Growing up on the Left Coast, I was taught about the rise of the Third Reich, World War II, and the Holocaust tragedy. I asked myself, “If the American version of Hitler appeared in the United States, what would I do?” Now I know.
I was surprised and horrified by Donald Trump’s 2016 election win. In retrospect, multiple factors contributed to this: Trump supporters were more enthusiastic than Clinton supporters; Trump took advantage of the weird U.S. electoral college system; Russia aided the Trump campaign; and former FBI director Comey’s October 28th letter about the Clinton emails moved undecided voters. Trump benefited from a “perfect storm” of political events.
I predicted Trump would be a bad President — because of his mercurial temperament and inability to think strategically. Nonetheless, I thought Republicans would “moderate” him; I believed that GOP officeholders would restrain Trump from exercising his worst impulses. Trump’s response to the August 11-12, 2017, Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally woke me up. I saw how deep Trump’s racism is and realized how much of a threat he is. And, I understood that Washington Republicans weren’t going to stand in his way.
During the 2016 campaign I joked that Donald Trump was the Republican Party’s version of Adolf Hitler. After Charlottesville, I understood that what I had intended as jest was, in fact, the grim reality.
Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler have a lot in common. (Not their size, Trump is 6’2″ and Hitler was 5’9″.) Initially, neither was taken seriously; the Hitler and Trump rallies were mocked, as were Hitler and Trump’s oratory. Nonetheless, they attracted passionate followings and, over time, developed a “cult” appeal. Hitler and Trump have three things in common: 1. Both preached a deeply emotional brand of populism; they brought hope to the hopeless. When Trump brags that only he can fix a broken government, millions of Americans believe him because they have lost faith in the traditional political system. 2. Both had an openly “racist” message: Hitler advertised his anti-semitism, while Trump pushed his anti-Muslim theme — later expanding this to people-of-color, in general. 3. Both Trump and Hitler had the support of powerful capitalistic oligarchs (For example, for Hitler the Krupps and for Trump the Kochs); Hitler painted himself as an alternative to communism, Trump paints himself as an alternative to socialism.
I believe on November 3rd Joe Biden will soundly defeat Donald Trump and be declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Nonetheless,Trump’s defeat won’t signal that “Trumpism” is dead — anymore than the death of Adolf Hitler meant that anti-semitism had been vanquished. The rise of Trump, and his iron grip on the Republican Party, is a sign of deep social problems in the United States. In the years to come, the Biden-Harris team, and all of us who supported them, are going to have to come to grips with Trumpism.
Trump’s oligarchs aren’t going to disappear after the election: the Adelsons, Devos’s, Kochs, Mellons, Mercers, Warrens, etcetera, aren’t going to abandon politics. They’ll try to retain their power. They won’t have Donald as their sympathetic frontman but there will be plenty of other Republicans — Mitch McConnell — willing to take their money and promote their anti-democratic agenda. For this reason, a high priority in the 2021 Democratic congressional agenda has to be passage of legislation weakening the impact of big money on the political process.
Trump’s racist supporters aren’t going to disappear after the election. The militias aren’t going to disappear. The white supremacists aren’t going to disappear. Their hate-filled politics of revenge has been emboldened by Trump and the racists are likely to be angry when Trump loses an election they were promised he would win. Biden-Harris supporters must push for a multi-faceted response to this dangerous problem: Actions to confront systemic racism. Common-sense gun control. Curbs on hate speech in social media. Enforcement of existing state laws banning militias. Etcetera.
Members of the Trump cult aren’t going to disappear. They will continue to be resentful. For many of them, Donald Trump is seen as their last, best hope of grabbing a piece of the American dream; they’d lost confidence in most American institutions — certainly in conventional politics. If the Biden-Harris Administration acts on the social platform they ran on, this will ease some of the anxiety of the Trump cult: universal healthcare, expanded unemployment benefits, a massive federal jobs program, forgiveness of student-loan debt. expanded educational benefits, protection of the environment, etcetera. One of the main challenges for Biden-Harris will be to get members of the Trump cult to believe in science.
After the election, for a period of several years, Democrats are going to control the White House and Congress. Dems will have an opportunity to enact major legislation that will benefit working families — Democrat and Republican. This will be a time-consuming process, but the Biden-Harris Administration has a real chance to win over a significant segment of the Trump cult. Biden-Harris will have to work hard on a message of reconciliation — bringing the country together; moving beyond the politics of greed, hate, and resentment.
On November 3rd, Biden will win but America’s Hitler won’t disappear. We’ll have to stay engaged.