Donald Trump and Hitler: Part II
I had already written a reply to an email from a reader of my blog in Miami asking for my take on the comparison of Donald Trump to Hitler before I wrote Part I. My reader cited Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s piece on the Hitler-Trump comparison and he personally thought that the Rabbi was dead-on in his criticism of various Hitler-Trump comparisons in a 7 March op-ed in The Jerusalem Post. Shmuley Boteach, a Lubavitcher orthodox rabbi with an amazing proficiency for self-advertisement and self-promotion that makes Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself look like the product of an amateur, is the author of such best sellers as Kosher Sex, Kosher Jesus and Kosher Lust. Just this past week in the Canadian Jewish News (10 March 2016, p. 50), he enjoyed a full page Q&A session, but nothing to do with his criticisms of comparing Trump to Hitler.
In criticizing those who compare Trump to Hitler, who is Shmuley taking on? There are a plethora of candidates, but he specifically cited Louis C.K. and Darrell Hammond on Saturday Night Live, Colin Jost, Weekend Update’s co-host, and Bill Maher on his late show. C.K. wrote, “the guy is Hitler… Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all… [Trump’s] an insane bigot. He is dangerous.” The Daily News wrote a story on “SNL takes on Donald Trump’s racist supporters and endorsements; comparing front-runner’s campaign to Nazi Germany.” President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico compared Trump’s pursuit of office to Mussolini and Hitler: that’s “how Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in.” I could not find where The Daily News had on its front cover, “Trump is Hitler” as Shmuley claimed. Further, Shmuley insisted, correctly, that the others “made comparisons between Trump and Hitler, but after running through the episodes, I could not find anywhere where they simply equated Trump with Hitler.
C.K. came closest, but it is clear from the context that he was claiming that Trump was Hitler with respect to his disregard of the truth. In the op-ed piece, Shmuley argued that the comparisons of Donald Trump and Hitler were “disgusting” and “vile.” They were “an affront to decency, the Jewish community, the victims of the Holocaust and to Trump himself.” Describing something said about and not by Trump as “an affront to decency” alone has to wake any reader from his somnolent state since Donald Trump is currently hailed generally as the greatest assault on decency by a public political figure in the United States. Does comparing Trump to Hitler trivialize the genocide of the Jews as Shmuley claims? Recall that Shmuley himself was forced to apologize when he claimed that, “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide.” He criticized Susan as “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the U.S. and Israel.
In none of the pieces cited could I find any hint of a suggestion of any trivialization of the Holocaust. Of course, Trump is not Hitler. Of course, there is no comparison between Trump and Hitler’s anti-Semitic quest to exterminate the Jews. No one suggested any such comparison. Absolutely no one I read had even hinted that Donald Trump is “a Republican presidential candidate… running for office to perpetrate genocide.” Shmuley seems to have the same propensity as Donald Trump to play fast and loose with facts and citations. When comparing Trump to Hitler, there never, as much as I have read or seen, been any comparison between Hitler exterminating the Jews and Trump’s desire to exterminate anyone. And what has the whole problem of comparing Trump with Hitler have to do with falsely charging Israel with “genocide” when it counters the missiles Hamas aims at Israel with rockets of its own?
It is also irrelevant that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an orthodox Jew and that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism or that Donald Trump has orthodox Jewish grandchildren. Whether or not the comparison between Donald Trump and Hitler is either valid or valuable, these assertions disqualify Shmuley as a reasonable critic of such comparisons. There is a fundamental rule in comparison, and in analogical argument more generally. Analogy may be the weakest form of argument, but when it is well done, it can be both funny and enlightening. But it must obey one simple rule. Comparisons should not be general.
Shmuley claimed that, “Comparing Trump to Hitler trivializes world war, genocide, the one-and-a-half million children gassed by the monster, and is a vulgar attack on the good citizens of the United States who are being accused of getting behind a murderer. Try telling someone who lived through the concentration camps and lost their entire family to the Nazis that Trump is Hitler.” But no one that I read or heard ever said, “Trump is Hitler.” Instead, as is appropriate in analogical argument, they compared specific traits or sets of traits. And this is precisely what valid comparisons are about.
Shmuley not only does not understand the nature of analogical argument, not only denies both the veracity, utility and value of those specific comparisons, but attributes qualities to Trump, like a great many others, that Donald Trump does not seem to possess. For example, Shmuley credits Trump with “straight talk”. Trump’s speeches are direct. They are plainly spoken. But they lack the one essential character of straight talk – honesty.
Examine Donald Trump’s speech when he announced his candidacy. Are any of these accurate about the most powerful and richest state in the world today? “Our country is in serious trouble.” What is the source of that trouble? Is it that there is a growing gap between stagnating middle class incomes and the dramatic increase in the incomes of the rich? Is it because America has not been quick enough off the mark in reversing the trend to despoiling this planet? Is it because there are still far too many Americans, even with Obamacare, who do not have adequate health insurance? None of these. “We don’t have victories any more.” That does sound like something Hitler might have said.
However, the closest comparison between Hitler and Trump is the reverence for a strong leader and the assertion that he was the only candidate for that strong leadership. Trump when he announced he was running to be the Republican candidate for the American presidency said, “Now, our country needs – our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal.”
And who are the military leaders he admires. The ones who flouted civilian authority over the military. “[W]ithin our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work. Nobody, nobody will be pushing us around.” The Donald does not appeal based on his detailed knowledge of the issues, but on an appeal to the guts and the fears of Americans. “Trust me. I’ll get the job done. I’ll take care of you. I’ll negotiate the great deals that will protect Americans unlike the vacuous existing leaders in the Republican party and the dead end that they have led the membership into.”
After he cancelled his Chicago rally on Friday, he told Don Lemon of CNN, echoing Senator Marco Rubio, that, “No one understands immigration better than I do.” Trump said, “No one understands protests better than I do. I have had protesters at my construction sites. I have had protesters at my… Believe me, no one, and I mean no one, understands protesters better than I do.” Is that why he corralled and kicked out of his rallies any protester who dared to raise a sign? Is that why he cancelled the Chicago rally because 400 or so protesters turned up at is rally, too many to manhandle without causing a riot?
Trump in his hyperbolic mode of speech called America a loser in everything it did over the last seven years. There were no victories. Trump would ensure that the U.S. would have a record of victories when he became President. If Trump was referring to an absence of diplomatic victories, the Iran nuclear deal was a victory. On the military front, the war against ISIS in Iraq will be over in another year. In economic terms, Trump declares that, “China kills us, beats us all the time.” But China via the trade deal became the third biggest market for American exports. Further, America has exported high-priced services to China, services that have grown by about a third each year over the previous one. The excess trade in services dwarfs the China’s surplus trade in material goods. American investors have reaped enormous profits from their investments in China. America has exported high-value added items while it imports disproportionately low-valued merchandise. Yet Donald Trump declares that China “is our enemy” while he declares he loves China, but insists their leaders have outsmarted Americans in “how to make a deal.” The reality is that the American Congress and the U.S. President, given their deep divisions, have not been able to protect those negatively affected by the new globalized trade system.
Trump is so clearly totally ignorant of international political and economic affairs as when he declares that China is solidifying its economic and political influence in Iraq from which the U.S. has withdrawn. Quite aside from the fact that the U.S. is still very much politically and militarily active in Iraq, what Chinese scholar of contemporary Chinese foreign affairs would declare China to be active in Iraq? China does have important investments in Iraq, particularly in the oil sector. Beijing has a very watchful eye to ensure its oil wells largely in the south remain outside ISIS areas of control. China, after all, was the largest importer of Iraqi crude oil, 22% of all Iraqi exports (India was next at 19%.) Virtually all of this production where Chinese oil companies conduct business is still distant from the conflict zones, but China has been very wary. However, wariness does not entail China becoming active in Iraq.
China’s only significant presence in Iraq’s eruption of terrorism has been the discovery that one Chinese citizen joined ISIS. Ironically, China generally agrees with Trump that the U.S. became bogged down in a terrible quagmire in Iraq and China has stayed away to allow the U.S. to be eaten away by the seeds of destruction that it sowed. The only relevant point of all this, insofar as Donald Trump is concerned, is that he has absolutely no compass to discriminate between the truth and outright falsity. In that respect, he is directly comparable to Hitler. For Trump, “If I say it, it is true,” except if I say the very opposite the next day
Trump is the champion of the attacks on lies, obfuscation and cover-ups. Though I strongly disagree with his proposed policies, particularly the same attacks he makes against free trade as Bernie Sanders, the difference is that Trump insists he is a free trader. “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid. We have people that aren’t smart. And we have people that are controlled by special interests.” I applaud the fact that just as Trump has set the standard for dishonesty, Bernie Sanders has set a standard for honesty and challenging mendacity even though I disagree with his attacks on free trade while I agree with his criticisms that those details did not protect or retrain the workers affected.
Trump is a nativist protectionist and harks back to a mercantilist international economic order. He has politicized economic and trade issues in his advocacy of protectionism and making a better deal. Instead of arguing for enhanced trade in goods, capital transfers, technology and services, Trump shouts slogans – “get a better deal!” At least Bernie Sanders as an unqualified anti- free trader is consistent. The reality is that neither Trump nor Sanders really believes in a multilateral trading system. Trump believes in walls and containment, confrontation rather than cooperation, rivalries rather than partnerships.
Trump declares that China’s currency manipulation and other trade practices have crippled the ability of the U.S. and other countries to compete worldwide. He calls China a “big abuser” for keeping its currency artificially low and making it impossible for America to compete. But the yuan has increased significantly in value in relation to the American dollar over the last decade, though, more recently, the yuan has fallen in value relative to the American dollar as the Chinese market slowed and the Chinese government has not adequately intervened to stimulate the economy. “They’re devaluing their currency to a level that you wouldn’t believe. It makes it impossible for our companies to compete, impossible. They’re killing us.” “Our leaders are not smart. Our leaders are being laughed at in China.”
Donald Trump is also a hypocrite. One of his Trump Towers was heavily financed by Chinese investors in a cash for visas scheme. Hitler may have demonized Jews, but Trump demonizes Mexicans, Muslims (immigrants in general and even women), and, as in the above example, the Chinese. The target for demonization may be different, but the practice of demonization and blaming others and the weakness of one’s own leaders in response for all problems is both a Trump and a Hitler trait. It is not as if the disrespect for truth has not become an integral element to American political life, but since McCarthy I know of no other political leader who has brought political discourse deeper into the gutter.
Derrick Peavy from Atlanta believes that Trump may very well become president, and may also have done the best job of pinning the tail on the donkey. We have not been watching debates in the Republican race, with the possible exception of this past Thursday, that have been anything else than examples of competitive sports and entertainment.
The audience and the entire country all know that you’re not in a debate. They all know that you are standing behind one podium and there is a monkey behind the other podium. You are the only one who doesn’t know it. And so you start talking, and the moderator asks Trump (the monkey) for his reply. And the monkey looks around, makes a few noises, then reaches back behind his back, shits in his hand and throws it in your face. The audience is roaring and eating this schtick up. And you stand there shocked. You’re simply stunned and thinking of a comeback, but the audience is eating it up. You see, they didn’t show up for a debate. You are the only one who showed up for a debate. And any time you reply or say anything, the monkey just shits in his hand and throws it in your face again. And the joke is on YOU!
That’s what Hitler did. He threw shit around and degraded both public discourse and respect for the truth though he generally avoided vulgar language. He just celebrated vulgar violent behaviour. The one thing Trump has been correct on is that the plutocrats in the Republican Party have sold Americans a bill of goods. Trump himself has bought into some of it – climate change is a hoax, the Second Amendment must be absolute so everyone can buy a gun – but he has thrown a spanner in the works by exposing the power of special interests, by disagreeing with the Republican dogma of damning Planned Parenthood as the epitome of evil, and insisting that Obamacare must be universalized instead of selling out to the insurance and drug companies – shades of Bernie Sanders.
Why did Trump not immediately separate himself from David Duke and the racist neo-Nazis in the U.S.? Why did he initially plead ignorance, blame his ear piece and finally offer such an avuncular statement disavowing that racist support? The answer is not that he is a racist, but that he lacks any sensitivity to racism. Further, he may even know that many of his supporters have been deeply upset and resentful that a Black man captured the presidency. And serious discourse is suborned to populist celebrity culture. Bernie Sanders has the same populist appeal, but for opposite reasons. He insists that the top 1% not be forgiven for the devastation they have wrought on the American economy, that Bill Clinton introduced by cancelling the controls and regulations of the banking sector.
The absolute prerequisites for good governance are honesty and integrity, accepting real responsibility and not blaming others, and accountability and verifiability. Donald Trump is severely challenged on all these grounds – as was Hitler. Without the gyroscope of truth, the Big Lie becomes the standard, the bigger the better. And so begins the moral degradation of a great republic. When it is fueled by ultra-nationalism – make America great again – and by xenophobia, we have the beginnings of a great tragedy. The irony is that history has turned on itself and the middle class worker has become the bastion of the neo-fascism in both Europe and America while ideological anti-Semites in the guise of anti-Zionism have become the foundation of the radical left. Who would have thought that fascism and eventually socialism when they were driven into their graves, the latter, even in its various non-communist guises, would be resurrected in such monstrous and perverse emanations. The new black beast for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is both globalization and mobility, because the direction of the latter is viewed only as downward and the expansion of the former is viewed as exclusively at the cost of the native-born.
Accompanying the whole process, we have witnessed the vulgarization of public space. Angela Merkel is called a “whore”. Donald Trump boasts of the size of his penis. The authenticity of citizenship of Barack Obama has long been questioned by Trump; he was at the centre of the “birther” movement. He is the political leader closest to Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary, promoting nativism at the cost of multiculturalism. It is no surprise that Donald Trump claims he can get along with Putin.
Last Wednesday evening in the Florida debate between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both were asked by the co-moderator, Karen Tumulty, whether Donald Trump was a racist. Clinton said she had called Trump out. “Basta!” (In Spanish, “Stop”, that’s enough.”) “You don’t make America great, by getting rid of everything that made America great,” she continued, leaving it up to the American public to decide. Bernie Sanders came closer to an explicit answer when he cited Trump’s leadership in the birther movement and the demand that Barack Obama produce his birth certificate (which Obama actually already had). Sanders added, “Nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate; maybe it has something to do with the colour of my skin.” But Bernie could have gone beyond Trump’s insults of Mexicans, Muslims and Black Americans by citing Trump’s own answers, though perhaps he did not because it is difficult to find confirmation from more than one source for many of them:
- when a New Mexico mob attacked a family of illegal immigrants, Trump assured Americans that when the wall went up (and Mexico paid for it) there would no longer be a reason to attack
- though some Mexicans he assumed are good people, Mexicans migrating to America have lots of problems; they bring drugs; they are rapists
- make the real [my italics] America really great again
- when mosques were burned across America, he insisted tempers would cool when a temporary freeze went into effect banning Muslim entry into the U.S or travel between states without a special permit
- the sporadic violence in Alabama between white supremacists and African Americans was just “a legit argument”
- he called reporters liars when they brought to his attention anti-Jewish signs being held aloft at his rallies beside anti-Muslim signs.
- he had nothing to say when ultra-orthodox Hasidim were insulted and driven out of one of his rallies near Albany
- to a meeting of Jewish businessmen, he began with a vulgar joke and stereotype – ‘I am in the right neighbourhood because I know how to make a deal’
- Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim anti-Semite – Jews belong to the Synagogue of Satan – and leader of the Nation of Islam, praised Trump for telling Jews that, “I don’t want your money’.”
- After days, “OK, I disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan; are you satisfied?” .
There was no need for equivocation. Donald Trump is a racist even if he has grandchildren who are Jewish. He practices the politics of resentment and appeals to emotional despair rather than any real vision. In that respect, he is directly akin to Hitler. This is not the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy (Godwin’s law) and Trump is not a pussycat compared to the neo-fascists in Europe. He is just an American version of an Erdoğan or a Putin. So while it is quite correct to compare Trump to Hitler is specific respects, it might be wise to heed the advice of the German historian and authority on Hitler, Thomas Weber: “First and foremost, it (the comparison) is a distraction. The problem is that the moment someone brings up Hitler in a political discussion, in a way it’s the end of the political discussion, because then it turns into a discussion over the comparison rather than substance. That said, to answer your question, on a tactical level there are great similarities between the early rise of Hitler and Trump. But we should not forget that beyond the tactical level there are huge differences and that ultimately the danger that Trump poses is rather different from the threat posed by Hitler.”
Weber went on to write:
Both (Hitler and Trump) present themselves as anti-politicians with a great degree of tactical flexibility, whose rhetoric is to fix America and to fix Germany. Both basically say that if we go on the way we are, America or Germany will not survive in the form that we know it. So there is a similarity in the rhetoric, also in the early anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I am not talking here about the 1930s and 1940s, but the kind of anti-Jewish rhetoric of post-World War I Munich where there were demands to drive Eastern European Jews out of Germany. Here, there are great similarities. Another similarity would be that precisely because of their tactical flexibility, both Trump and Hitler are difficult to make sense of, as a result of which they become a kind of canvas on which people can draw their own image of Trump and Hitler, both positively and negatively.
And what are the differences?
The modes of politics of Hitler and Trump are fundamentally different. For Hitler, every compromise that was not a tactical compromise was a rotten compromise. So in that sense he defied the rules of politics. For Trump, ultimately a compromise is what you do… So I think in that sense the similarity lies more in the rhetoric than in the substance.
It is also important to bear in mind that the Trump we know very much represents everything Hitler hated about America – this kind of billionaire who had made his money, not from something productive, but from either finance or gambling. What we often forget is that, for the early Hitler, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism were as important as anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism. So in that sense there is also a major difference between the two.
The biggest difference – which takes me back to my point why the Hitler comparison may distract from the real danger that Trump poses – is that Trump is ultimately a demagogue and a populist. He will say whatever it takes to get elected and then to stay in power. In the most positive scenario, this would mean that once in power he may not be the type of President we like, but he would ultimately turn into something moderate. The reason why I don’t think this is going to happen is that Trump, by being a populist and a demagogue, is destroying the very fabric upon which American politics operates. And that is an extremely dangerous game…
My point is, Trump isn’t Hitler, but things won’t be fine. In Hitler, you have someone who is destroying the rules of the game in order to replace them with either no rules at all or right-wing/fascist rules of survival of the fittest. In the case of Trump, it is more of a reckless, tactical game, where Trump is outwardly using the rules of reality TV shows in order to destroy the existing rules of American politics. The real danger is that Trump would apply the rules of reality TV to international affairs once he was President and by so doing destroy the international system and make an already volatile world far more dangerous.
May God bless America.
With the help of Alex Zisman