[Caveat emptor: I first composed this essay in June 2016. Now, precisely two years later, babies are being ripped from their mothers’ arms and incarcerated away from their frantic parents, justified by a grotesque citation of Biblical passages. The President plays kissy-kissy with maniacal megalomaniacs while friends and allies are scorned. Time to look back before we look forward.]
We try to restrain ourselves from announcing that Donald Trump could be the next Hitler and that his followers might be Nazis in training. We are cautious, but we refuse to be in total denial. We who have witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust still have good reason to believe that Trump’s incitement of his minions bears too close a resemblance to the hate mongering and lies of 1930’s Germany.
But, even if we err to the side of caution and do not proclaim Trump a Hitler wannabe, the time has come to come to introduce the word “ominous” into our vocabulary. Ominous events, like the ones that creep up on us today, are built from a growing stack of nefarious coincidences that sooner or later comes back to haunt us with spooky premonitions.
Anyone looking at Germany in the 1930’s, must admit to the ominous parallels to the volatile situation in the US, 2018. So again we ask, “What is ominous, the machinations of a demagogue, or the anger and alienation of the everyday man?” The obvious answer is “both.” Hitler had a jumble of evil, misanthropic visions stirring in his head.
He drew many addled ideas from teachings that opened doors to his vision of world dominance and supremacy of the German Weltanschauung. His Mein Kampf, written early in his adulthood and while incarcerated, became the bedrock of the idealization of German people and culture, and at the same time, the barbaric Final Solution. Time, place, and attitude were ripe for its implementation.
Trump’s magnum opus, “The Art of the Deal,” is no Mein Kampf. Yet, it is also an ominous foundational declaration built on the pedestal of self-aggrandizement, world engulfment, and the dehumanization of “others.” It is the taproot of a misanthropic tyrant’s mean-spiritedness and profound disregard for the social order. Trump’s keynote, as for Hitler, is narcissism gone wild.
What elements of Nazi Germany’s ascendancy should send shivers up our spine in 2018? Xenophobic identification of enemies by race, different-ness, and outside-ness. Ominous assertions of American triumphalism. Cocky but inane strategies to (re)gain world dominance. Bloodlust. Misogyny. Ominous master plans to eliminate undesirables – today walls, tomorrow ships, then presumably “concentration camps” of barracks in the desert.
And then he is shaping alienated people into mobs who are united by stamping, growling, jeering, and calling for the decimation of their foes. A short fuse kindled by outrageous streams of curses, epithets, and derision. Berlin, 1935? Or today’s rally tours?
The ultimate tactic of fear, one that ominously links Trump to Hitler, is the vaunted “Big Lie.” It has been around forever, but was employed most effectively by Hitler and perfected by Trump. Each of us has been flummoxed by the Big Lie at one time or another: Repeat over and again the most implausible lie loudly and with conviction. Sooner or later, dumb people will come to believe it. Eventually, the big shots will too. Period.
Hitler’s Big Lie, directly from the pages of Mein Kampf, became the backdrop for the Holocaust and Final Solution. Today, ominously, no one uses it more effectively than Trump: Go and assert a radical proposal. Then lie and deny, lie and deny. Tell them that seeming errors are just willful lies of the enemy. Lie and deny. Rinse and repeat.
Maybe Hitler is an eerie foreshadowing of Trump. And perhaps we are simply witness to a domino-effect of events and diatribes so coincidental that we are obliged to read them as “ominous.”
We and even our children live in the shadows of worldwide genocide and unbridled hatred. It can happen again. If it does not precisely follow Hitler’s vision, there are a thousand other ways to pave the way to perdition. One wild-eyed megalomaniac or another is sure to arise. The writing on the wall is ominous. Your eyes are not deceiving you.
But woefully, we are still largely in denial. We continue to flounder in quicksand. Yes, some of us are in the cheering section. But most of us are zonked in front of the TV. Can we dismember today’s beast before it is too late? Will we be attentive to the ominous signs on the wall?
MARC WILUDJANSKI-WILSON is a retired rabbi who writes from Greenville, SC.