Our Hitler, Our Nazis

Back in the earliest days of the Internet, Mike Godwin made a pithy observation. “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, if an argument lasts long enough someone will eventually make a reference to Hitler. It came to be known as Godwin’s Law.

This tendency to use Nazi references as a terminal point in an argument was first observed by Leo Strauss back in 1953. He called it reductio ad Hitlerum. Anything with the most tendentious connection to the Nazis was tainted by contact, without regard to merit. If Hitler used a toothbrush, then dental hygiene must be suspect. This created an almost irresistible urge in a debate setting to compare an opponent to Hitler. Nazi comparisons were so overused that they became a joke.

Times have changed and no one’s laughing anymore. In August 2017, Mike Godwin, the father of Godwin’s Law, sent this Tweet:

Comparisons between present-day politics and the fascism of the mid-20th century are no longer abstract or esoteric. Liberal democracies are facing an existential threat from a new generation of authoritarians borrowing old, discredited ideas. But is it accurate to characterize that threat as “fascist,” and if so, why does it matter? Is Trump our Hitler and are his followers our Nazis, and what response would that conclusion require?

Reaching a sincere and persuasive answer to this question has to start with a set of standards. First we must establish a definition for fascism, of which Nazism is merely our most familiar manifestation, then compare it to our regime. To do so we have to perform some translation across time and cultures. As Robert Paxton, one of our premier modern scholars of fascism explained, new waves of fascists don’t just “dust off their swastikas.” The movement evolves to adapt to changing circumstances. Finally, we must ask the most harrowing question of all, what do the results of this comparison mean for us?

What is Fascism?

According to historian Robert Paxton, “Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

A search for fascist exemplars usually starts with Mussolini or Hitler, but the earliest roots of the movement are found in the US, starting in the Reconstruction Era South and continuing with our later anti-immigrant hysterias. The Nazis borrowed their race laws almost word for word from Jim Crow Laws in the Southern states. In Mein Kampf, Hitler praised America’s race-based immigration exclusions that barred entry to “inferior” races:

The American Union categorically refuses the immigration of physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races.

Hitler borrowed his racial ideology from American eugenicists. Americans invented the gas chambers that Germans would convert for industrial-scale murder. Nazi chemist, Gerhard Peters, wrote a paper in 1938 describing the Americans’ use of Zyklon-B as a delousing agent on immigrants passing through the Southern border. Based on what he observed in the US, he set himself up in business providing Zyklon-B for use in the death camps.

There’s nothing foreign about fascism. The decentralized violence of the KKK, the white supremacist legal structure that emerged in the US, and America’s general hostility toward immigrants and anyone perceived as non-white provided most of the ingredients necessary to breed fascism. What was missing was a strong, charismatic leader around which to build a cult of power. Europeans would complete the circuit and build our first mature fascist regimes.

Identifying a Threat

In fascism, that strong leader musters all the available elements of bigotry and popular angst into a campaign by a dominant majority against a racially or religiously-defined minority. As the embodiment of the spirit of the Volk, that leader singles out an opposition party, in nearly all cases described as socialists, and defined them as a threat to the integrity of the people.

Replacing Information with Loyalty

All sources of independent information are denigrated. Journalists are the enemy of the people and their reports are always lies. Hitler called news professionals the Lugenpresse (lying press).

No one can be trusted but the leader and his party. Fascists don’t merely lie. They reject the concept of a fact, as an objective, independently verifiable reality.

Fascists love conspiracy theories, because they train a population toward paranoia and distrust of objective facts. The Nazis went so far as to organize a government entity to collect and publish stories of crimes allegedly committed by targeted minority groups, especially Jews.

In fascism, power is the only reality. Power is accessed not through inquiry, facts or reason, but through Will. Fascists laugh at the weak minds who fret over accuracy or truth. Fascists create their own truth by their will to power. 

Co-opting Religion

Despite usually being quite profane and irreligious, fascists co-opt religious leaders and symbols. They see religion as a rival to their power, since religion operates on very similar, fact-free, authoritarian terms. Fascists can only achieve power by either destroying or coopting religious institutions, almost always the latter. Mussolini had priests delivering mass at his rallies. Franco built his entire platform around the Catholic Church hierarchy. Hitler depended on support from Lutheran leadership who spouted his talking points from pulpits, and accepted docile positions in his new state-religious infrastructure. Otto Debelius, head of the German Protestants in Berlin, had this to say about Hitler after he took power in March 1933:

The eternal longing of the Germans has begun to be fulfilled. This fulfilment should become strengthened and completed: the German people should be united in all great questions of their life! United in the will to make themselves felt and to begin strongly a new chapter of history! One people, one Reich, one Fuehrer!

The Myth of the Ideal Past

Fascists mythologize an imaginary past in which the Volk was free and perfect. In their mythology, that past perfection has been sullied by ethnic or religious minorities, immigrants, socialists, homosexuals, abortionists, anyone associated with personal freedom, women’s independence, cultural diversity, or the weakening of traditional authorities.

Reverence for Military and Police

Fascists revere the military and police, organized around an obedient, unquestioning hierarchy and sanctified by their self-effacing service to the Volk. It’s often said that war is an inevitable tool of fascism, but that’s only true of the regimes with the shortest lifespan. Fascists in Spain and Portugal were very careful in their approach to warfare, staying out of World War II. Salazar and Franco kept war at a distance, a kind of pressure valve limited in scope and reach out in the colonies. That’s the formula that allowed these fascist leaders to die peacefully, at a ripe old age. The most successful fascists place more emphasis on police, and vigilance against internal threats, rather than the pursuit of dangerous and unpredictable wars abroad.

An Industrial Fetish

At an aesthetic level, fascists adore the regimentation and order of the Industrial Age. Mussolini cultivated the myth that he “made the trains run on time.” This embrace of manufacturing and engineering helps fascists reconcile their resistance to the inquiring bent of science with their need for technology for war and repression. Fascists love engineers and persecute scientists.

Fascist Economics and Graft

In economics, there is a consistent disconnect between fascist rhetoric and practice. Their propaganda tends to co-opt socialist themes. They profess an attachment to the common worker (of the dominant ethnicity), express suspicion of trade in favor of autarky, and they emphasize themes of wrongs made right by the power of the people’s state. Those wrongs are always abuses carried out by the scapegoated ethnic group, who has somehow been simultaneously lazy, skimming off the labor of the Volk, and also part of a secret ruling cabal drowning in stolen wealth.

At the same time, fascism always depends for its survival on the economic support of capital owners. This tension leads to the creation of bizarre economic arrangements, often described as Fascist Corporatism, in which capital remains in private hands with the state intervening to regulate and manage labor, usually replacing labor unions entirely. Fascists, despite their collectivist rhetoric, always rise to power and sustain themselves there by their cozy relationships with capital owners.

That cozy fascist relationship between government and capital owners opens opportunities for graft. Francisco Franco died a billionaire, and his grandchildren are still squabbling over the remnants of his stolen estate. Hitler, who cultivated an ascetic, almost monkish public image lived an extravagant lifestyle starting long before he came to power. Even amid the ravages of war, his estate was worth well over a billion in today’s dollars on his death. Fascism is wildly lucrative for those in charge.

Rejection of Democracy

Fascists’ rejection of facts in favor of power is paired with a disdain for elections, representative government and rule of law. Democracy is the politics of the weak, in which decision-making is muddled and the rightful power of the true leader is constrained by needless laws and partisan bickering. Fascists seek to replace the plodding, ineffectual machinery of democracy with the unsullied will of the leader of the Volk.

A Cult of Male Sexual Dominance

There’s a consistent sexual dimension to fascism that’s less commonly discussed, but is perhaps the most universal marker of the ideology. Fascists in all their manifestations are obsessed with male sexual power, usually in the context of a threat to the dominant race. Women in fascism are domestic assets. Any expression of female sexuality is a danger to the Volk, which depends on women’s purity for its continuation. This obsession with an often violent male sexual dominance takes a perfectly bizarre turn in attitudes toward homosexuality, which is always persecuted, but also awkwardly cultivated.

While Nazi thugs wandered German streets assaulting and sometimes murdering suspected homosexuals, Ernst Röhm, the first leader of the SA, was running what amounted to a gay, military sex cult. Röhm and other Nazis cultivated the notion of a hyper-masculine homosexuality, insisting that violent, authoritarian sexuality was the only legitimate sexual expression, whatever form it might take.

Nazis were constructing what they called a Mannerbund, or “mens’ state,” in which men would be cordoned off from corrupting feminine influences to perfect their inherent superiority. As a purely practical matter, you can’t hope to create such a space without simultaneously cultivating a homoerotic aesthetic. Fascists’ confusing approach to sexuality might be characterized as homoerotic homophobia, a thread that seems to run through fascist movements across time and cultures.

It remains unclear whether Hitler was gay. We have no convincing evidence that he ever had a sexual relationship with anyone male or female, but his long bachelorhood, combined with the Nazis’ early reputation, led to broad speculation. The OSS considered him a closeted homosexual, and not without evidence. What the Nazis hated wasn’t gay sex, but femininity in all its forms. Himmler, though by all accounts a heterosexual, was absolutely obsessed with homosexuality. He blamed what he considered rampant homosexuality in America on uppity women:

In America homosexuality is absolutely a defensive measure for the men because they have fallen into such slavery to the women. The woman can behave like an ax there: she just starts hacking away on something. She is never rebuked: the best example of a tyranny by women!

Fascists publicly denounce homosexuality, while the closed male universe they create cultivates a homoerotic aesthetic and practice. This awkward stance on sexuality remained a factor in the Reich long after Röhm was murdered. In 1936, the Nazi government created an agency to persecute abortion doctors and homosexuals, but the agency was “discouraged” from investigating members of the SS. Though thousands of alleged homosexuals were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, many to their deaths, officials worked to prevent these roundups from wrecking the high levels of the Nazi leadership.

Interestingly, Nazis took little interest in lesbians. In a regime built on male sexual dominance, women’s proclivities were irrelevant.

Sentiment, compassion and empathy were seen as feminine values never to be tolerated among men. That singular emphasis on threatened male masculinity can be found in fascist movements from the KKK in the US, right up through the British National Party, Jorg Haidr in Austria, Pim Fortuyn in Holland, and the Proud Boys, who take their super-gay name from a song lyric in a musical. Here’s Steve Bannon, summing it all up with his gushing description of Mussolini:

He was a guy’s guy. He has all that virility. He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that whole thing with the uniforms. I’m fascinated by Mussolini.

The most important sexual value in fascism isn’t heterosexuality, but masculine dominance. Masculinity for fascists is expressed most prominently through sexual violence, regardless of the target. For fascists, almost any orientation can be tolerated to a degree as long as it is built on male domination.

So, how does this summary of fascism compare the Republican Party under Trump?

Is Trumpism Fascism?

What should we look for in a modern fascist movement? We’d expect a charismatic leader gaining power by stirring racist fears in the dominant ethnic group. Like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and every other fascist leader, he (it would almost inevitably be a man), would have close ties to the wealthy while positioning himself as an embattled outsider.

He would disregard law and democracy, ruling as much as possible by edict and dismantling democratic institutions wherever he could. His ethnic bigotry would be accompanied by hostility toward women expressed through a mythology of male dominance. He would encourage violence, both as a political tactic and as an expression of masculinity. He would attack the press as liars while speaking in such a muddle of untruths that his lies can barely be untangled. In power, he would ignore laws attempting to constrain his will while appealing to his devoted followers to threaten opponents. He would unilaterally claim greater and greater authority until any remaining democratic apparatus was merely symbolic, stripped of any capacity to constrain him.

Economically, he’d lean toward autarky, expressing skepticism toward not only trade, but anything seen as foreign. His rhetoric would celebrate “masculine” work, with an emphasis on heavy industry and an insistence that white laborers are being exploited by a dark conspiracy of enemies, some foreign, others the perceived foreigners in our midst.

If our new fascist was truly attached to the old school, he’d insist on calling his opponents socialists even though organized socialism has almost entirely disappeared from the world. He would promise a return to an imaginary age of racial purity, and he would prepare his followers to pursue this restoration by any means he commands.

Does this sound like someone you know?

Racism

Years before Trump was a candidate, he wrapped himself in the language of threatened racial purity. He was the leading voice of the Birther movement, seeking to uncover proof that Obama was born in Kenya.

From the day he descended that golden escalator to launch his campaign, he defined America’s problems as the fault of non-white immigrants:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Within a week of assuming office Trump tried to impose a blanket ban on refugees from a collection of Muslim countries. He has rolled back federal efforts to end discriminatory policing. He loosed immigration authorities from civil rights constraints, and even borrowed from the Nazis a new federal office to publicize supposed immigrant crimes, called the Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement office, under the control of ICE, of course.

Corporatism

The only legislative project in Trumps’ first term that received full White House attention was a package of drastic tax cuts for the wealthy. Despite expressing endless concern for “real Americans” on farms and in the industrial heartland, farming and manufacturing have struggled while Trump’s most important friends, the wealthy rentiers who support him, are enjoying a golden age. How much of this wealthy is flowing directly into the Trump family’s coffers remains a secret, but the President of the United States just directed a multi-million dollar government contract to his own business by scheduling the upcoming G7 meeting at one of his hotels.

Relationship to Journalists

He calls journalists liars. He never responds to honest criticism on the merits, instead attacking the sources, often using some form of ad hominin ridicule. At his rallies he encouraged followers to assault protesters, asking them to “knock the crap out of them” and promising to pay any legal fees they incur from assaults.

Concentration Camps for “Enemies”

The Trump Administration has built a network of concentration camps for immigrants, including camps specifically for thousands of children needlessly separated from their parents. Where the previous administration had required authorities to focus deportation efforts on those who had broken our laws and were considered dangerous, Trump removed this restriction. Immigration agencies are off the leash, disregarding court orders in an escalating campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Delegitimizing Elections

Trump has insisted that our elections are illegitimate, plagued by fraud even though he eked out an Electoral College win. He has consistently suggested he might ignore laws preventing a third Presidential term and is laying the groundwork with his supporters to disregard an unfavorable outcome in 2020 and remain in office.

His disdain for democratic institutions goes beyond ignoring court orders and subpoenas. His administration has simply left much of the executive branch empty. By refusing to appoint people to offices, he has been able to govern largely by decree. Where offices requiring Senatorial “advice and consent” fall open, he often ignores the messy confirmation process by letting appointed “acting” agency heads operate indefinitely. He regularly accuses political critics of treason, a hyperbole that carries the distinct threat of arrest and death.

Attachment to Symbols of Authority

Trump takes every available opportunity to cloak himself in military or police imagery, though he himself used fraud to escape public service. When he visits the sites of mass shootings, an increasingly frequent event, he makes sure to be photographed with the police. After years of wheedling the reluctant military leadership, he finally got his longed-for military parade this year on Independence Day.

Demoting Scientists and Experts

On assuming office, Trump immediately began ridding the executive branch of scientists and trained experts of every kind. The Energy Department, usually led by an elite physicist, is now headed by a political hack who earned a “D” in a class called “Meats.” He didn’t even bother to staff the office of the White House science advisor until a few months ago.

Trump’s “Masculinity” and His Religious Support

Like Hitler, it would be hard to conjure a more profane, irreligious figure to serve as an icon for religious conservatives than Donald Trump. But we’re discovering that fascist themes of embattled masculine dominance and racism come together into an irresistible lure for evangelicals today, just as they did in Germany.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. was expected to support Ted Cruz in the Republican primary until Trump, through his fixer Michael Cohen, offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse. Trump’s friends at the National Enquirer had photos and a first-hand story of the televangelist’s sexual tryst, and subsequent blackmail by a Miami poolboy. Falwell switched his endorsement and the strange story stayed in the closet.

Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church was an early and enthusiastic Trump supporter. Later, when the story of Trump buying the silence of a porn star with whom he’d had an adulterous relationship, Jeffress explained that it doesn’t matter whether it was true. Jeffress inherited the pulpit of one of the churches that had been at the vanguard of the defense of Jim Crow. Very little has changed.

Falwell and Jeffress represent racial and sexual politics that drive religious support for fascism, complete with its awkward combination of loathing and fascination for homosexuality. Trump is a perfect sexual fascist, complete with a wildly insecure masculinity and a long history of sexual exploitation. A new book this week raises the total number of women who have accused Trump of sexual assault to almost 50. He even raped his first wife, Ivana.  

Donald Trump is the President of America’s Evangelicals. For all their talk about public morality, Evangelicalism remains America’s slaveholder religion, and slaveholder religion is built on male dominance and white supremacy. No one better represents those core Evangelical values than Trump.

Start Googling names of prominent pro-Trump religious figures and you find a consistent pattern of either racist comments, sexual assault or both. Paul Pressler was a longtime Republican kingmaker in Texas, one of the architects of the Southern Baptists’ turn toward political activism. He led a group of Republican leaders and donors in 2012, who met at his ranch, to back Rick Santorum for the GOP nomination. He signed a glowing letter of support for Trump from religious leaders in March 2017, thanking him in prayerlike terms for “keeping his promises.” Pressler is also a gay pedophile, who was booted from his position as a youth pastor back in the 70’s for his predilections. He’s fighting off a flood of sexual assault lawsuits, much like Donald Trump.

Representing both sides of this equation, Roy Moore the pedophile and Steve King the open Nazi sympathizer are both big Trump supporters, both on religious grounds. One of Trump’s closest friends was Jeffrey Epstein, the leader of a global child rape ring. Trump regularly attended parties with Epstein in the 90’s and flew on his plane, the Lolita Express on at least one documented occasion. One of Epstein’s victims claims she was raped by Trump when she was 13. After she was threatened into silence a “settlement” was reached and she has gone silent.

Finally someone with balls. Photo by @KevinMc, taken at a Trump Rally in Dallas on October 17, 2019 an posted to Twitter.

When the Access Hollywood recording of Trump bragging about his sexual assaults was released, supporters hardly blinked. This is the behavior a fascist looks for in a leader. A popular t-shirt at Trump rallies states: Donald Trump: Finally someone with balls. Power over empathy, male sexual violence as a the gold standard for masculinity. The cruelty is the point.

An old video shows Trump sexually assaulting Rudy Giuliani in drag, a play they both seem to have enjoyed just a little too much for comfort. His circle of fascist enthusiasts include Milo Yiannopoulos, the misogynistic gay fascist who rode Trump’s rising star to become a favorite among the country’s shrinking remnant of college Republicans.

Milo is a one-man summary of fascist sexual contradiction, a married opponent of same-sex marriage known for his misogyny. Milo sent a tweet in 2016 that stated “ily (I love you) Daddy,” with a photo of Trump. Until his career flamed out under the pressure of its contradictions, like Ernst Röhm, Milo had built a miniature empire around his awkward homoerotic fascism. But Milo isn’t alone.

Calling out closeted homophobic homosexuals in positions of power is an ethically fraught exercise, so no names will be named, but the highest levels of the Republican Party are thick with closeted gay men fighting to persecute homosexuals.

Mike Pence has a certain way of describing Donald Trump that sums up this bizarre homoerotic aesthetic.

Criticism comes with this job, and this president has the kind of broad shoulders to be able to take it.

As of mid-2017, New York Magazine had tallied up 17 instances of Pence waxing lyrical over Trump’s “broad shoulders.” Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters use the kind of performative hyper-male language of those who “doth protest too much,” reflecting either persistent insecurities or self-loathing, repressed homosexuality. If the public face of fascism is its racism, in private, fascism is defined by performative masculinity concealing a galaxy of sexual insecurities.

Replacing Facts with Loyalty

Trump lies consistently, preferring lies even when the truth would better suit his purposes. There’s a clear fascist logic to this practice. For fascists, power is the only truth. Trump’s preference for lies isn’t an accident, but an ideology. As he explained to a VFW audience last year:

“Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Kellyane Conway, Trump’s low-rent Leni Riefenstahl, coined a phrase to define Republicans’ fascist approach to reality, “alternative facts.” Power decides reality. Power, enabled by the collective will of the Volk is absolute and self-justifying. As Trump famously explained during the campaign:

I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.

Hannah Arendt described the fascist definition of reality in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “Totalitarian propaganda thrives on this escape from reality into fiction, from coincidence into consistency.” Trumpists don’t care that he lies, because facts are irrelevant. What matters is loyalty to the movement, which is loyalty to the Fuhrer.

In Trumpism, there is no crime other than disloyalty. There is no moral other than power. There is no “us” other than the pure, white honest Volk of ‘real America.’

The Grift

It seems like everyone in Trump’s cabinet has either made a fortune through crime, or is doing so now. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ran his own money laundering bank in Cyprus, likely the channel through which he established his relationship to Trump. Our Treasury Secretary made his fortune on illegal foreclosures after the financial crash. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Mitch McConnell, rose to wealth via transactions with the Chinese government that look an awful lot like bribes.

Republicans’ first major legislation after the 2016 Election addressed the most pressing issue facing the new Administration – bribery. The new law eliminated restrictions on foreign payments that had frustrated oil companies abroad.

Trump himself still keeps his finances secret. A few years into the administration nearly 50 administration or campaign officials have already been indicted, with more seemingly announced weekly. It’s one thing to disregard law in the pursuit of power, as fascists will do, but the extent of personal graft in Trumpism is staggering and unprecedented.

The Trumpian Twist: Cheap, Stochastic Terrorism

The biggest distinction between Trump and earlier fascists is his approach to violence. Mussolini and Hitler used loosely organized paramilitaries in relatively directed campaigns against their political enemies. Nothing around Trump can sustain any degree of organization or order, rendering this kind of directed violence nearly impossible.

A Confederate flag for sale at a Trump rally in Richmond, Virginia. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Trumpism has substituted stochastic terrorism in place of coordinated assassinations or street violence by mobs. Stochastic terrorism is violence created by demonizing a particular group, creating circumstances in which violence is practically inevitable, but it cannot be predicted and isn’t centrally directed.

From the earliest days of his administration, Trump supporters have been murdering the targets of his rhetoric. In February 2017, a Kansas man murdered two Indian engineers he mistook for Iranians, calling them terrorists and yelling “get out of my country.” Cesar Sayoc, who loved Trump rallies, mailed pipe bombs to 16 people. Robert Bowers, explaining that he wanted “all Jews to die,” shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh. A white nationalist murdered a protestor during a Neo-Nazi riot in Charlottesville. Trump’s response to the event was calculated to feed stochastic terrorism. He issued a muddled condemnation of the violence while sending the more subtle message of support, stating that there are “good people on both sides.”

Another Trump supporter murdered 22 people at a WalMart in El Paso where he was targeting Hispanics. Since 2017, 46 US journalists have been attacked, ten of them just in the first four months of this year. Under Trump we’ve been subjected to a steady drumbeat of racist murder, too many to document individually.

Trumpism is Fascism. The Republican Party and its followers are our modern version of the Nazis. So how does Trump measure up against our most fated fascist, Adolf Hitler? It’s not good.

Comparing Trump to Hitler Personally

Most Americans know very little about Adolf Hitler’s life or background. Hitler came from a modest family and served in the German army in World War I, starting out as a private. At the First Battle of Ypres, his original company of 250 men was reduced to 42. He was wounded by artillery in 1916, and received the Iron Cross twice. He was temporarily blinded in a mustard gas attack in 1918 and remained in service until the war ended.

Hitler started building a political movement in the years immediately after the war, gathering a loyal following. He was nearly killed by police in the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, but a friend stepped in front of the bullet, dying in the street. He was imprisoned after the incident, where he wrote his manifesto, Mein Kampf.

Obviously, Hitler is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. However, at a stage of his regime comparable to where Trump is now, the Nazi death toll was relatively modest. Concentration camps were set up immediately after Hitler took power in 1933, but the death camp system wasn’t even conceived until 1941. Early in the Nazi regime, Hitler’s concentration camps were not markedly different in purpose or outcome from the concentration camps sprouting up along our border. It would be hard to pin an exact, year-by-year tally for deaths under the Nazis, but during the first five years of the Third Reich the death toll might not have reached the thousands.

God, guns and Trump. Photo by @KevinMc, taken at a Trump Rally in Dallas on October 17, 2019 an posted to Twitter.

In contrast to Hitler, Trump inherited a fortune from his father, leaning on his father’s money for access to an Ivy League school and capital to enter the family’s dodgy property business. While Hitler volunteered for the army and served with distinction, Trump escaped the Vietnam draft by obtaining a fraudulent doctor’s note diagnosing him with “bone spurs.”

Trump made millions off of books written by other people. He put his name on buildings other people built. He never lifted a finger to organize a political movement or develop a grassroots following. Unlike Hitler, Trump never fought in the streets for his political movement or saw his followers and friends die in the effort. Trump has never placed himself at the slightest risk for any cause.

Both men are black holes of narcissism and grandeur. Both harbored dreams of making their nation great again. Both men are ranters, seemingly incapable of sustaining a conversation or holding a coherent thought. Both are virulent, dangerous racists who despise democracy and seek unfettered power. Both pocketed a lot of money from their political power. But a careful comparison of these two men leads to a very uncomfortable conclusion. On a personal level, Trump is a much worse human being than Hitler.

Hitler served his nation in a truly sacrificial manner in World War I. Hitler had real, lifelong friends. He remained rigorously fit throughout this life. He had a loyal relationship with a partner. He had a taste for art and music. He finished first in an election. Hitler wrote his own book. Hell, Hitler had a dog.

Trump by comparison is a shiftless, miserable slob. He never laughs, never expresses a moment of credible human emotion, and maintains no friends for longer than it takes to cash the check. His sexual relationships are uniformly exploitative. Even his adulterous affairs are owed to his inherited cash.

It is impossible to imagine Trump enjoying a movie, sharing an intimacy, or laughing a joke that wasn’t about his enemies. His rhetoric is a word salad punctuated with schoolyard insults. He didn’t write his own book, build his own policy agenda, or accomplish anything more impressive than delivering mediocre returns on an inherited fortune.

Unlike Hitler, it is impossible to imagine Donald Trump caring for a pet. Donald Trump makes the 20th century’s most cataclysmic tyrant seem relatively relatable, even human.

When their fascist disaster arrived, the Germans got Leni Riefenstahl. We got Kellyanne Conway. Germans got the Nuremberg Parades. We got a traveling carnival of Trump rallies, with all the artistic wonder of a free Skynyrd concert at the park. Germans got a sick tyrant who had placed his life on the line for his country. We got an incompetent tyrant who dodged the draft and made a living through crime. Their Hitler was a product of suffering, starvation and defeat. Our Hitler is an overfed symbol of laziness, aimless affluence and pathetic insecurity. Yes, Donald Trump is our Hitler, and our Hitler doesn’t reflect well on us.

And yes, that means your Trump-loving brother in law is one of our Nazis, the otherwise nice, ordinary people drawn by their insecurities to the cruelty of fascism.

So, what are we supposed to do about that?

What does it mean to be “our Hitler?” Why does it even matter?

Sometimes a people decide to throw open a dank, basement closet full of surprises, releasing whatever lives there to emerge and wreak havoc. Germans who voted for the Nazis in 1933 were not voting to invade Poland. They didn’t vote to send Einstein into exile. They were not voting for Auschwitz. They were voting to make Germany great again at any cost to others, at any cost in moral or humane terms.

Nazi supporters in 1933 were otherwise ordinary, morally unremarkable people who made a calloused, ignorant, lethal decision to deliver a blank political check to an evil force. Nobody makes a contemporary decision to elect a Hitler. Nobody votes for Hitler in 1945. They make a decision to ignore warnings, set aside morality, devalue empathy, and discover what evil their culture can deploy. That’s what it meant in 1933 for Germany’s leader to be their Hitler, a choice to unleash the darkest forces in their society, and that’s what it means for a leader in the present to be “Our Hitler.”

Once loosed, they don’t get to choose how long that evil will roam or what damage it may inflict. They don’t get decide how it will be tamed or destroyed. They only get to decide whether that unknown should be unleashed.

Once that darkness is unleashed, what it means for people of conscience is a state of emergency. Recognizing a Hitler Moment means setting aside complacency in favor of an all-out, unmitigated, by-any-means-necessary resistance. It means the end, at least for a moment, of politics as usual, it means forming opportunistic alliances across formerly unthinkable boundaries, jamming the enemy’s gears at all levels, at all opportunities, and pursuing this course not merely toward a compromise, but toward the utter defeat and discredit of our fascist enemy.

That does not necessarily mean violence, but it means violence could at some point be necessary. What it requires first is organization and resolve. If violence ever becomes necessary, the party coming out ahead will, as always, be the one with superior organization and resources. So build connections. Set aside petty disagreements. Clarify the nature and meaning of the fight.

What about our relationships to our fascist friends and neighbors? Fascist regimes suppress facts for good reasons. Fox News carefully filters what your uncle hears, because securing cult loyalty demands information purity. Followers reward a fascist for delivering the simple, comforting worldview their insecurity demands. Wreck that simplicity. Be difficult. Share information relentlessly. That line of attack won’t necessarily persuade anyone, but it will make it more expensive for the regime to hold its adherents in line. Raise their costs by raising your voice. Peeling away a measly 3% of Trump’s support is probably achievable with modest effort, and would result in an electoral landslide.

Frightened snowflake. Photo by @KevinMc, taken at a Trump Rally in Dallas on October 17, 2019 an posted to Twitter.

Persuading more than a few of the fascists is beyond unlikely, so don’t get distracted by this lure. Donald Trump, Benito Mussolini, Rodrigo Duterte, Francisco Franco, and the rest of the rollcall of fascist dictators became powerful by channeling the deep insecurities of their followers into a movement. Nothing any of us do will fix the personal glitches that inspire people to support them. Those insecurities were always there. What converted them into a catastrophe was the charisma of the fascist icon, and his will to leverage them to power.

To defeat fascism, destroy the fascist icon. Subject him to humiliation. Remember that the worst humiliation for a fascist is the exposure of their authentic self. In the name of all that’s holy, get Donald Trump’s real finances into the light, exposing the extent of his crimes and failures. Make people see his true net worth. Strip him naked. Part of the attraction of a fascist leader is their bullying image. No one wants to follow a weak, compromised bully.

Most of all, don’t let this campaign end when Donald Trump flees. Our focus should be on a concerted campaign to purge all elements of this fascist Republican regime from leadership or legitimate commerce. And that campaign must continue for years after Trump’s removal, focusing with special intensity on the courts. Even after a crushing defeat and a foreign occupation, it still took decades for Germans to rid themselves of Nazi influence in their politics.

Why is it important that we recognize Trump as our Hitler? Fascism isn’t new to the United States. Many of its most noxious elements were forged here and exported abroad. Our Hitler Moment, in which the many strains of white supremacy and bigotry in America have flowed together into a unique, singular movement, offers an opportunity for us to finally reckon with this menacing legacy. We owe it to our children, and to all those who have died through our history battling our own fascism, to seize this chance to chart a new course for our nation.

44 Comments

  1. EJ

    I’m really quite drunk right now. I am at the after drinks of an anarchist event. I am being surrounded by enthusiastic people talking about the better world that we are going to be building in the future.

    My best wishes and all my love to everyone in the American Republic who is being worried by the present confusion. A better world is possible and we can build it together.

    1. “Accumulated wisdom”? This guy conveniently ignores the spineless detritus that are today’s republicans. The ones who focus on intimidation and suppression while sucking up to protect their pitiful selves. The ones who blatantly, dangerously, disrespectfully storm a closed hearing in a secure area with electronic devices in full operating mode. The ones who cry “foul” that only 65 of their members are inside this room, being given equal time to ask questions with their democratic committee colleagues.

      These republicans.

      I think this article by Richard Wolfe best describes republicans of today. Those of yesterday as glorified through the rose- colored glasses? They are pure figments of this guy’s imagination.

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/23/republicans-are-finally-realising-that-trump-is-his-own-worst-enemy-and-theirs

  2. Tonight, Rachel Maddow spelled out her concerns about the involvement of DOJ through the direct involvement of AG Barr and his hand- picked legal attorney (Durham). Her theory is that under the auspices of the DOJ, Barr’s investigation is intended to buttress spurious charges of foreign corruption purportedly perpetrated by Democrats. The goal, of course, is to skew the 2020 election.

    The involvement of the DOJ in this investigation and by an AG a whose behavior, personal involvement and participation in the Ukraine matter is unprecedented. Maddow’s concern is that this ploy may add legitimacy to whatever “trumped up “ charges Barr and Durham present by virtue of using the office of the DOJ for credibility. Whether the media and the American public will be distracted from the real corruption that trump has been and continues to commit in plain sight.

    It’s a credible threat.

  3. So Chris, you have stated that the Hitler moment for the U.S. has arrived.

    Question for the historian in you: If Hitler was killed in 1936, was there an individual who immediately would have assumed his mantle as the leader of the fascist movement in Germany? Was there someone else who had the charisma and necessary abilities who would have stepped in seamlessly, or would that movement been set back some years?

    Now ask the same question about today.

    1. Several potential Hitlers were killed in the 20s and 30s. Maybe Rohm, for example, would have completed his takeover and been worse. Seems likely he would have been. If Hitler had been knocked off, would Himmler have been even worse? Quite likely, yes. It’s a pointless question.

      1. EJ

        Germany at the time, like Germany now and probably every other country now, was full of wannabe Führers looking around for followers. The difference is that Germany at the time was also full of followers looking for a Führer, whereas Germany nowadays is mostly not.

        (I don’t normally use German on the Anglophone internet, but I feel the term is relevant here.)

      2. Chris, it is not a pointless question.

        Rohm was killed by Hitler because he was considered a rival, and therefore you can stroke him off the list of successors. Though Himmler no doubt was as evil, likely more so, and an incredibly effective administrator, I would be very curious to know if he had the charisma to lead the fascist movement.

        And you keep avoiding the second part of the question. I put it to you that if the tyrant died eating a cheeseburger, there is no one currently in this fascist movement that has the right mix of charisma, banality, hatred, and whatever else makes up the cocktail of his cult of personality to maintain the momentum of his party.

    2. Dins-
      It doesn’t matter how many times you ask the same question. The answer is always the same but you refuse to receive it: there are plenty of Hitlers-in-waiting ready to take Trump’s place. Recall that, as Chris mentions, even in Germany, after Hitler was finally defeated, it took decades to purge all the Nazis from German society.

      To answer the question of who could take Trump’s place today, first recall that Trump isn’t even the first person to start this march to fascism in America. GWB created the concept of fake news — although he didn’t name it — when he created separate sections within the State Dept. and the intelligence organizations to create the lies that would justify his Iraq invasion despite every shred of actual evidence saying Saddam doesn’t have any nuclear weapons and wasn’t involved in 9/11. He got the Justice dept. to authorize torture and the concept of the unitary executive which drastically expanded executive authority in virtually all aspects of life as long as it could be labelled part of the “Global War on Terror”. And he labeled anyone who disagreed with his march into Iraq as traitors and Taliban sympathizers.

      Do you know who created the term “reality-based community” and first started using it as a contemptuous epithet? He was also the author of this quote: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” That was Karl Rove, a man who’s been setting the stage for exactly this moment in American history for the better part of 3 decades.

      There are lots of people who are responsible for Trump’s rise, and would happily take his place if he falls. After all, when Julius Caesar was assassinated, Rome didn’t revert to a Republic. Instead, his adopted son rose and consolidated Caesar’s power into the first Emperor of Rome. Would Augustus have crossed the Rubicon? Maybe, maybe not, but once Caesar took that step, he was more than willing to complete the journey.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: assassination is not a rare thing. It’s not some new and profound tactic that you’ve discovered. Political assassinations have been going on probably from the first time a hunter-gather tribe learned to sharpen a shiv. Which means if you want to actually make the case for it (which I hope you don’t because any serious talk about it will have men with guns knocking on your front door) then the burden is on you to analyze history and show us a) instances where it accomplished what you say it would accomplish, b) why today is similar to those instances and c) why today is *not* similar to the numerous instances where killing your opposition didn’t lead to your desired, expected outcome.

      I realize you asked a very narrow question, which you like to do to dismiss as not relevant any other types of discussion like the above that refutes your thesis, so I’ll answer exactly what you asked: who could take Trump’s place and become Hitler if Trump falls? There are at least a dozen, namely just about every candidate from the previous Republican primary in 2016. Yes, Ted Cruz might not have had the balls to go as far as Trump has so far, but now that Trump has paved the way, you can bet that he would happily continue down the same road.

      Part of the reason the Republican party in 2016 was powerless to stop Trump was because they basically agreed with every part of his agenda. Not the rump part of old-time Republicans like Chris who finally had to face the monster they’ve been building for decades. But the Moral Majority / Southern racist / white nostalgia part that’s been ascendant since Nixon and dominant since Gingrich. Exactly what part of Trump’s agenda does Ted Cruz disagree with? What part of Trump’s destruction of democratic institutions has man-on-dog Rick Santorum criticized? Rudy Giuliani might have become “America’s Mayor” after 9/11, but ask any New Yorker who was under his actual mayoral rule how popular his proto-police state tactics were. Do you think that unhinged cross-dresser would have any problems running as “America’s Consigliere” in 2020?

      What history has taught us is that once the march to a tyranny begins, there are lots of people who develop a taste for it. Even that great savior, Obama, never reversed any of GWB’s unconstitutional power grabs, and instead, added to them by authorizing illegal assassinations of US citizens, and dispensing with even the pretense of asking Congress for authority before starting new wars.

      Killing political leaders almost never stops it, and even in the rare cases when it might do some good, it’s only one small part of a much larger, much harder, much longer, and much more boring process of reversing an entire country’s course.

      1. EJ

        Applause.

        It occurs to me that assassination feels more like a Right-wing attitude, as it focuses on a great-man attitude to movements and a belief that you can fix problems with occasional punitive action; whereas a Left-wing attitude would focus on the structural factors behind the movement and the social forces which have created and empowered it.

        Would you say this is fair, or am I strawmanning?

      2. More applause. I can think of one time when an assassination did end up helping the cause of the assassin- Booth killing Lincoln, which put the White supremacist Andrew Johnson into office and started the Reconstruction out wrong. I would slightly modify the question – when has assassination ever helped the cause of people who defend civil rights and want to bend to arc of history towards justice? Assassination by its nature is lawless and increases chaos, something that would be authoritarians eagerly use to their advantage (“I alone can fix this!!”). It’s a dangerous path full of unintended consequences.

      3. WX…Without a doubt rove is the equivalent to the original architects of the nazi movement, and the 2nd bush was a puppet in his hands, as well as cheney’s and others. And clearly, mcconnell and his crew have their fingerprints all over this current existential threat. But to suggest that any of the other 2016 repub candidates would go as far as this tyrant has gone, sorry, but no.

        People seem to forget that Hitler was a great orator and was able to foment the nazi movement out of the same old things that have always been around: nationalism and racism when people feel undone economically. No one will ever accuse this tyrant of being a great orator, but he is a genius when it comes to tapping into the rage and frustration that exists in what appears to be 35-40% of the population. As evil as so many of those candidates were, none have demonstrated the ability to move people like the tyrant does.

        Are there far more capable people in the fascist party, who are likely far more evil? Of course. A cheney or mcconnell as president, with rove or bannon as chief of staff, would be far more dangerous than the current situation, as that crew would be far more effective in getting their will imposed on the planet. But NONE of them have the charisma to control the movement, or at least win another election (I still don’t believe there will be one, or at least one that is not rigged), like the tyrant can.

        So yes, I still believe that if the tyrant died in bed with some 25 year old aide, it would set back the fascist movement some years, because I don’t know of anyone out there that fits the criteria to lead the the movement. (And no, leading a movement and effectively running the movement are far different things.)

        Who could do it? Hannity? Limbaugh?….don’t think so.

        And finally, I fully agree with you that assassination has been in the political tool box since politics became a thing. And politics began when more than 2 people got together to discuss ANYTHING. And for examples where violence worked, how about ask the Irish Republic, or I dunno, a bunch of folks in the last 1770’s who, with a little help from the French and Spanish went from being seen as terrorists in the eyes of the British to citizens in a new country.

        And I would love to know if after the 1968 election the thought crossed nixon’s mind that he would not have been in the White House save for 2 brothers being assassinated.

      4. EJ

        “People seem to forget that Hitler was a great orator”

        No, he wasn’t. This is a common misconception among non German speakers. Hitler spoke quite badly, especially by the standards of Germans of the day. He had a hilariously thick regional accent, he used odd metaphors, and he got far too enthusiastic (which may have been due to his amphetamine habit.) Comedians of the time mocked him heavily.

        Where, then, does this misconception come from? Firstly, I think, from Nazi propaganda itself. The Nazi party was very good at framing and message control, especially when presenting his speeches to non-German speaking audiences who could not accurately experience it firsthand. They told people that their leader was a great orator, and people mostly believed it. Secondly, I think much of it comes from postwar Germans who wanted to excuse the structural problems and their own complicity by presenting Hitler as an evil hypnotist whose death excused all other Germans from having to examine their consciences.

        What Hitler was, however, was a legitimate war hero. His record in the trenches was superb, showing courage and leadership. In a society as militaristic as Germany was at the time, this made a lot of conservatives and even liberals reluctant to openly criticise him. This gave him an opening which some others may not have had.

        That said, Germany had no shortage of far-Right war heroes. Without Hitler, the people who went on to support him would simply have found someone else. Ludendorff, perhaps, or Lüttwitz.

      5. EJ-
        Thanks for the applause 🙂 I don’t think assassination is a uniquely right-wing thing. Frankly, I’m not sure how to apply the whole right-wing/left-wing frame to the world political landscape of the last 100 years. But even more recently, Obama (I consider him center-right but I recognize most people would think he’s left wing 🙂 carried out his “Terror Tuesdays” of targeted assassinations of leaders of terrorists organizations, including bin Laden, in the mistaken belief that somehow the organizations would go away if their leaders were taken out. And Democrats and Republicans alike tried for decades to assassinate Fidel Castro and other left-wing leaders in S. America we didn’t like.

        Perhaps it’s more accurate to say authoritarian regimes tend to be at risk for assassination, regardless of left- or right-wing origins, namely because other means of removing them from power are closed off. Democracy is nothing more than a means for the people to peacefully overthrow the government on a set schedule. And as Kennedy famously said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

        Flypusher-
        I agree, I think the Lincoln assassination is the only time that I know of when an assassination led to effects that the assassin desired.

        Dins-
        I think you’re mistaking what I’m saying. I’m not saying that assassinations don’t lead to any change in the status quo. Far from it. It can have profound effects. I’m saying the change is generally unpredictable, and that the weight of history suggests the chances are high that the change will not be what the assassin was intending.

        You’re convinced there’s no one in the wings who could carry on Trump’s agenda. But in 2015, no one foresaw Trump either. Heck, the night before the election, most people still didn’t take Trump seriously. Maybe you’re right that McConnell and Pence aren’t the guys. But the thing about assassinations is that you never know who will rise to fill the power vacuum. No one thought GWB was more than a smiling idiot who’d watch his beloved Rangers every baseball season and otherwise let “the adults” like Jim Baker and Pappy’s old crew manage the country. Before 9/11 he was an ineffective half-wit destined to 1-term mediocrity. After 9/11 he marched the country into 2 wars, and drastically changed our country and the world in ways very few since Roosevelt have ever done. Could you have predicted that a failed businessman, college flunkie who even in his own family was considered the 2nd-best politician (Jeb was the first) would change this country more than Kennedy or Reagan?

        The bottomline is there is *always* someone waiting in the wings. We just don’t know who it is. Aside from The Simpsons :-), no one foresaw Trump’s rise. How are you so sure you can predict who’s going to take over after Trump, and that he’ll be better for the country than Trump? The argument “no one could be worse” is proven wrong time and time again.

        And let’s go over your examples.
        JFK / RFK. Umm… you do know there was an election after JFK’s assassination, and LBJ won, right? IOW, whatever effect you think JFK’s assassination had, it’s a stretch to say it went beyond an election and directly helped Nixon. And regardless, even if you find evidence that it did or wish to point to RFK, that’s not the point. I’ll concede that assassinations have an effect. The question is: was Lee Harvey Oswald, or Sirhan Sirhan, a secret Nixon supporter? Because otherwise, how are you arguing that the assassination was successful in carrying out the assassins goals?

        I assume you’re not hoping Trump dies just to “introduce a little chaos into the world” (as the Joker would put it :-), but that you have a real goal in mind. Unless Oswald’s or Sirhan’s goal was to get Nixon elected, I don’t see how you can say either of their efforts were successful. On the other hand, if your goal is simply to shake the box and see what falls out, then I agree, assassinations are a great way to do it (and I’d shudder if that’s really what your goal is).

        And I’m scratching my head about 1770. Are you saying we won our independence because George Washington sent a sleeper agent with a musket to England to kill off King George? I must have failed my American history class. Last I checked we didn’t kill the King. He was alive and well even after our independence. We simply decided we would no longer agree to live under his rule, and then went to war to gain our freedom.

        Or are you equating assassination with war? Because they are two very different things. You can’t use successful wars to argue about successful assassinations. If you’re arguing that we should go to war against Trump and his supporters, that’s a very different argument than thinking this will all be better if Trump dies in his sleep.

        As Flypusher mentioned, assassination is a tool to increase chaos. Sometimes out of that chaos, by mere blind luck, your goals are accomplished (I doubt even Booth had a detailed prediction of exactly how Reconstruction would change, when he shot Lincoln). Most of the time, something totally unforseen is unleashed. Oftentimes, the exact opposite of what you wished for. Do you really want all of us to pin our hopes on the political equivalent of a pinball machine?

      6. “Hitler spoke quite badly, especially by the standards of Germans of the day. He had a hilariously thick regional accent, he used odd metaphors, and he got far too enthusiastic (which may have been due to his amphetamine habit.) Comedians of the time mocked him heavily.”

        Hmm, sounds familiar. Trump also speaks poorly and is also addicted to amphetamines.

      7. “The argument “no one could be worse” is proven wrong time and time again.”

        The person who could be worse will have authoritarian impulses, will zero in on resentments and skillfully inflame them, will gather a fanatical cult following, and will pick scapegoat groups and demonize them, just like Trump. But unlike Trump, this person will be smart, this person will have impulse control, this person will not be so openly and obviously profane and corrupt, and this person will understand how government works and how to use it. This person could be either left or right-wing. I don’t have any particular individual in mind, but rather I’m cognizant that Trump 2.0 can happen too easily without major reforms.

      8. @ WX and Flypusher:

        1. WX, I am stating that assassinations have indeed been a subset of the political tool called “political violence” since the beginning of time. I am not conflating the two. One is simply a subset of the other.

        2. I agree that assassinations can lead to who knows what outcomes, but seems the U.S. gov’t, as well as other countries, have decided that they work, since they use them. Ask Iran about that scientist that was killed at the hands of the Mossad.

        3. Can someone rise that is worse than the tyrant? Yes of course.
        The better question is WILL someone, in time, rise that is WORSE than the tyrant? The answer to that is also “Yes, of course.”

        The next tyrant will as Flypusher stated have self-control, and this one will also drape himself in a religious cloth. But fundamentally, that person is NOT on the immediate horizon, and in my estimation, the immediate gain of the tragic untimely end of the current tyrant is better than the forseeable long term downside.

        The next tyrant will rise, regardless of the current one. However, the current one’s continued stay in power every day makes the path of the next one easier.

  4. DFC

    Yes and no.

    The comparison here is plenty sound but it’s wide of the mark. Hitler provides plenty of exoneration for the people being likened to him here. He was from another place. He led industrial enterprise-level slaughter and looting. Even the most virulent of the fascists we now face can rightly claim to have committed no such evil acts, notwithstanding their wet-dreams of doing them, so they can reject the comparison.

    I’d offer a comparison more local to us in geography in history, and one that’s still very much alive among us. We face secessionists. They’re making war on us.

    They share with the Nazis the fetishized masculinity, contempt for the press, religiosity, etc., mentioned here, as the Nazis shared with the Confederates. But they speak our language, live among us, and influence our culture and politics as the Nazis were never able to do; and being so familiar to us, even around our dinner tables, in our classrooms and companies, etc., they seem less dangerous to us. War with the Nazis was easy to spot: things blew up, people died, cities were bombed in planner campaigns by an enemy that wore a uniform and marked his aircraft. War now, here, is much subtler, but it is war. And for its subtlety, it might be said to be even more dangerous than the one the Nazis made. It’s slower. It’s asymmetrical. The idiots with tiki torches aren’t the really treacherous ones. It’s the ones who seem so reasonable, the columnists and think tank thinkers who pervade from the inside instead of sending outside forces to conquer. We know people who make good careers out of fighting us. This enemy speaks our language, evokes courtesy, and takes its gains patiently inch by inch. We can even find ourselves sometimes taking its side, unknowingly or knowingly.

    Like our first Civil War this one is epistemological, pitting two whole ways of thinking against each other. One side says there is such a thing as self-evident truths. They are certainties that have earned their status from relentless testing; they are everyone’s tools and nobody’s property; they never fail to prove themselves and so they are the most useful instruments ever discovered; and they don’t need to be endorsed or even understood by people in order for them to be true, so they are coldly dispassionate, incontestable, and fair (and for the cardinal example of this, read Lincoln’s Inaugural Addresses, the Second one particularly. It’s icy in its fairness.) The United States is the first nation ever to be founded on the basis of self-evident truths. They are bedrock for capitalism, law, science, and every manifestation of them in our lives, which has made us the most successful civilization in history.

    The South seceded because they rejected self-evidence. They explicitly stated that truth is not a matter of evidence. It’s about belief, and belief coupled with power , they said, is enough to make a thing true; and enough upon which to base a civilization where fact is property, and where the powerful could make it theirs while reducing an entire race of people to the status of equipment by denying them the very facts of themselves. They had to say this directly in justifying secession. They couldn’t just up and leave, so they insisted that the Declaration of Independence–that their forebears and in some cases, their literal fathers, had signed– was wrong in calling all men equal. They had to nullify the thinking the Founders had called self-evident to justify their leaving. This wasn’t like, say, the Ptolemaic solar system replaced by the Copernican one, replacing a given theory with a better one under actual empirical testing. This was epistemological war–nullifying empiricism with teleology. They wanted blacks to be inferior because they owned them. They said blacks were destined to be owned because they were inferior. They backfilled this lie with every Biblical and circular argument they could muster, and backed it up with power until the whole tower of lies collapsed under them.

    Overlay the political map of 2020 with the map of the old CSA and the obvious becomes even more obvious. The thinking that energized and then enervated the South never went away. In fact, it’s back literally with a vengeance, nationwide, because for people who feel helpless against self-evidence that doesn’t need them to understand it or endorse it, it’s thrilling to pretend again that belief is powerful, that it’s enough to nullify observable reality and make someone who resents equality better and more powerful than that other person. The Nazis used fetishized masculinity, contempt for the press, religiosity, etc., but they didn’t invent them, and really, they were fighting America with many ideas like those that got traction right here in America long before Hitler. There’s a poisonous joy on display here at these rallies that ought to be very familiar to us, straight out of the history and literature from our own country, and it ought to remind us of the beam in our eye.

    It ought to encourage us as well–this thinking always rears its head too late, and it always loses. The Trumpist secessionism that is now afoot in the land cannot stand as capitalism evolves into better versions where self-evidence is the key. We see this in law, science, and every manifestation of them in our lives. But goddamn, we’re in a real fight, and we need to see it for what it is so we can see how to win.

    1. “ He led industrial enterprise-level slaughter and looting. Even the most virulent of the fascists we now face can rightly claim to have committed no such evil acts, notwithstanding their wet-dreams of doing them, so they can reject the comparison.”

      That’s comparing Trump and Trumpism to 1943 Nazis. Look at 1933 instead.

      You would probably like reading David Brin’s takes on the recurring American Civil War- we’ve never dealt with the ramifications of slavery and White supremacy and the Confederacy, so we endure periodic flare ups of the secessionist virus.

      I’m becoming more convinced that if I had the power to change one event in US history, preventing the assassination of President Lincoln would do the most good. The botching of Reconstruction is the most tragic missed opportunity in American history.

    2. DFC-

      I take a far more pedestrian view of the Civil War. There is no such thing as a self-evident truth. In mathematics there’s what’s known as Godel’s theorem, which proved that there is no set of axioms that can be proven to be internally consistent with no outside assumptions. I would argue the same is true of any political theory. Every theory espouses a set of assumptions as foundational facts, unproven but beyond reproach, and then creates a system around it.

      I’d even argue that the Declaration of Independence recognizes this. It doesn’t say “These truths are self-evident”. It says “We hold these truths to be self-evident”. That’s not the same thing. The first is an assertion of fact. The second is an assertion of belief. Lots of people will disagree with the radical notion that “all men are created equal”, and indeed, I’d argue that there are downsides to holding this belief (in America, since all people are created equal, if I’m poor and Donald Trump is rich, that’s because I’m a bad person and he’s a good person, right? It can’t have anything to do with Trump being a part of the lucky sperm club, since all people are created equal, right? Isn’t saying all people are created equal itself a nullification of the bountiful evidence that your lineage and circumstances of your birth — sometimes down to your genetic composition — have a powerful influence on your future life?)

      Believing that the North held a monopoly on truth is just as dangerous as, well, *anyone* who believes they hold a monopoly on truth. I think it’s more accurate to say the North and the South had two sets of incompatible foundational beliefs, and the only way to resolve that was to impose one set of beliefs on the other through war. War is never about who’s right. It’s always about who’s powerful enough to impose their idea of what’s right (regardless of whether that idea is, in some objective manner, actually “right”).

      Also, while the CSA overlays nicely with modern day Trumpistan, it’s not really an accurate way of looking at things. The modern divide is rural / urban. Every city even in places like Alabama is blue, and every rural region in places like California is deep red. I don’t know if sympathies broke down in similar fashion during the Confederacy, but that’s how they are today.

  5. You missed one of the critical parts of Fascism

    It is a “Cult” – and it has the biggest weakness of all Cults and religions

    In a “Cult” criticism of the “Leader” or even his “Subleaders” is “Heresy”

    Back in the days of the “Kings” that was a problem but in today’s more technical society that is a HUGE HUGE weakness

    https://davidbrin.blogspot.com/search?q=citokate

    CITOKATE

    Criticism is the only known antidote to error

    Hitler screwed up lots of times but nobody could tell him
    His minions also screwed up by the numbers

  6. There’s one curiosity I have about the difference between the American Republican party from 2016 to present and the Nazi party from 1933 to, I guess comparatively 1936:

    Did Hitler have more support of young people than Trump seems to have?

    It’s kinda difficult for me to suss that particularly because Hitler was not democratically elected to the position of Chancellor but rather appointed by President Paul von Hindenburg through parliamentary and back-door procedures — all a whole lot more technical than 70k some-odd dying white people from five states who have probably already been buried this many years later.

    I know that Hitler wasn’t exactly popular but what I’m not clear about is just how much support of his position was just accepted versus active outrage by Germans.

    1. The question of youth support for the Nazis is fascinating. It’s tough to get good data.

      Contemporary observers in Germany prior to the war often commented with horror on the apparent pro-Nazi fanaticism of young people, but there are a few caveats. First, these observations all come from the late 30’s, after all the competing youth organizations had been replaced and all skeptical school curriculum had been eliminated. It might be true that young Germans were wildly enthusiastic about Hitler, but only after the alternatives had disappeared.

      In terms of sheer numbers of voluntary participants, Hitler Youth lagged far behind the main communist youth group (Young Communist League) right up until that group was banned. There were numerous other youth groups on the left with similar numbers. Not sure whether that’s a definitive indicator, but it seems like as good a metric as we’ll find.

      The anecdotal picture I’ve gotten from reading memoirs of Hitler Youth members suggests that enthusiastically pro-Hitler young people were probably outliers all the way through the period. That may not be due to any reason more complicated than the ordinary dynamics of teen-dom. The memoirs seem to consistently remark on the sudden deterioration in quality and enthusiasm of the HJ after membership became mandatory. There were constant discipline issues. Rampant absenteeism, such that the forcible rounding-up of HJ members for meetings was a regular duty of the more tenured members who had joined early and actually cared. Draconian punishments were enough to get members to (mostly) carry out their duties, but you don’t get a sense of widespread enthusiasm.

      However, among those little monsters with the right natural proclivity for fascism, the HJ was a terrifying launchpad. In the face of outright objections or undermining interference from parents, HJ managed to turn otherwise promising young achievers into ruthless killers. I think a lot of our image of a generation of Germans bent by the HJ is taken from these outliers who drank the KoolAid and begged for more. It was apparently a particularly traumatizing experience for Allied troops to encounter these battalions of kids who fought like bloodthirsty lunatics but still died like children.

      In short, I don’t think that Hitler was particularly popular with young Germans. He seems to have been less popular than the Communists. But young people in Germany, worn down by poverty, hunger and malaise, seem not to have had a lot of spirit for a fight. They seem to have been as willing as everyone else just to see a stable leadership in place.

  7. Great summary of Trump from a non-American.

    Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England wrote the following response:

    “A few things spring to mind.

    Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

    Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

    But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

    Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

    And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

    There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

    Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

    And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist. Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that. He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

    He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

    This song about Donald Trump just won a BBC Folk Music Award as Best Song | Listen on The Hobbledehoy

    And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

    There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

    So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that: • Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are. • You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

    This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss. After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum. God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

    He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

    And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish: ‘My God… what… have… I… created? If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”

    I confess I’m embarrassed being American right now especially when the pics of his supporters are published. If his followers represent “the backbone of this country” we are doomed. Ignorant white trash from meth country wearing childish, in- your- face t-shirts equating God to guns and cheering mindlessly to infantile insults and jeers is a sad indictment on our education system and the values these people espouse. Notice you never see a dark-skinned person in these crowds unless they are paid like Diamond and Silk, media attention whores, hired to make Trump seem like a friend to POC.

    In my own, simpler words Trump is a disgusting turd of humanity. Barely human and a clusterfuck of the worst flaws imaginable. In comparisons to Mussolini and Hitler, one can only hope their fate is his.

      1. EJ

        Johnson is only slightly less odious than Trump, but what makes Johnson successful is that he bothers to conceal it. He camouflages his cruelty as wit, his fear as braggadocio, his misogyny as womanising, his arrogance as eccentricity, and his xenophobia as patriotism. Nobody is fooled, of course; but they appreciate the politeness of the effort to conceal it, and for many people that’s enough.

        There’s also a class aspect to this: Nate White is writing predominantly from the viewpoint of the British professional and managerial classes. In Britain, of course, class pervades everything; but it’s worth pointing out that working-class people in the UK tend to demonstrate both more appreciation for directness, and appreciation for displays of empathy, than Mr White illustrates in his well-written screed.

    1. “And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath.”

      Is this the same Britain that’s still proud to proclaim that the Sun never set on the British Empire? I think lots of people in Africa and South Asia would disagree with the notion that the Brits of all people are not bullies or fight with “basic rules of decency”…

      Look, even being of Indian descent, I harbor no ill will to modern day British people, but IMHO, the Brits have progressed even less along the road of coming to terms with their horrific colonial past than America has with slavery, and nowhere near as far as Germany in coming to terms with its Nazi past.

  8. “ …Pence waxing lyrical over Trump’s “broad shoulders.” “

    If your gag reflex isn’t too easily triggered, you can check out Ben Garrison’s Trump cartoons. It’s the perfect visualization of what Chris has described.

    (I invoke gag reflex as a response to the obvious obliteration of reality in these ‘toons. Personally I don’t otherwise care what floats someone’s boat.)

    1. Lots of pics of Pence standing behind Trump gazing almost worshipfully at him. Creepy, and any man who calls his wife “mother” has issues IMO plus all those fundie Christians who obsess over homosexuality are always closeted and on the down low.

    1. I saw your comment in the last thing about not doing the activism to-do post, which is good ’cause I’m cranking at a side gig at the moment. But Chris did it anyway. In addition to the eight civic duties of voting, boycotting, letters to representatives, petitioning, letters to editors, demonstrating, donating, and volunteering, standing against Nazism specifically is being willing to look a grown man in the eye and tell him the truth, even though it means you might anger a neighbor or lose a friend or have a very awkward Thanksgiving.

      1. In some cases, no family Thanksgiving at all. Been there following the 2016 election. It took me weeks to get over my grief and shock at what happened. The irony is, I knew enough then about trump to worry deeply about what was ahead. But, it’s been worse than I imagined.

  9. “ On a personal level, Trump is a much worse human being than Hitler.”

    Yes. This right here. This is why it is absolutely gobsmacking- infuriating- exasperating- sad that so many people, who have practiced kindness in their own lives, and haven’t tried to game the system, have chosen to turn a blind eye to this. I recall a question at one of the 2016 Presidential debates, where each candidate was asked to say one good thing about their opponent. Clinton cited Trump’s children. I consider that one of her biggest lies because: 1) Trump (by his own admission) was not an involved father. All the hard work of raising children was completely beneath him, and 2) the 3 oldest children look like they’ve turned out to be rotten grifter apples that never fell off the tree. There may be hope for the youngest 2, but that will be in spite of their vile father, not because of him.

    Also I think Trump not ever having a pet is a major indictment of his character, but I’m glad that a worthy companion animal was spared that.

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