Joe Biden’s comparison of Trump to Joseph Goebbels caused an uproar, mainly among Trump’s Jewish supporters, who decried the “politicization of the Holocaust” and protested that no one can be compared to Hitler or Nazis because it belittles the victims and ignores the lessons of that cataclysm. It’s hard to tell, however, if Trump’s defenders are really concerned with preserving the sanctity of the Holocaust or discomfited by the uncomfortable parallels.
Having written several books on the Holocaust, including exposing America’s abandonment of American Jews, I do not need to be lectured about the propriety of discussing past events in the current context. With all due respect to my friends and colleagues, arguing that no one and nothing can be compared to Nazi Germany makes a mockery of the idea that we must learn from that dark period to prevent the repetition of mistakes that can have catastrophic consequences. If we do not examine distinctions, parallels, and warning signs in the world today, the slogan “Never Again” is meaningless.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, recently wrote how he had “taken pains to avoid Nazi comparisons” that are “usually hyperbolic, and counterproductive,” but now believes “President Trump has put the United States, in some ways, where Germany was in 1933, when Adolf Hitler used the suspicious burning of the German parliament to turn a democracy into a totalitarian state.”
In the case of Biden, he did not make a comparison between Trump and Goebbels in terms of the Nazi propaganda chief’s role in the Holocaust. He specifically referred to him in the context of his notoriety for being the master of the propaganda technique known as the “big lie.”
Trump is “sort of like Goebbels,” Biden said. “You say the lie long enough, keep repeating it, repeating it, repeating it, it becomes common knowledge.”
That comment requires no apology.
I’m not sure anyone counted, but it is unlikely Goebbels made anywhere near Trump’s 20,000 plus (an average of 12 per day) “false or misleading claims” documented by the Washington Post. It is not the quantity, however, but the quality of the lies that earn the comparison to Goebbels.
Trump’s most recent big lie is that the upcoming election will be tainted by fraud resulting from giving more Americans the opportunity to vote by mail, something millions, including Trump, already do every election. Trump is promoting this lie because he anticipates losing the election and is laying the foundation for delegitimizing, if not invalidating, the outcome.
How do we know it is a lie?
Christopher Wray, the FBI Director Trump appointed said so: “Now, we have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”
And Wray’s not the only one to say so. Republican election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg wrote, “The truth is that after decades of looking for illegal voting, there’s no proof of widespread fraud.”
Biden was not the first person to raise the alarm about Trump’s epic falsehoods. Clive Irving wrote in the Daily Beast in 2017, less than six months into Trump’s presidency, that it was a mistake to compare Trump to Hitler because he would never “be the monster that Hitler was.” Goebbels, however, he said was “a different matter.”
To disseminate his big lies, Goebbels made the press a tool of the state. Trump would like to do the same, but must be content with the next best thing – Fox News (to be fair, it is the prime time and morning blowhards, not the reporters who are presidential cheerleaders).
Milbank likened Trump’s lies about voter fraud to the way “Hitler used the suspicious burning of the German parliament to turn a democracy into a totalitarian state.”
The columnist was motivated to raise the comparison following Trump’s repeated refusal to commit to honoring the election results. This disdain for democracy is reminiscent of the dictator who never gave up power after the last contested election.
The burning of the Reichstag occurred just six days before Germany held its last “democratic” election of the era. Many civil liberties were already abolished and the Nazis unleased a paroxysm of violence against their opponents. To ensure victory, Nazi organizations intimidated voters by “monitoring” the process.
Trump wants to “dominate” the streets to quell protests. He also said law enforcement should be used to patrol polling places, “invoking tactics,” the Washington Post observed, “historically used to scare voters of color.” In addition, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who often carry weapons and support the president say they intend to watch polling places.
Hitler became president after that election even though the Nazi party got only 44% of the vote by building the coalition he needed to pass legislation making him a dictator. He subsequently banned opposition parties. Trump won the presidency with only 46% of the popular vote but was stuck with those pesky Democrats.
According to current polls, Trump would get only 43% of the vote this November. He could pull off another Electoral College miracle, but Milbank fears what he might do if he can’t pull out another Royal Flush. Trump hopes Americans will believe his big lies about voter fraud so they accept his contention that only two outcomes are possible in November – a Trump victory or a rigged election.
Either way, Trump believes he should stay in power. To help him, he plans to ram through the Senate his appointment to the Supreme Court who he expects will give him a majority of justices to rubber stamp his policies and decide the election in his favor if he loses and disputes the results.
Big lies can have big consequences, which is why Milbank concluded: “America, this is our Reichstag moment. We have the power to stop it. Don’t let democracy burn to the ground.”
Mitchell Bard has written and edited 22 books including: Forgotten Victims: The Abandonment of Americans in Hitler’s Camps, 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction/ Dawn of the Holocaust, and The Complete History of the Holocaust.