Comparing Trump and Hitler: Apt, or Hyperbolic and Offensive?


Given the unexpected success of Donald Trump in the current US primaries, and the increasing violence and vitriol at Trump rallies, I am seeing more and more articles and memes comparing Trump with Hitler. Together with this spike, I am also seeing a fair amount of push-back, often from Jewish Americans, saying that this comparison is at best Godwin-ing, at worst disgusting, hyperbolic and a slap in the face to the millions of people who died during the Holocaust.

Now I agree that there is a certain amount of hyperbole going on when some people talk about Trump. I don’t think that every open-minded American should flee to Canada with their hair on fire if Trump wins the primaries. I don’t think, if Trump wins the general election, that concentration camps filled with Muslims and Latinos will become the new normal in the USA. However, having said that, I also don’t think that this is what most people who make this comparison think, either. We can be so shocked, so floored by the magnitude of the devastation of the Holocaust that we forget that this actually happened, in real life, not too long ago, and that certain rhetoric and economic circumstances paved the way for it to happen.

For me, this first line from an editoral in the Washington Post put it best:

Like any number of us raised in the late 20th century, I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump’s rise, I now understand.

We need to remember that Hitler did not just pop up in Germany like a badly mustachioed little mushroom, snap his fingers and then, suddenly, millions were dead. His rise to power was progressive, and it started with overt nationalism, scapegoating a group of people, and fomenting hatred. In his early days, many thought that Hitler did not really mean what he said, that he was just tapping into populism to gain attention and votes. It turned out that he was far more extreme than any would have believed.

Once again, this is not to say that I think Trump is, or would have any intention of, walking in Hitler’s footsteps. What I am saying is that the whole point of learning from history is to catch the early signs of terrible things happening. You’re not learning from history if you idly wait around for fascism to take root, wait for the body count to match up, and then say “O.K. now we can compare this to the Holocaust” while simultaneously scratching your head, looking around and asking “Well golly gee, how did we let this happen again?!”.

Turning patriotism into something ugly, inciting hatred, normalizing racist rhetoric, riling people up to mob violence, these are the early signs of fascism. And these are exactly the things that Donald Trump is doing.

And if you truly want to learn from history, you need to nip them in the bud.

You need to unapologetically point at them and say That! That is fascism! We’re NOT going down this road again! That is not. fucking. cool. We’re not having that.

You don’t need to think that Trump wants to bring back the gas chambers. You don’t even need to think that Trump means any of the horrific things he says. However, I think it is clear that he his paving the way for real fascism to take hold by pretending that his racist rhetoric is simply a legitimate political view worth discussing.

And in that way, I think that the comparison between Trump and Hitler is a valid one to make. Not Hitler in the height WWII, but in the sneaky way that Hitler gained popularity and eventually power.

I may be speaking from a point of privilege when I say this, as I am not Jewish, but I do not think that making this comparison trivializes the lives lost during the Holocaust. If anything it should show that people are paying attention, and will not let that same kind of hatred take root again, before it is too late.

Comments

  1. says

    I think there’s a way to use Hitler or Nazi comparisons, but most times people make them, they’re just done to be hyperbolic which in turn kind of wears down the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
    If losing your blue tick on Twitter is “just like Hitler”, if blocking someone on Twitter is “just like Hitler”, if (ironically) demanding you don’t use slurs is “just like Nazi Germany” then after half a million times when small silly things are compared to probably the worst crime in human history, people’s brains can’t help but associate “Holocaust” with “ridiculously small thing” and “Nazi Germany” with “people not kissing your ass”.

    That doesn’t mean you should never talk about it or accurately point out similarities. That’s a good thing and we need those things. Saying “Trump is just like Hitler” is offensive to the survivors and descendants of the Holocaust because Trump hasn’t and probably won’t kill millions of people. Saying “the rise of Trump shows parallels to the rise of Hitler” is at least a statement you can discuss based on the facts.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      That is the distinction I was trying to make. The way he incites the mob, the way he exposes the dangerous underbelly of the country, the speech, that is where the parallel can be made and, in my opinion, should be discussed.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    his racist rhetoric

    I keep seeing people talking about Trump’s “racist rhetoric”, then comparing him to Hitler. He’s of German ancestry – Let’s Make Donald Drumpf again, lest we forget. Comparing him to Hitler isn’t racist, though, because reasons.

    I’m also not seeing the racist rhetoric. He’s all for deporting illegals, and keeping out illegals, and his opening bid on how to do it sounds crazy ambitious, which is exactly what I’d expect from a salesman. Yet he doesn’t seem, from his rhetoric, to be against legal immigration. He’s for controlling, not stopping the influx. By all means, refer me to where he’s said he’s against legal immigration, and explain how he squares that with the birth nationality of his wife. And his first wife, for that matter.

    Most damningly, the Holocaust aside, Hitler’s most notable characteristic as a leader was aggressive military expansionism. Drumpf, so far, has been expressing pretty much the diametric opposite of that, wanting to leave Syria for Russia to sort out and so on. There is an American leader who has been calmly and on his own express orders extra-judicially murdering foreigners by remote control without due process, but his skin isn’t that strange orangey colour Trump seems to be – it’s rather darker. You’d never trot the Hitler analogy out there, though (unless, perhaps, it was your wife and family killed in a drone strike, but then if you’re that kind of person, nobody cares what you think because you don’t get a vote).

    • doublereed says

      The hell are you talking about? He’s for “mass deportation” which sounds a lot like the Armenian Genocide to me. He’s spoken positively of the Japanese Internment camps of WWII. He’s called huge portions of the population murderers and rapists. He’s openly called for more violence, saying that we’re too nice to protesters nowadays. And of course his open flirting with Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.

      He’s talked about a ban on all muslims into the US. How is that only being against “illegal immigration”?

      Actually, on the military side, he’s more similar than you think. Hitler was aggressive militarily to his neighbors. Trump wants to use the military to intimidate Mexico.

      Your comparison to Obama makes no sense, frankly. Drone strikes may be hideous and horrible, but how is that similar to anything the fascists or Hitler did? They certainly didn’t have drones. Where is the Hitler analogy? Trump is openly calling for a return to a time of greatness with appeals to violence and scapegoating. He’s been targeting protesters and journalists with an attempt to intimidate people’s free speech. That’s fascism, man.

      • sonofrojblake says

        I notice, so far, no answer to this:

        By all means, refer me to where he’s said he’s against legal immigration

        Struggling?

        Meanwhile, are you seriously suggesting you can’t tell the difference between sending illegal immigrants back to their country of origin (and providing an expedited return for those who can show they’re contributors), and EXTERMINATING large numbers of them? That really is offensive hyperbole, and does your argument no good at all. You just come across as unhinged.

        He’s talked about a ban on all muslims into the US. How is that only being against “illegal immigration”?

        At the risk of sounding patronising, two points:
        1. if Muslim immigration is made illegal, then yeah, he’s only against illegal immigration. Making laws like that is pretty much the business of government.
        2. Muslim immigration won’t be made illegal. That statement was an opening position. Drumpf WILL roll it back to something lesser. It’s called “negotiation”.

        Trump wants to use the military to intimidate Mexico

        Ludicrous. Really – you’re comparing Trump pointing out that Mexico has got NOTHING on the US military, especially after he’s beefed it up, with Hitler actively INVADING MOST OF EUROPE. By all means, point to where Trump has said he’ll invade Mexico. Just Mexico – I don’t need any evidence of further expanionist ambitions, towards Canada, say. I don’t need you to show that Trump has ambitions to pile through Mexico and keep going through Guatamala, Honduras and Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Because that’s the kind of ambition you’d need to show for any credible comparison with Hitler. Just one quote where’s said he’ll invade Mexico, or even realistically implied it.

        Drone strikes may be hideous and horrible, but how is that similar to anything the fascists or Hitler did? …Where is the Hitler analogy?

        Read this line again, since you apparently didn’t last time: “calmly and on his own express orders extra-judicially murdering foreigners by remote control without due process”. I might additionally point out that these strikes are being carried out in countries with whom the US is not at war – indeed, including countries which are nominally allies. Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, among others, have all been subject to US extra-judicial killings – and it’s not like they’re even that accurate.

        Now admittedly, Obama has only order a few thousand deaths, not millions. But hey, you can’t tell the difference between a bus ticket and a gas chamber, so cut me some slack.

        • doublereed says

          Meanwhile, are you seriously suggesting you can’t tell the difference between sending illegal immigrants back to their country of origin (and providing an expedited return for those who can show they’re contributors), and EXTERMINATING large numbers of them? That really is offensive hyperbole, and does your argument no good at all. You just come across as unhinged.

          This is the exact same thing as the Armenian Genocide. It was a genocide under the guise of mass deportation. That’s not unhinged. That’s just history.

          And it’s not just illegal immigrants. A mass deportation of that magnitude would of course make mistakes and deport citizens as well. He has argued against the 14th Amendment, the thing that gives birthright citizenship. You are ignoring his words on this if you think it’s only illegal immigrants and noncitizens.

          1. if Muslim immigration is made illegal, then yeah, he’s only against illegal immigration. Making laws like that is pretty much the business of government.
          2. Muslim immigration won’t be made illegal. That statement was an opening position. Drumpf WILL roll it back to something lesser. It’s called “negotiation”.

          1. If people are stripped of their citizenship and then deported, that doesn’t count as deporting citizens? This kind of legalistic and “WELL TECHNICALLY” attitude does you no favors. Really not an argument at all.
          2. Oh I’m so glad you’re so willing to negotiate with basic human rights.

          Ludicrous. Really – you’re comparing Trump pointing out that Mexico has got NOTHING on the US military, especially after he’s beefed it up, with Hitler actively INVADING MOST OF EUROPE.

          He didn’t invade Europe immediately…?

          Seriously, do you actually think the people of 1932 knows what happens in 1937 or 1942? You’re right, maybe we won’t invade Mexico. We’ll just annex it. That’s a nice technical difference that you’ll latch onto I’m sure.

          Read this line again, since you apparently didn’t last time: “calmly and on his own express orders extra-judicially murdering foreigners by remote control without due process”.

          Once again. Uhh… Hitler didn’t have remote control. And killing remote foreigners is not any sort of aspect of fascism. I’m not sure what you’re getting at. We’ve bombed the shit out of numerous countries over the years in disgusting and horrible ways. In fact, your quote could easily refer to a simple political assassination.

          Now admittedly, Obama has only order a few thousand deaths, not millions. But hey, you can’t tell the difference between a bus ticket and a gas chamber, so cut me some slack.

          I can’t imagine Trump using drones in warfare. If anything, Obama’s precedent means that Trump would have far more legal power for killing people.

          I notice you didn’t mention the whole “internment camps” comment that Trump made. Interesting.

          • sonofrojblake says

            This is the exact same thing as the Armenian Genocide. It was a genocide under the guise of mass deportation

            So you confirm that your position is that you know, because reasons, that when Trump says he’s going to deport illegals, he actually means he’s going to have them killed, in their millions, in the USA in 2017.

            You are crazy. I don’t have anything I can say to you that can penetrate that.

            If people are stripped of their citizenship and then deported, that doesn’t count as deporting citizens?

            One link, please, to where Trump has suggested that.

            I’m so glad you’re so willing to negotiate with basic human rights

            NEWSFLASH: immigration to the USA is not a basic human right.

            Hitler didn’t have remote control

            Sure, he herded all those Jews and homosexuals and gypsies and disabled people into the gas chambers himself, personally, and locked the doors with his own hands. Welcome to the world of the English language, where “remote control” doesn’t necessarily mean an electronic means of effecting the operation of a machine from a distance, but can also mean, y’know, being in CONTROL of something while it’s happening in a place REMOTE from where you, personally, are. (If, as I suspect, English is not your first language, I apologise for patronising you with this explanation).

            I can’t imagine Trump using drones in warfare

            I. Just. What? You mean. But. The. He. Drones!

            Against some pretty stiff competition, this is the craziest thing you’ve said. Please – expand on it, because I can’t think of a single explanation for this sentence that makes any sense.

          • doublereed says

            Dude, mass deportation is not a humane act. It’s not just giving people bus tickets. You are woefully naive of reality if you think that’s the case. And yes, there’s no way to do it practically without deporting citizens accidentally (or without caring).

            One link, please, to where Trump has suggested that.

            I was merely trying to follow your idiotic technicalities.

            Sure, he herded all those Jews and homosexuals and gypsies and disabled people into the gas chambers himself, personally, and locked the doors with his own hands.

            This is not what Hitler did to rise to power. This is what he did when he actually got power, and even then it wasn’t immediate. And as I have repeated over and over again, Trump has spoken fondly of the Japanese Internment camps. Trump is directly advocating for “herding” people into camps. We were missing the gas chambers, but considering the advocacy of violence and torture that Trump utters constantly, this isn’t at all far from possibility.

            Welcome to the world of the English language, where “remote control” doesn’t necessarily mean an electronic means of effecting the operation of a machine from a distance, but can also mean, y’know, being in CONTROL of something while it’s happening in a place REMOTE from where you, personally, are.

            Again, the verbage you’re using could describe literally any foreign military operation or assassination. It is not what describes fascism or even military expansionism. It’s just not the same thing.

          • doublereed says

            And unlike you, who keeps ignoring my argument of Japanese Americans, I’ll be more complete.

            One link, please, to where Trump has suggested that.

            Trump advocates against the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship:

            “I don’t think they have American citizenship,” Trump said last week, referring to the children of undocumented immigrants. “And if you speak to some very, very good lawyers…you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship.”

            Okay? Yes, Trump wants to strip people of their citizenship and deport them. The only reason you don’t know this is because you aren’t paying attention.

            I. Just. What? You mean. But. The. He. Drones!

            Obama uses drones in hideous ways. But he hasn’t used them internal to the US, he hasn’t used them on our allies, etc. etc. I have no idea why you think Trump would show any restraint when it comes to drone usage.

  3. StevoR says

    Actually when it comes to survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust) a number have been speaking out against Trump for instance :

    “I am exceptionally concerned about demagogues,” the 85-year-old Weiss told me at Wednesday’s commemoration at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “They touch me in a place that I remember. I know their influence and, unfortunately, I know how receptive audiences are to demagogues and what it leads to.”…(snip).. And for the first time, Martin Weiss hears echoes of his youth. “The guy scares me,” he said after listening to the ambassador’s tribute. “I don’t want to make any comparison to Hitler, but believe it or not his delivery and the way he conducts himself is very similar to Hitler’s way of doing things.

    Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/in-the-age-of-trump-grim-warnings-from-holocaust-survivors/2016/01/27/c65ea38c-c549-11e5-8965-0607e0e265ce_story.html

    And there are others too including even Anne Frank’s author and Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Yes, the first step of fascism is when you take a group of people with relatively little money or power, and tell them that all of their problems are caused by another group with even less money and power. That was literally Trump’s opening move in his presidential campaign.

    The second step is the cult of personality: “I don’t need to tell you exactly how I’m going to do the things I say I’m going to do. I’ll just tell you I’ll do them, and you can trust me because I’m such a great guy.”

    The third step is a big emphasis on personal strength and ruthlessness because that’s what it will take “to get the job done.”

    The fourth step, which we are now seeing, is to encourage a culture of violence amongst ones’ followers.

    Two points are all you need to draw a line — once you have them, you can see where the line is heading. We now have more than enough points to fill in the rest of the trajectory. It’s time to call a Fuhrer a Fuhrer.

  5. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To OP:
    Trump like Nazis and Hitler. Is that claim offensive? Yes. Many truths are offensive. Exaggeration? Maybe, but not by much. Is Trump an out and out fascist? Definitely.

    To Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-:

    Saying “Trump is just like Hitler” is offensive to the survivors and descendants of the Holocaust because Trump hasn’t and probably won’t kill millions of people. Saying “the rise of Trump shows parallels to the rise of Hitler” is at least a statement you can discuss based on the facts.

    How do we know that? Plenty of Trump’s vocal supporters / allies seem quite open that they want the legal death penalty for gays. Trump is a fascist. That is not debatable IMHO.

    I think that’s your being much too sanguine and unconcerned, given the facts.

    I need to quote what doublereed said above for emphasis: (see above for the embedded links):

    The hell are you talking about? He’s for “mass deportation” which sounds a lot like the Armenian Genocide to me. He’s spoken positively of the Japanese Internment camps of WWII. He’s called huge portions of the population murderers and rapists. He’s openly called for more violence, saying that we’re too nice to protesters nowadays. And of course his open flirting with Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.

    He’s talked about a ban on all muslims into the US. How is that only being against “illegal immigration”?

    Actually, on the military side, he’s more similar than you think. Hitler was aggressive militarily to his neighbors. Trump wants to use the military to intimidate Mexico.

    Further on aggressive military expansionism, Trump has talked about taking Iran’s oil, taking Iraq’s oil, and taking Libya’s oil. So he’s in favor of that as well.

    • says

      I said “he probably won’t”
      Because reasons. One of them being that so far it’s not even sure he’ll be the Republican candidate, much less the POTUS.
      Trump has fascist tendencies, yes. He’s still not “like Hitler” because being “like Hitler” always has the entirety of the Holocaust behind it. As I said, analysing in which ways he’s similar to Hitler is a good thing to do.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Plenty of Trump’s vocal supporters / allies seem quite open that they want the legal death penalty for gays

    You could say the same about Cruz. In fact with Cruz’s strong religious support, I’d say that’s way more in Cruz’s ballpark than Trump’s.

    Trump is a fascist. That is not debatable IMHO

    You’re entitled to your wrong opinion, of course. It has to be debatable, unless like Humpty Dumpty you simply define “fascism” to mean whatever you want it to mean. Orwell said the word was entirely meaningless as early as 1944.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      Ok. Trump is a narcissistic, populist, asshole who appeals to his audience through extreme nationalism, extreme xenophobia, and promises of authoritarianism. At his campaign rallies, Trump publicly encourages his audience to commit violence against their political opponents. Trump has made calls for mass deportation of the target class, Mexicans. Hitler used the same rhetoric initially. Trump has utterly demonized the target class, Mexicans, as rapers and murderers. Trump has used similar rhetoric against Muslims. This is not incidental to Trump’s platform. This is the entirety of Trump’s platform.

      For the first time in my life, I can see concentration camps as actually happening in America in my lifetime. That hasn’t happened in America for the last 70 years. I don’t want it to happen again. I also don’t know if today’s America can show the same (relative) restraint and “kindness” that we showed to the Japanese in American concentration camps. Today, when Trump is promising to torture our enemies, with clear and explicit language, i.e. worse than waterboarding, I am afraid that worse might happen.

      If you are not afraid, then you are not paying enough attention.

  7. A Hermit says

    The thing about fascism is that it takes different forms in different places; German fascism was distinct from the Italian which differed from the Spanish version…

    Fascism isn’t an ideology so much as an approach to power, relying on anger, nativism, scapegoating and a strange combination of appeals to both revolutionary fervor and fetishizing of tradition. I’m inclined to agree with Robert Paxton here (well, he knows a lot more about the subject than I do, so…) There are definitely elements of all those in Trump’s campaign, but I don’t know that it’s organized enough to count as an actual fascist movement yet.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2016/3/15/father_of_fascism_studies_donald_trump

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