Speaking of Hitler

Are you comparing Trump to Hitler?

Now there’s the ultimate third rail, right?

A friend, reading my Facebook posts quoting from Stroud’s introduction to his selection of sermons preached under the Third Reich, asked me this question.

Trump is not Hitler.

Maybe Hitler is Trump’s (and our) Ghost of Christmas future. But Trump is not Hitler.

Anyone who calls Trump a Hitler is engaging in hyperbole of a sort that will inevitably boomerang and have the reverse of the intended effect: one is trying to warn, but the manner of the warning makes it very difficult for the intended recipients to hear it—and calls into question, even for a strictly fair bystander, the judgment of the one doing the name-calling.

Neither Donald Trump’s expressed ambitions nor his achievements are on anything near the order of magnitude of Adolf Hitler’s. Surely we can all agree on that?

Hitler had a spelled-out political ideology and program for action. He dissembled and lied, and everything about him was evil, but he had a coherent ideology and agenda. Trump lies all the time. Many of his actions imply an ideology, and he uses people who are committed to various ideologies, but Trump, who seems to be at best semiliterate, does not have an ideology. He is more of a charlatan—a con artist—than an ideologue. His tendencies are antidemocratic, oligarchic, plutocratic, and, above all, self-serving, financially and in terms of ego needs. He needs to pay his debts, and he probably needs to evade prosecution for various crimes. This dog’s breakfast of motivations does not seem to qualify him as a full-out fascist.

But it cannot be insignificant that in the US today the people who idolize Hitler and deliberately model their political speech and actions after the European neo-Nazis are enthusiastic fans of Trump, and make financial contributions to his campaign, which his campaign accepts and does not return even when challenged, and are told by him to “stand by” to help him, and are more visible and active now than at any time since WW2. These are signs that must not be denied or ignored. What do these signs mean?

That is a matter for careful interpretation. Not for hyperbolic alarmism, not as a basis for slandering or smearing others—even the current heroes of avowed neo-Nazis. But also not for denial, and certainly not for complacency.

I think it is a sign of tendencies and affinities. It is a warning of the logical conclusion of a certain moral disposition. One might say that Trump is to Hitler as hatred is to murder, or as lust is to adultery, or as pride is to hell. Not there yet—not even close—but check the direction carefully.

The what-abouters will want to say something similar about the Democrats’ affinities with European social democrats. But there is no plausibility to the warnings and fears that Rooseveltian or Scandinavian social-welfare initiatives tend toward the evils of Leninist-Stalinist communism. Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist communism was a grotesque abuse of Marxism. And Rooseveltian and Danish etc. social-welfare measures are not even socialist according to Marxian definitions. They are humanitarian and communitarian, and even demonstrably biblical in their inspiration. Anyway, the real progressives and democratic socialists do not love, admire, and praise either Biden or Harris. Neither would have been their first, second, third, or fourth pick from the field of candidates that were available. The Trump campaign’s representations to the contrary are among its biggest and most ludicrous lies. The progressives and democratic socialists who vote for Biden-Harris will do so holding their noses because the alternative is Trump. I know these people. I hear them talk.

Back to Hitler: It is always appropriate to remind ourselves of paradigmatic cases of evil in history, and to study them, precisely because the publics that ended up enabling them and suffering under them did not from the start intend them and didn’t see them coming, or even dream of them in their worst nightmares. And yet they came. And not without a sequence of discernible (in hindsight, at least, and for the more perceptive, in advance) causes.

I have voted this year. I did not vote for the guy who welcomes the praises and support of the neo-Nazis. Call me over-cautious.

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