If Trump is Hitler, Someone Please Explain How We Can Avoid Becoming “Good Germans”
In recent months and especially weeks, rhetoric about Trump-as-Hitler and “this is how Nazism got started” has taken on a life of its own and become a kind of internet “truth.”
Or maybe it’s more like a joint at a party: it gets passed from hand to hand and you never know how many people have spit on it.
In one sense, the comparison is facile and even offensive, but we’ve also become accustomed to just about everything being compared to Hitler.
Google the phrase “is like Hitler,” and here’s what comes up (aside, obviously, from Donald Trump):
- Angela Merkel
- Ireland’s Minister for Defence, Enda Kenny
- Apple, Inc.
- Justin Bieber
- Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy’s Five-Star Movement party
- Kanye West
- Bernie Sanders
- late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
- Boris Johnson
- Mitt Romney
- Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama (but in a good way)
- comedian Adam Carolla
- Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari
- film director Michael Bay
- Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s Podemos Movement
- Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders
- former Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos, Nigeria
- former Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán
- the late Palestine poet Mahmoud Darwish,
- former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
- the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez
- Garrosh Hellscream, a character in the multiplayer online role-playing game, World of Warcraft
- the owner of Mr. Ho’s Chinese restaurant in Troy, Alabama
- George W. Bush
- Turkey’s president Recep Erdoğan
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker
- Obama (a lot)
The reason for all of that may be, in part, because it’s about the worst thing people can think of to say about someone else; because there’s a belief that “we” are so inured to horror that only extreme hyperbole will get our attention; because making outrageous and exaggerated comparisons is one of the elements of humor (successful or not); because of Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies; because it’s easier than actually making a case for why someone is a violent, totalitarian, genocidal sociopath; and because there’s a fuckton of people alive today who have absolutely no clue who Hitler actually was or what was happening in Germany in the 1930s.
All of that said, the real point here is the Trump-as-Hitler comparison, which is directly connected in its current usage to urgent calls to “do something”: to not be complacent, to “get out there” and “fight for your freedoms,” to not let “this” happen in America, to recognise the “emergency for democracy” that is taking place, to “stop Trump” before it’s too late, etc., all of which seem slyly (or bluntly) to evoke criticisms of the Germans, the Poles, and other Europeans during WWII who “let” Hitler destroy most of the continent, terrify the world, and murder untold millions of people. (The American government, in fact, also “let” Hitler have his way for much of his reign of terror, but that’s another story.)
What we’re taught (or, at least, I was taught) was that “they” should have done something to stop Hitler—either as he was coming to power or after he was firmly at the helm of the Third Reich. Instead, they chose to be “good Germans” and look the other way. They were complicit. They were guilty.
What could they have done, exactly? Well, they could certainly have done something. They should at least have gone out and gotten themselves shot (as if that would have “stopped” anything).
So my question is this, and it is an absolutely serious one. What are “we” supposed to do? If Trump is Hitler and if his election is going to bring waves of nationalism and racial profiling and mass deportations and concentration camps and ultramilitarized police and dismantling of human- and civil-rights protections … what are “we” supposed to do so as not to end up as “good Germans”?
I’ve got one vote. In my past experience with election campaigns, I can wave signs, do phone banking, register voters, donate money. How many people will that convince to vote my way who weren’t already planning to do so? I would submit that the answer is a pitifully small number. With phone banking in particular, which is the Democratic party’s key grassroots strategy (or, at least, it was in 2008 and 2012), calls go out almost exclusively to people who are ALREADY Democrats and who, if they vote, are going to vote for your candidate anyway.
I could post “Trump is Hitler” on Facebook and Twitter on an hourly basis for the next three-and-a-half-months, which seems to be what a signifcant number of liberals/Dems/NeverTrumpers/pro-Hillary bloggers have in mind, evidently because doing so isn’t at all alienating and has been conclusively proven to change people’s minds.
So forget that. Should I be marching and waving placards? OK, where? Should I be throwing myself in front of a tank? OK, where? But more importantly, why? In other words, what concrete impact will either action have on stopping
If Trump is elected, what should “we” do?
“We” didn’t stop President Roosevelt from rounding up American citizens of Japanese descent and putting them in concentration camps in 1942.
“We” didn’t stop Reagan from dismantling the social-safety net and creating a nation of homeless people.
“We” didn’t stop Bill Clinton from expanding police and judicial powers and putting hundreds of thousands of black people behind bars for decades for petty crimes or from wringing his hands as Rwandans hacked each other to death with machetes.
“We” didn’t stop Bush from invading Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We” didn’t make Obama take action to stop Assad from turning Syria into the killing fields.
So if we are witnessing the last gasp of American-style democracy, if we are truly at that moment in which the United States veers inexorably toward totalitarianism, and if, because of the historical example of Hitler, we are conscious that Trumpencian rhetoric may lead us down a similar road, what are we to do? What specifically? And how will it work?
Again, I am asking in complete seriousness and with no small amount of desperation.
Because I truly do not see a way in our system, short of assassinations, armed civil war, or making friends with my local “preppers” MeetUp Group, to keep a sitting president and an elected Congress, whose majority is from that president’s party, from doing substantially what they want.
I don’t see a way to “stop” a police force or the military or the national guard, if they should be deployed.
I am beginning to have my doubts that average Germans could ever have “stopped” Hitler … the ones who wanted to, I mean. People of all nationalities and faiths across Europe resisted; they did what they could … and not a few of them died in the effort. But they didn’t “stop” him.
If Trump’s deportation orders go into effect, what will we do to keep people from being deported? What can we do?
If our Muslim friends, neighbors, and community members are forced at gunpoint to leave their homes and report to concentration camps, how do we put an end to that program?
If this is the tipping point, and if, unlike our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation, we have ample warning, what is our plan?
One thing I know for sure: Twitter will not save us.