My associates and I have been cautious about dropping the “H” bomb on Donald Trump. We restrain ourselves from intimating that he the next “Hitler in training.” I say “reluctant” and but not in “total denial.” We who have witnessed the murders of our loved ones are especially touchy about broad comparisons of Trump to Hitler.
But once we move beyond an analysis of Trump’s and Hitler’s modus operandi, the two are still not entirely comparable. Thus, let us not drop the “H” bomb, but use the more expressive “O” word: OMINOUS. Ominous events build from a line of nefarious coincidences that lead to eerie similarities. They can shake even the bravest people to the core.
Anyone looking at Germany in the 1930s, cannot deny the ominous parallels to the volatile situation in the United States, 2016. So again, we ask what comes first, 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 2016? 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 concentrated 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 it at one time or another: Repeat over and again the most implausible lie loudly and with conviction. Sooner or later, some 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.
Yes, 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 we are still largely in denial. We continue to flounder in quicksand. Some of us are in the cheering section. 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?
Rabbi Marc Wilson is a community organizer and founder/director of MeetingPoint, an interfaith opportunity to build the Beloved Community. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.