How Trump Follows in Hitler’s Footsteps

Trump Follows Hitler“The right-wing elites were confident they could use him to their advantage,” Jennifer Szalai’s book review starts off.

The book’s subject “was ridiculous and vulgar, a tin-pot demagogue instead of a smooth politician, but he knew how to excite the nationalist base and deliver a whopper of a speech.” No matter, “conservative politicians assured one another that they would still be the ones to pull the puppet strings.”

Added the reviewer, “Needless to say, the adults in the room overestimated their own powers of containment.”

No, the book’s not about Donald Trump. It’s Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich. Written by Peter Fritzsche’s, Szalai reviewed it for The New York Times.

Don’t pop a vein, Ever Trumpers. Szalai didn’t say your guy’s another Hitler.

Hitler had a private army of murdering goons to help boost him to power in 1933. But more than a few Americans are concerned that these scattered, far-right-wing, assault-rifle toting militia groups will spring to arms on Trump’s behalf if he loses in November.

“To be clear, I’m not arguing that this will be the thinking of your average Republican voter,” Paul Waldman recently wrote in The Washington Post. “But it doesn’t take a large group of extremists who decide to commit to actions that for now are only threatening to bring us to a level of domestic right-wing terrorism we haven’t seen since the Jim Crow era.”

I haven’t read Hitler’s First Hundred Days. But based on Szalai’s review, Fritzsche didn’t liken Trump to Hitler either. Nonetheless, some parallels are unmistakable, if different by circumstance and degree.

Hitler and the Nazis didn’t just suddenly foist themselves on Germany. Their willing accomplices were many, if not a majority, of non-Jewish Germans.

Hitler and the Nazis didn’t just suddenly foist themselves on Germany. Their willing accomplices were many, if not a majority, of non-Jewish Germans. (Nor did Hitler invent anti-Semitism. He exploited it all the way to the Holocaust.)

Anti-Hitler Pastor Martin Niemoller famously wrote: “First they came for the Communists/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Communist/ Then they came for the Socialists/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Socialist/ Then they came for the trade unionists/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a trade unionist/ Then they came for the Jews/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Jew/ Then they came for me/ And there was no one left/ To speak out for me.”

“Don’t just blame President Trump. Blame me — and all the other Republicans who aided and abetted and, yes, benefited from protecting a political party that has become dangerous to America,” Republican strategist Stuart Stephens recently wrote about Trump and his incompetent and bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic’s outbreak in The Washington Post. “Some of us knew better. But we built this moment. And then we looked the other way.”

There’s no doubt Trump is the GOP master puppeteer. From Mitch McConnell down, almost every Republican politician dances to the president’s tune at the end of his strings. They’re scared not to, lest Trump sic the “Keep America Great” red hatters on them.

Germany’s “right wing elites” were scared of Hitler’s mesmerizing power over the masses, too. But rightists, especially business and industry owners, found him a convenient, if crude, means to their ends. They loved it when he destroyed Germany’s powerful free trade unions. Armaments manufacturers gleefully reaped huge profits using low-wage workers and Nazi-supplied slave laborers to build and fuel Hitler’s war machine.

While fearful of Trump, Republican “right-wing elites” have found him handy, if boorish, for delivering tax cuts mostly for rich people like them (and Trump), appointing right-wing judges, busting unions, easing worker safety and health rules and anti-pollution regulations and bolstering the long-running alliance between Wall Street plutocrats who vote their economic interests and rural whites who vote on the so-called “social issues,” which one of my union buddies calls the “Three Gs–God, guns and gays.”

On the campaign trail, Trump fired up “the nationalist base” by pandering not just to xenophobia and nativism, but also to racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and religious bigotry. He meant for his almost entirely white base to translate “Make America Great Again” as “Make America White Again.” They didn’t disappoint.

Trump is counting on the politics of fear and resentment of “the other” to win him another term.

Trump hasn’t been able to muzzle “any press that showed ‘contempt’ for” the president and his policies. But Trump never misses a chance to smear the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people,” a favorite slam of totalitarians, including Hitler.

“Indispensable to the Nazi takeover was the radio,” Szalai wrote. “After Hitler’s appointment as chancellor they resolved to make the most of this direct channel to citizens. Fritzsche describes how the broadcasts were calibrated for maximum emotional effect.”

Besides rallies that remind a veteran journalist of the ones pro-Nazi movie director and actress Leni Riefenstahl filmed in Germany in the 30’s, Trump relies on right-wing radio and Fox News as his “direct channel” to his base. “…Fox is — by design, and to its core — a right-wing propaganda apparatus that relies on misinformation, disinformation, and outright bigotry to promote the conservative movement and Republican Party,” wrote Matt Gertz in Media Matters. “It’s long been a propaganda outlet, and now it’s merged with the White House.”

Trump gave Rush Limbaugh, the latter day Father Coughlin and current king of hate radio, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “Donald Trump is honoring Rush Limbaugh with the highest civilian honor America can bestow, specifically because Limbaugh spent decades calling feminists ‘Nazis’ and liberals ‘traitors,’ so that when real Nazis and traitors appeared, they were well-camouflaged,” Common Dreams quoted writer A.R. Moxon.

Trump’s also is fond of accusing the mainstream media of spreading “fake news” about him. At a Trump rally on the 2016 campaign trail, some of the faithful shouted Lügenpresse at reporters. A Nazi favorite, the slur means “lying press” in German.

Click here to watch and hear “Unfiltered Voices From Donald Trump’s Crowds” compiled by New York Times, a prime target of the president’s “fake news” charges.

In addition, Fritzsche, according to Szalai, explained that the Nazis drummed up “support by cultivating the electorate’s paranoia and gullibility — two traits that are more compatible than they sound. Nazi propaganda helped to stoke a general feeling of unease, or what the chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels called dicke Luft, the ambient sense that ‘trouble is brewing.’”

Conning credulous voters is Trump’s stock-in-trade. “What is happening now is the inevitable result of a party that embraced fear, weaponized xenophobia and regarded facts as dangerous, left-wing landmines that must be avoided,” Stephens also wrote

At first, the president dismissed the coronavirus pandemic as a hoax perpetrated by the “fake news” media and the Democrats. While he’s changed his tune somewhat, more than a few Trump true-believers still think the pandemic is phony and another conspiracy hatched by Democrats and the media to get him out of the White House.

“Hitler also promoted the idea of Volksgemeinschaft, or “people’s community,” and appealed to a gauzy nostalgia for the outset of World War I, which Germans remembered as a time of national unity and collective strength,” Szalai wrote.

Trump appeals to whites who pine for a long-gone America where straight, white Christian men dominated politics, business and society, where wives were doting helpmeets to husbands and stayed home to rear the kids, where African Americans were invisible men and women, where Latinix stayed south of the border and where LGBTQ folks stayed in the closet.

“One common excuse for the electorate’s embrace of Nazism was economic hardship,” Szalai wrote. ” As Fritzsche points out, though, such suffering was unequally distributed; the unemployed tended not to vote for the Nazis, but the ‘well-to-do burghers’ did.”

After the 2016 election, much of the mainstream media, scrambling to interpret Trump’s gobsmacking win, mainly concluded that most whites voted for Trump because of economic anxiety. Never mind that the newshounds had scant empirical evidence to back up their assessment.

In time, scholars dug deeper into the election results, conducted scientific studies and concluded that racial resentment was the chief motivator for most Trump supporters, nearly all of whom are white. Click herehere and here.

More studies revealed that poor whites don’t make up the bulk of Trump’s base. Better-heeled whites do, many of them conservative Christian evangelicals, a big Trump demographic in my end of Kentucky and elsewhere in my home state.

Citing two researchers, the New York Times’ Thomas B. Edsall wrote that “the surge of whites into the Republican Party has been led by whites with relatively high incomes — in the top two quintiles of the income distribution — but without college degrees, a constituency that is now decisively committed to the Republican Party.”

“Fritzsche’s book minutely describes this nationwide slide from credulous delusion to a willful embrace of catastrophe. Just as pernicious as the lies the Germans were told were the lies they insisted on telling themselves,” Szalai concluded her review.

“Many have accused [Trump]…of showing fascistic impulses in his contempt for the administrative state and eagerness to upend the liberal international order, his hyper-nationalism, militarism, populist sympathies, cult of leadership, misogyny, racism and political showmanship,” wrote historian Victoria de Grazia in The Guardian in 2017. The author of several books on fascism, she concluded that Trump is just another reactionary Republican.

So maybe Trump’s not an American Hitler. But Stephens isn’t about to let the president or his enablers off the hook. “Yes, elections have consequences,” he warned. “Those of us in the Republican Party built this moment. Now the nation must live with those consequences.”

Berry Craig

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DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the LA Progressive, its publisher, editor or any of its other contributors.

About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and a member of the state AFL-CIO Executive Board. He is working on his ninth book on Kentucky history–this one on Kentuckians at Pearl Harbor. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 41 years.

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