It’s impossible to read Volker Ulrich’s remarkable biography, “Hitler, Ascent: 1889-1939,” without being struck by the parallels between Adolph Hitler and Donald Trump.
1.They were both charismatic political leaders. Watching grainy newsreel footage of Hitler speaking, it’s difficult to imagine what a hypnotic spell he cast on his pre-war German audiences. Just as it’s difficult to understand the impact of Trump rallies on his devotees.
Ulrich says that Germans were captivated by Hitler’s passion and authenticity. That’s what Trump followers say about him.
2. Both men gave voice to the zeitgeist of their times. In Munich, Hitler claimed that Germany had been betrayed at the end of WWI, “stabbed in the back” by Jews.
Trump has give voice to the “Alt-Right”/Tea-Party perspective that America has been tyrannized by Obama and the liberal elite. Trump spoke to the “Alt-Right”/Tea Party when he said, “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves.”
3. Both blamed the “fall” of their countries on a particular group. For Hitler this was Jews. For Trump this is immigrants.
Hitler conflated Jews, communists, and intellectuals. Trump conflates undocumented immigrants and Muslims. One of the reasons he gives for building “the wall” is to keep out terrorists. (Trump’s national-security adviser, Mike Flynn, claims there are Arabic road signs at the southern border.)
4. Hitler and Trump repeated two principal themes. Hitler claimed that Germany had been betrayed by Jews. He added that for Germany to achieve its historical greatness it had to expand to the east, lebensraum.
Trump believes that America has been betrayed by its liberal leadership and undermined by immigrants. He claims that previous Presidents didn’t know how to negotiate deals and promises he will renegotiate everything, including agreements such as NAFTA and the Iran nuclear disarmament.
5. After building broad support among under-educated white voters, Trump and Hitler cut a deal with capitalists. Although Hitler ran the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP), he made it clear to German business leaders that his aims were not those of traditional socialists but rather to exterminate the threat of communism, which he claimed was led by Jews. In 1933, when Hitler became German Chancellor, he had the support of most business leaders.
Although Trump initially started out as an outsider, after he secured the Republican nomination for President he cut a deal with conservative business leaders such as the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer, and Wall Street billionaires.
6. Both men had a penchant for telling outright lies. Hitler blamed the 1933 Reichstag fire on communists even though a single deranged man, Marinus van der Lubbe, was caught at the scene. After the December, 2015, San Bernardino shootings, Trump blamed the killings on Muslims, in general, and called for shutting down entry of Muslims into the United States as well as starting a registry of American Muslims.
Observers described Hitler as a consummate actor who varied his message depending upon the audience. Before partisan crowds he would make extreme statements about “the Jewish problem.” Before business leaders, or the press, Hitler would moderate his message.
Trump’s most inflammatory statements have come during his speeches. When speaking to the press he will moderate his message. For example, Trump has told crowds that global climate change is “bunk” or “a hoax.” When speaking to the press, he claims to have an open mind on the issue.
7. Hitler and Trump condoned violence. From his earliest Munich beerhall days, Hitler was surrounded by the S.A. (Sturmabteilung, storm troopers), thugs and hooligans who beat hecklers and members of the political opposition.
Trump has condoned violence at this rallies, occasionally calling for hecklers to be beaten. His Alt-Right supporters believe that the Obama Administration is tyrannical and have sanctioned armed response.
8. Both men nurture resentment. Supposedly, Hitler had a photographic memory and never forgot a slight. 18 months after becoming German Chancellor, during “the night of the long knives,” he authorized the killing of his rivals and those he believed had slighted him.
More generally, Hitler inflamed German resentment about WWI and the great depression. He consistently blamed Jews.
Apparently, Donald Trump never forgets a slight. During his campaign we saw him lash out at Judge Gonzalo Curiel, former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, and gold-star father Khizr Khan, among others. He has advocated that Hillary Clinton be investigated and “locked up.”
More generally, Trump inflamed Alt-Right/Tea-Party resentment about what they perceive as the loss of their country.
9. Early in their careers, both Hitler and Trump were underestimated because political observers did not appreciate the power of the demagogic narrative. Hitler was mocked because of his appearance, and lack of governmental experience. Trump was mocked because of his appearance, and lack of governmental experience.
10. In order to secure power, Hitler and Trump changed the rules. Hitler’s NSDAP Party never had a majority in the German parliament but Hitler continually manipulated the rules to gain increased power. (And then, outlawed the opposition.)
Trump won the presidency, in part, because Republicans changed the rules about who could vote and the role of billionaire-driven Super PACs. Now Trump wants to change conflict-of-interest rules so he can retain control of his business investments while sitting in the White House.
Comparing Trump and Hitler is not hyperbole. There are chilling similarities.