If Donald Trump is Hitler, then Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy.
Aaron Blake writes for the Washington Post: In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani reviewed a new book about Adolf Hitler, titled “Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939.”
To many observers, though, it read like a bit more than a book review. It read like a comparison between Hitler and Donald Trump.
It’s true that the review didn’t name Trump — or even allude to the 2016 U.S. presidential race. But it came across to more than a few readers as an intentional, point-by-point comparison of Hitler’s rise and Trump’s.
And it’s not hard to see why. From the headline — “In ‘Hitler,’ an Ascent From ‘Dunderhead’ to Demagogue” — to the conclusion 1,300 words later, nearly everything Kakutani says about Volker Ullrich’s book reflects long-standing warnings by some about how Trump shouldn’t be dismissed as some sideshow and that history shows where this can lead.
In response to an inquiry from The Fix, Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said, “The review speaks for itself.”
Below is what Kakutani wrote (in italics) and the parallels being drawn to Trump.
Some have focused on the social and political conditions in post-World War I Germany, which Hitler expertly exploited — bitterness over the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and a yearning for a return to German greatness; unemployment and economic distress amid the worldwide Depression of the early 1930s; and longstanding ethnic prejudices and fears of “foreignization.”
Trump’s appeal has largely been attributed to continued economic stagnation and frustration, particularly among working-class whites. His slogan is “Make America Great Again.” He has also campaigned against immigration and foreign agreements like free-trade pacts, and even questioned the fairness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Mr. Ullrich, like other biographers, provides vivid insight into some factors that helped turn a “Munich rabble-rouser” — regarded by many as a self-obsessed “clown” with a strangely “scattershot, impulsive style” — into “the lord and master of the German Reich.”
Democrats often complain that the press dismisses Trump as something of a narcissistic oaf or a clown who is beholden to his own campaigning whims.
His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity. But Mr. Ullrich underscores Hitler’s shrewdness as a politician — with a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and an ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations.”
Trump’s inability to “pivot” and turn himself into a more “presidential” candidate has long contrasted with theories of him actually being a secret political genius, doing things the media hasn’t picked up on, and constantly over-performing expectations.
Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message.
Trump is often credited with exploiting the media — as well as social media — to get his message out. He largely eschews the conventional approach of relying heavily on TV advertising.
A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”
Trump’s tendency to make up facts, spew utter distortions and rely on innuendo has put the media in a position of deciding whether to outright say that he is “lying.” At the root of that debate is the question of whether he knows what he’s saying is false.
He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds’ fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.
This is Trump, Trump and Trump. His clashes with hecklers and his tendency to talk about roughing up protesters were both features of the GOP primary campaign. And “law and order” has become a secondary campaign slogan of late.
Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though he was typically vague about his actual plans.
Again: “Make America Great Again.” And Trump has been nothing if not vague about his plans. The media regularly reinforces the fact that his policy prescriptions are completely malleable and subject to change on a moment’s notice — if not within the same breath.
The unwillingness of Germany’s political parties to compromise had contributed to a perception of government dysfunction, Mr. Ullrich suggests, and the belief of Hitler supporters that the country needed “a man of iron” who could shake things up. “Why not give the National Socialists a chance?” a prominent banker said of the Nazis. “They seem pretty gutsy to me.”