Godwin’s Law states broadly that any Internet argument will eventually invoke Hitler. The best known corollary to the law states that the moment Hitler is invoked the argument is over and whoever brought up the Hitler comparison automatically loses. Having read so very many posts and thought pieces on Trump and Hitler and so many easy dismissals of the comparisons, it seems to me that we are both too quick to make the comparison and too quick to dismiss it.
Can the circumstances of DJT and AH actually be comparable? Of the US 2016 and the Weimar Republic of the thirties? Eh, maybe. So here it goes.
It is a common fallacy to believe that Hitler was elected democratically. He was not, in the elections of 1932 the National Socialists did not do all that well. While they did get the most votes, it was nowhere near a majority. Simply put two-thirds of Germans did voted for someone else and by splitting the vote allowed the Nazis to be the largest block in the Reichstag.
By late 2015 seventeen Republican hopefuls had jumped into the race for president. Most Republican voters did not vote for Trump, they voted for someone else but by splitting the vote allowed him to gain popularity and stature and in the end he drove all of his competitors out.
Similar? A little.
The election calendar in Germany between 1932 and 1933 was very long and it included three general elections. The Social Democrats actually got a chance to build a government but the Nazis fomented violence and instability and that led to three general elections in less than twenty-four months. At the end of the process a quirk in the electoral law enabled the aging President to appoint Hitler as Chancellor, even though he did not have a majority.
The election calendar in the US between 2015 and 2016 was very long, longer than any before. At the end of the process, a quirk in the electoral law enabled Trump to win the Electoral College even though he lost the popular vote by more than 1.5 million votes.
Similar? Very much so.
Hitler appealed in his message to the disaffected, those that felt that their country had been let down by their leaders and the elites.
Trump? Pretty much the same.
Hitler railed against the Jews, making them the scapegoats of everything that had gone wrong in Germany for ever.
Trump? Not explicitly, but at least one of his TV commercials and many of the commercials that ran on his behalf used well-known anti-semitic tropes.
Worryingly similar, I think.
Hitler scapegoated minorities.
Trump scapegoats minorities. The differences are trivial.
Hitler railed against weak generals and intellectuals.
Donald “I know more than the generals” Trump. Need I get into it? The differences are trivial.
There are some important differences, however. Germany was still hurting from their defeat in the Great War. There were millions of former soldiers that believed that they’d been cheated out of a victory in 1918-1919. This belief had a long and difficult history that is actually important to understand. The German forces sued for peace during an ATTACK against the allied forces. You read that right, they were attacking when they surrendered. The German army launched Operation Michael in the Spring of 1918 and advanced within 120 miles of Paris. This was followed by Operation Georgette. What the German soldier in the field didn’t know, couldn’t know, is that these operations were a last ditch attempt to end the war before the Americans had a chance to get into it. In this, they failed. So much so that the original name for Georgette was George. The more feminine name was chosen because the Germans simply did not have the resources to mount a second operation equal in size to Michael.
Georgette was a desperate attempt, and when it failed, they surrendered. Actually, it was even worse than that. The leadership that had failed Germany so terribly all quit or were removed from their posts, so it fell upon people that had nothing to do with the failure to carry the burden of surrender.
This created a ready-made population of angry soldiers that felt betrayed by their leadership and ready for a strongman to restore their pride. Hundreds of thousands of resentful veterans with little means of support and an enormous sense of aggravation.
No such loss for the US. No ready-made army of dejected former soldiers waiting for a strongman. Yes, some privileged whites are resentful and they voted for Trump, but the parallels are too tenuous to contemplate.
Some more important differences. Germany’s was a new democracy. The US’s is not. The German institutions of democracy were not firmly established, the US’s are. Germany was (and is today) a parliamentary democracy, whoever controls the legislative branch controls the executive. Much as some would like to think that the fact that the Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congress is similar to the situation in Weimar, it is not. Paul Ryan might talk about unity, but the moment Trump spoke of term limits for Representatives he found he had zero support. Quite a few appointments in the civil service in the Weimar Republic were made at the pleasure of the Chancellor, not so in the US.
Hitler had his own little private ‘army’ of thugs ready to do his bidding. Actually, a great deal of the instability of the then nascent German democracy was due in large part to Hitler’s thugs making it unstable.
Trump doesn’t have Brown Shirts at his disposal, although one suspects he’d love to have them.
Finally, let’s look at the people that surround the leader. Hitler: Yes men with a cruel streak. Trump (and I’m talking here only about the men that he’s announced that he’d like to appoint): Yes men with a cruel streak.
Trump is not Hitler. Only Hitler is Hitler.
Trump is what? A wannabe Hitler? A poor copy, like a fax that has been copied over and over again? Something like that.