Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again. –Bertolt Brecht
In the last few Trump news cycles (and, yes, they are all Trump news cycles) we’ve seen left-wing thugs disrupt Trump rallies, right-wing thugs retaliate, and the Great Leader himself settle the matter by declaring, “No more Mr. Nice Guy,” darkly hinting at organized revenge. We’ve seen allusions to Hitler tossed around in the form of comparisons between Trump’s rallies and some of National Socialism’s more successful soirées in the early 1930s, and the inevitable chorus of denunciations from Trump and his surrogates who, invoking the Donald’s long-standing commitment to civility and balance, dismiss such suggestions as shrill and over the top — as if it were ridiculous and hysterical to see thuggish, bellicose encounters, straight-arm salutes, and loyalty oaths as anything more than youthful hijinks.
In the midst of these nose-on-your-face events, some students of history and other 2+2=4 types have publicly asked if Trump is in fact exploiting exactly the same kinds of forces that have propelled strongmen to power throughout history — Hitler being but the most obvious example — and wondered aloud if we can’t learn something from the comparison. The typical response runs a very short gamut from eye-rolling to derision and contempt.
One reason for this is it’s typically considered the hallmark of unserious and irresponsible argument to invoke Hitler or Nazism as a way of objecting to a contemporary figure or political program. In fact, Godwin’s law, an Internet canon if ever there was one, goes so far as to suggest that any such comparison is proof you’ve lost the argument. This is why we usually associate such people with lifetime occupants of the crazy paddock, like Ward Churchill, who famously called 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns,” or Keith Olbermann, whose “You’re a fascist” paroxysms about George Bush have their own chapter in the DSM.
That said, there is another, older, law, Occam’s razor, that indicates we should prefer the simplest theory that adequately accounts for all the facts over more elaborate ones. In the current context, that roughly translates to, “If it goosesteps like a duck, there’s a pretty good chance it’s a duck”.
So it could be that Trump is just a misunderstood agrarian reformer whose random, bellicose and often chaotic effusions mask a die-hard constitutionalist with a steel-trap mind. Or it could be he is exactly what he seems.
To help sort this out, let’s put on our Man from Mars glasses, suspend fears of being called insensitive or a lunatic for a moment, and consider the following:
[Insert name of strongman here] is narcissistic, pugnacious, and thin-skinned, with an almost obsessive need to settle scores. He expresses himself in vulgar, brutish, and often incoherent ways, and surrounds himself with equally thuggish people whom he routinely appears to encourage with a wink and a nudge to violence. He demands unquestioned loyalty and is ruthless and persistent in his punishment of anyone who falls short of that mark. He taps into the rage and disillusionment of a people thoroughly disgusted with their own government, and trades in solutions that are short on specifics but long on emotionally satisfying rhetoric, might-makes-right nationalism, and scapegoats. There is nothing in his past that suggests any regard for, or commitment to, the primacy of his country’s constitution or even basic rule of law. In fact, one his greatest selling points is his implied ability to sweep such obstructions aside and “get things done.”
I could go on, but you get the point. You could plug Hitler, Mussolini, Chavez, Castro, Mao, or even farm-team members like Huey Long into that template and not miss a beat. Please tell me where and how Trump wouldn’t be a perfect fit. If research is required I would recommend the public record, the behavior of his operatives, the culture of his campaign, his recent pronouncements in debates and rallies, or any random twenty minutes of his Twitter feed.
“So you’re seriously saying Trump is as bad as the guy who killed six million Jews?”
No, I’m not.
All analogies ultimately all break down, or they wouldn’t be analogies. Their only purpose is to demonstrate similarities in different events and suggest reasonable extrapolations based on those similarities. There are always differences; when two events are alike in every respect, you don’t have an analogy, you have a tautology.
Which is just a hifalutin’ way of saying that yes, it’s reasonable to suggest that current events and public figures are similar to the forces that brought Hitler to power in the 1930s, although it does not necessarily mean that it all ends up at Dachau or Bergen-Belsen.
It’s worth noting, though, that however benign a form of fascism Trump might bring to the party, it will still invariably lead to social and economic misery and the creeping loss of freedoms. And no amount of eye-rolling will make that go away.