You may think that President Donald Trump is amoral, narcissistic and racist; that he lacks empathy and intellectual curiosity; that he disregards facts and truth; that his tweets are a form of verbal flatulence; and that he treats the Oval Office as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement.
If that is your view, understand that others see Trump as a plain-spoken (if occasionally crude) patriot; a wealthy champion of a downtrodden middle class; an outsider tilting against Washington’s long-standing protocols; and a man whose indiscretions are less important than his promotion of conservative, “America First” values.
What Trump is not, is Adolf Hitler.
I frequently see Trump compared to Hitler, whose name is synonymous with Nazi atrocities in the 1930s and 40s, most notably the decimation of Jewish communities across Europe.
I worry that such linkage may have the unintended, yet unfortunate effect – particularly for those less informed about the Holocaust – of reducing Hitler to the level of a mere political figure.
The truth of Godwin’s Law – the longer an online argument continues and the more heated it becomes, the greater the likelihood that someone will invoke Hitler’s name – is proven daily. And once Hitler’s name is invoked, there remains no room for discussion or attempts at persuasion, and the argument is over.
Born 10 years after World War II and raised in the comfort of suburban America, I have no standing to question Holocaust survivors who hear echoes of their past in Trump’s actions and language.
Rhetoric that scapegoats “the other” in our society and appeals for support of the “only I can solve these problems” variety are as much staples of the demagogue’s toolbox today as they were decades ago.
Those who link Trump with Hitler contend that what the former has said and done thus far tracks the latter’s rise to dictatorial rule, and they feel that their fears for the future are well-founded.
Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson, now in his seventh term representing Georgia’s 4th District, likened Trump to Hitler in a New Year’s Day address at an event hosted by the Atlanta branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
Hitler “rode a wave of nationalism and anti-Semitism to power. Replace anti-Semitism with ‘All Latinos crossing our borders are rapists, drug dealers and murderers.’ Does that sound familiar?” Johnson asked his audience.
“Hitler was accepting of violence towards the achievement of political objectives; Trump encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies. And his messaging about Charlottesville that there were bad people on both sides sent a powerful message of approval to the far-right racists in America,” Johnson said.
“Americans, particularly black Americans, can’t afford to make the same mistake about the harm that could be done by a man named Hitler or a man named Trump,” he said.
Johnson later doubled down on those remarks, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I don’t think Hitler or a discussion about Hitler is off-limits to anybody. That’s a fair comparison, and I think it’s a necessary one, because if you do not understand history and how history can repeat itself then you’re bound to repeat history.”
As odious and divisive as I find Trump’s demonizing of immigrants from various nations, or his policy that separates behind fences children whose parents attempted to enter the United States at the border with Mexico, or his mistaking neo-Nazis for “some very fine people” (i.e., Charlottesville), the differences between Germany then and America now should temper the temptation to equate Trump with Hitler.
The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored extermination of 11 million men, women and children (6 million of them Jews).
As fewer and fewer of its survivors walk among us, it becomes all the more important that what the Nazis wrought remain the standard for what humanity is capable of doing at its worst, and that it not be lost on anyone that a word – genocide –had to be created to describe the totality of the slaughter.
Even if you think Trump is the worst president in the nearly 243-year history of this republic, judge Trump as Trump.
Trump is not Hitler.
Hitler was Hitler.