This is not going to be a post in which I defend Donald Trump’s candidacy for President. On both a policy and personal level, I believe that the man is fundamentally unqualified for the Presidency. It’s not just stylistic, not just that he comes across like a narcissistic buffoon. As Matt Bai put it recently, his complete inability to apologize for anything, to ever, under any circumstances admit he’s wrong, ever, about anything, is probably, all by itself, disqualifying. And like most political commentators, I find many of his policy proposals completely and utterly appalling. There’s not the tiniest possibility of me voting for him.
But I don’t think we should call him a Nazi, or a fascist, or compare him to Hitler. I have seen many such comparisons lately, both on social media and by professional journalists, and even now, recently, in an ad for John Kasich, one of his opponents for the Presidency. I’m not just saying this on tactical grounds. Donald Trump has many supporters, people who agree with him and find his brash populism rather bracing and courageous, who think he’s just what the country needs right now. Those people are not Nazis, and don’t appreciate being called Nazis. Simple civility would suggest that everyone should cool it with the Trump/Hitler comparisons.
But, again, that’s not the main reason I’m writing here. We shouldn’t call Trump a Nazi because he’s not one.
Adolf Hitler’s regime murdered nine million people, most of them German citizens. They were murdered because they were Jews. They were also murdered because they were gay, or Gypsies, or because they were mentally or physically challenged. The Nazis absolutely defined how evil a state can become. God willing, we shall never see their like again.
Donald Trump, when announcing his candidacy for President, said this:
When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. (Applause). Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting.
Those comments are appalling, and they’re false; they’re factually inaccurate. Trump has subsequently proposed building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and forcibly deporting all undocumented workers in the US, with the added provision for some of them, the ‘good ones’ to return if they want to. This is a preposterous, completely unworkable, utterly unnecessary proposal. I cannot speak out against it strongly enough.
But that’s not what Hitler said and that’s not what Hitler did. Hitler, repeatedly, in public and private, in his writings, and speeches and in interviews, called for the complete annihilation of Germany’s Jews, and Europe’s Jews. Once he came to power (which he did legally, in a free election), he began harassing Jews, falsely accusing Jews, putting restriction after restriction on their activities, arresting them, finally, systematically murdering them. He said, over and over, that he intended to eradicate all Jewish people from Europe, and then he tried to accomplish it. He came pretty close. The Holocaust is pure evil, evil personified. Trump wants to deport Mexicans. That’s deplorable, foolish, morally repugnant. It’s also not what Hitler said and not what Hitler did. Not even close.
More recently, Trump, without quite saying so directly, has suggested that he would be open to requiring American Muslims to carry religiously-specific identification papers. He said mosques should be carefully scrutinized, and, when asked by Stuart Varney of Fox Business News if he would close mosques, replied, “I would do that. Absolutely. I think it’s great.” The idea of forcing members of a religion to carry IDs does have parallels in Hitler’s Germany. It’s certainly a ridiculous, blatantly unconstitutional, dangerous and foolish thing for a Presidential candidate to suggest. Hitler’s actions, though, were part of an overall plan, leading to whole scale murder, which Hitler was, again, quite open about. Trump is simply overreacting to terrorism. The fact that he’s moronic enough to think that marginalizing and persecuting American Muslims would be an effective way to fight ISIS is disquieting enough; it is in addition a completely disgusting idea. We won’t do it, we shouldn’t do it, and we should certainly never go so far as to vote for anyone that silly. But let’s keep our responses proportional. At worst, Trump seems willing to entertain policy ideas that, far more brutally, Nazis actually implemented. That doesn’t make him a Nazi.
Finally, at a Trump rally, a Black Lives Matter protester tried repeatedly to interrupt Trump’s speech, and was beaten up by Trump supporters. Said Trump later, “maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” The liberal website, Daily Kos, called Trump a fascist, and said his comments sent a signal that violence was okay.
What I think the Daily Kos writer was referring to was Hitler’s early paramilitary followers, the Sturmabteilung, the SA, who wore brown shirts and were therefore known as brownshirts. (They got the shirts in bulk and for sale; WWI surplus). The SA started beating up hecklers at Hitler’s speeches as early as 1919. They carried rubber and metal truncheons, and regularly beat up Social Democrats, communists, or anyone who publicly denounced Hitler. They walked the streets in large groups, looking for, and causing, trouble. They even had a word for their favorite pastimes: zusammenstöße. ‘Collisions.’ Eventually, of course, Hitler realized his party was essentially being defined by these thugs, and so, on June 30, 1934, on the Night of Long Knives, Hitler ordered the murder of SA leader Ernst Röhm and other SA luminaries: 150-200 men altogether.
In contrast, Trump supporters beat up one guy. That’s utterly deplorable, completely wrong. I’m astonished that law enforcement didn’t identify and arrest all those responsible, charge ’em with assault. That still can and should happen, and Trump should call for it. The fact that he hasn’t, again, reveals his fundamental unfitness for high office. But Trump’s followers aren’t brownshirts. It’s a matter of proportion. Hitler had a gang of paramilitary thugs at every speech, committing hundreds, probably even thousands, of acts of violence. Trump supporters beat up one guy at one speech. I’ll grant that there are similarities, but with exponential differences of frequency.
Trump’s not Hitler; his policies are not really Nazi policies; his followers are not fascists. We don’t have to go there, and shouldn’t. Trump is an obnoxious blowhard, with horrendous policy proposals. We shouldn’t vote for him, and we should call out his worst ideas on their merits (or lack thereof). He is a successful businessman, and a candidate with ideas sufficiently attractive to some that he leads in the polls. His followers like his call to ‘make America great again,’ and consider his more incendiary comments nothing worse than refreshing candor. We don’t have to compare Donald Trump to the most singularly demonic personality in history. Let’s civilly and thoughtfully explain why we disagree with him, why we think his Presidency would be bad for America. Let’s try reason first. And keep our use of historical parallels (Huey Long? Nathaniel Banks? William Lawrence Scott?) modestly and precisely accurate.