp at Dachau.
It’s really terrifying how accuarate the comparisons of Hitler to Donald Trump are closely similar to one another pic.twitter.com/zgCkzle1Kj
— Karen???? (@karenkaren82) January 29, 2017
Even as others tried to place their faith in democracy and give Adolf his chance to lead, the Post would not bend. Ron describes Hitler as a shapeshifter, able to appear a strongman or an incompetent depending on which version suited his goals. It’s here that Rosenbaum sees the most striking similarities with Donald Trump.
“As it turned out, Adolf Hitler used the tactics of bluff masterfully, at times giving the impression of being a feckless Chaplinesque clown, at other times a sleeping serpent, at others yet a trustworthy statesman. The Weimar establishment didn’t know what to do, so they pretended this was normal. They ‘normalized’ him… it was truly the stupidest move made in world politics within the memory of mankind.”
Seemingly impossible policies became less and less outrageous as the public adjusted to each seismic shift, says the historian. Once those watered-down versions of the original proposal seeped through, there was no stopping them. As Adolf slowly expanded his reach, he was always able to pull back just enough to diminish his threat to the rest of Europe.
A common talent for theatrical showmanship is another major way that the historian views Hitler like Donald. As opponents scoffed at Trump instead of treating him like a threat, he was able to manipulate even bad press in his favor. In the age of information overload, his ability to grab attention was his greatest asset. Ron Rosenbaum argues that this strategy was very much intentional.
“We didn’t take him seriously because of all the outrageous, clownish acts and gaffes we thought would cause him to drop out of the race. Except these gaffes were designed to distract. This was his secret strategy, the essence of his success — you can’t take a stand against [Donald] because you don’t know where Trump is standing. You can’t find him guilty of evil, you can’t find him at all. And the tactics worked. [Donald] was not taken seriously, which allowed him to slip by the normal standards for an American candidate.”
The Explaining Hitler author is far from the first person to make the connection between Trump and Adolf. Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, recently said that all of Donald’s wall talk was “exactly how Hitler started out.” The Koch brothers, known for being the biggest single conservative fundraising force, have repeatedly spoken out against the president, even conceding that another Clinton may have been better. One of them, Charles, recently spoke out on ABC News against Trump’s policies targeting immigration from some Muslim-majority countries.
“Well, obviously that’s antithetical to our approach, but what was worse was this we’ll have them all register. That’s reminiscent of Nazi Germany. I mean that’s monstrous as I said at the time.”
Not everyone is quite as eager to link Donald and Adolf. In a Washington Post article that investigated how Germans feel about comparisons between the two, the reporter found that Germans are less likely in general to say anyone is like Hitler. In fact, Justice Secretary Herta Daubler was forced out of office in 2002 after comparing George W. Bush with the Fuhrer. Invoking his name is much more common in the United States or elsewhere in Europe.
German historian Thomas Weber, who has released several books about the Third Reich, is skeptical about the effectiveness of calling anyone Adolf. Used so commonly against Trump and other unpopular public figures, it doesn’t have quite the bite that it once did, and, even worse, it may generate sympathy for such figures, he told the Post.
“There is a ‘crying wolf’ danger of an inflationary use of Hitler comparisons, for instance, that nobody will take Hitler comparisons seriously anymore when they really should and have to be made. The danger also is that people will rally to defend the people who unfairly have been compared to [Adolf] and feel sorry for them, rather than to figure out what’s wrong with them.”
Discerning historians have also been careful to frame Donald in a modern context. Even if Trumpism is fascism, one can’t quite draw a perfect line between America’s new president and the ideology’s proponents of the past. Apart from that, Hitler might not always be the most apt subject. In a column for Salon, Bellarmine University professor Fedja Buric argued that Trump is actually much more like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, but still unique to our current global climate.
“The Fascism analogy is admittedly not a perfect fit. When it comes to ideologies, no analogy is. This is because ideologies change through time… [yet] just like the overuse of historical analogies should not make us too quick to embrace them, a search for a perfect ideological replica of interwar Fascism should not blind us to its ugly re-emergence in 2016.”
Is Donald Trump like Adolf Hitler, or has the comparison devolved into lazy slander?
[Featured Image by David Ramos/Getty Images]