It didn’t take long before politicians and commentators in the news media began likening Donald Trump to Hitler or Mussolini.
We might not like what Trump and his supporters say and do, but equating someone with Hitler forecloses conversation. It’s the F-bomb of epithets. There is no defense.
Worse is how any analogy to Hitler distracts us from underlying social and economic problems that animate so many of his followers.
After someone has been likened to Hitler, there is nothing left to say.
Yet news media, online commentators, entertainment figures and others are embracing the Hitler analogy. The monstrous scale of Hitler’s evil doesn’t matter, only that his name is a synonym for awful.
Trump does little to dissuade commentators from embracing the Hitler analogy. Sometimes, he feeds it.
As if he didn’t care about the historic significance of what he was doing, Trump raised his right arm in salute in a recent rally and called on his audience to pledge their loyalty. To him, not the Constitution.
At a raw, emotional level, that is scary.
As Washington Post reporter/columnist Dana Milbank wrote, “I’ve perhaps never agreed with Glenn Beck before, but the right-wing radio personality was right to hold up a Nazi ballot on ABC’s This Week on Sunday morning. ‘We should look at Adolf Hitler in 1929,’ said Beck, who usually saves his Nazi analogies for liberals. Beck added, ‘Donald Trump is a dangerous man with the things that he has been saying.’ ”
If it’s not Hitler or Nazi, it’s “fascist.” At the heart of fascism is the strong man, the dictator and the suppression of dissent.
LATimes columnist Patt Morrison described the growing list of public figures calling Trump a fascist, from George Clooney and Anne Frank’s stepsister to comedian Louis C.K.
Then Morrison reported her interview with Robert O. Paxton, a Columbia professor emeritus who wrote The Anatomy of Fascism. In his conversation with Morrison, Paxton assessed whether “Trump is a textbook-definition fascist or just seems to play one on television.”
(Given endless coverage and nationwide responses to Trump’s provocations, I wonder if Paxton’s distinctions matter.)
Trump echoes the style and manner of Mussolini and other European fascists during the 1920s and 1930s, Paxton said. “It’s the manner, it’s the kind of style, the aggressive style, the assertion of strength and the image presented of somebody who’s not going to be bothered by little things like the rule of law or political correctness or being polite, and will actually get things done.”
Paxton continued, “The heart of (Trump’s) appeal is the image of somebody who will do things. And it’s awfully tempting when somebody comes along and says, ‘I’m a tough guy, I’ll fix it.’ ”
Provoked by Trump’s slander of Mexican migrants and threat of a border-closing wall, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto told the daily Excélsior, “There have been episodes in human history, unfortunately, where these expressions of strident rhetoric have led to very ominous situations. That’s how Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in: They took advantage of a situation, a problem perhaps, which humanity was going through at the time, after an economic crisis.”
Dailybeast.com found that “Donald Trump-as Adolf Hitler-analogies are all the rage right now. Over the past week, Jimmy Kimmel recast Trump as Hitler in an elaborate parody of The Producers, Bill Maher put Trump’s words in Hitler’s mouth, Louis CK directly said the Republican frontrunner is Hitler (and America is 1930s Germany) and Saturday Night Live portrayed his supporters as Nazis.
Trump-Hitler analogies entered mainstream daytime TV when Joy Behar introduced The View’s latest “Hot Topic.” Dailybeast.com reported that after playing a clip of the SNL ad, Behar said, “For years, I’ve been hearing don’t make comparisons to Hitler, there was only one Hitler, thank God, that everybody else is not Hitler.”
But with so many people making the analogy, Behar asked the panel, “Is that a fair comparison, do you think, or is it over the top?”
Panelists argued whether analogies are hyperbolic, but co-host Michelle Collins, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, said Trump’s rhetoric “frightens” her. “I know he's not targeting me right now, but … I can't even imagine being a Mexican person or a Muslim living in this country, how they must feel right now.”
Dailybeast.com said that perhaps the most chilling moment during The View came when Collins read from the very first New York Times article about Adolf Hitler, from Nov. 21, 1922:
“[S]everal reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler's anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.”
Finally, let me toss in a personal note.
Mussolini was Hitler’s initial mentor, but he was no Hitler. The Trump-Mussolini analogy is closer, although Trump at least is not a former journalist.
I lived in post-war Italy where a fascist party, the MSI, competed openly, proudly and sometimes violently for votes.
To many, Mussolini remained a national hero. That was never clearer than during a brawl provoked by MSI in the ancient Roman Jewish ghetto.
An older member of the national police, the Carabinieri, thumped a young MSI neo-fascist dismissively as “stronzo” or “asshole” and boasted, “Sono un fascista.” “I am a fascist!”