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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.