Unsurprisingly, the Editorial Board of the Washington Post, which I presume is composed of highly educated folks who should know better, went full Godwin on Republican front-runner/escaped mental patient Donald Trump, comparing him to Hitler.
Assuming Trump secures the nomination, then as the campaign advances, I expect we’re going to see a lot more of these Trump/Hitler comparisons. Everybody will be quick to point out that “Hitler was elected too, you know!”
Yeah, but come on. Hitler? Hitler was an awkward, inadequate, socially retarded loser before he discovered politics, and whatever you may think of him, that’s not Trump. He’s Mussolini, maybe, but even that’s a stretch. Mussolini was a well-read intellectual who even worked in my profession of journalism(!), after all. I certainly can’t say that about Trump.
As it happens, there is a figure associated with Nazi history who reminds me quite a bit of Trump, but it’s not Adolf Hitler. If you insist on playing the Nazi card, a better historical analogue would be Karl Lueger, the populist mayor of Vienna who served as an inspiration for the young Hitler in his days as a starving wannabe artist.
Like Trump, Lueger was a loudmouth rabble-rouser who frightened “respectable” people and liked to surround himself with beautiful women. Also like Trump, it was not clear that Lueger really believed his own bullshit. While Lueger was a rabid antisemite on the stump, he had lots of Jewish friends. When someone pointed out this inconsistency to him, he gave a famous, very Trump-like reply: “I decide who is a Jew.”
In other words, while I think it’s ridiculous to imply that a showbiz clown like Trump is the second coming of Hitler, one could make a plausible argument that he could serve as an inspiration for far more dangerous people in the future. Indeed, to a certain extent, he already has, which is why the prospect of voting for the guy gives me such pause. But as I explained in my previous post, I don’t feel like I’m being left much choice here. If Trump’s the nominee — and I hope he’s not — just who the hell else can I vote for in order to rattle the skulls that need to be rattled? Because believe me, I’m gonna be looking to rattle some damn skulls.
Anyway, if you’re gonna go the “he’s gonna be a dictator!” route, there’s a much closer historical antecedent: Julius Caesar.
Think about it: Caesar was a rich man from a rich family who betrayed his class to become a populist leader. The Romans saw themselves first and foremost as warriors, so before entering politics, Caesar first built a successful career in the realm that the Roman people saw as the foundation of their glory: The military.
Unlike the Romans, who literally thought the God of War was their patron deity, Americans have a complicated love-hate relationship with the military. But if there’s one thing Americans all agree on, it’s that they love business.
“The chief business of the American people is business,” President Calvin Coolidge famously observed. “They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.” The archetypal figure nearest and dearest to the hearts of Americans is not the victorious general, but the successful business tycoon — self-made, if possible, but Americans can also get behind a rich heir if he’s got the kind of brash cowboy swagger they admire in a business leader. Hell, Americans even love businessmen when businessmen let them down. During the Great Depression, when much of the rest of the world was embracing socialism, Americans were shelling out for a board game that unabashedly celebrated cutthroat capitalism. When the Roman people looked for a man on a white horse to punish their corrupt political class, they looked to the Legions. If or when Americans decide to put their fate in the hands of an emperor, it seems certain he will emerge not from the barracks adorned with medals, but from a corporate boardroom dressed in a suit and tie.
Oh, and also like Trump, Caesar was a relentless self-promoter. More than two millenia before Trump published The Art of the Deal, Caesar was expounding upon his own greatness with his self-penned account of his military campaigns against the Gauls. Indeed, a lot of what we know about Caesar actually comes from either Caesar himself, or people with a strong motive to flatter him. (Even stuff written after his death can be a bit suspect, seeing as Caesar’s nephew and designated heir Octavian went on to found Rome’s first imperial dynasty.)
Heck, the comparison even extends to personal grooming: Trump famously has a vanity complex about his hair, which may or may not be real, but definitely looks fake. If you believe Suetonius’s bitchy, gossipy classic, Caesar liked to wear laurels on his head because he was insecure about his baldness.
None of this is to suggest that Trump aims to establish himself as a tyrant; personally, I don’t think he’s that smart or cunning. I’m just pointing out that if you want to smear the guy as a dictator, there are cleaner analogies out there than Adolf Hitler.