Monday, June 20, 2016

Trump as Hitler

Why would America elect a president like the one who served Germany so poorly?

Comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler has become rather common (including, occasionally, in this blog). I made a big deal, for example, of Trump's followers pledging loyalty with a raised right hand salute like the Sieg Heil of Nazi Germany. Leonard Pitts Jr., in the Miami Herald, digs deeper.

... for the record, I’m not the only one who sees the shadow of Germany in the 1930s over America in the 2010s. Once again, a clownish demagogue bestrides the political landscape, demonizing vulnerable peoples, bullying opponents, encouraging violence, offering simplistic, strongman solutions to difficult and complex problems, and men and women who bear more moral authority on this subject than I ever could see something chilling and familiar in him.

Those men and women include survivors of concentration camps and the step sister of Anne Frank. Pitts quotes them perceiving the similarity of Trump and Hitler and then sums up with a lesson we Americans should take from history. In a tweet, Pitts has a letter from a WW II veteran about what he learned from post-war interviews with average Germans. Here is an excerpt from that letter: "The people, mostly fathers, would tell me that Hitler ... said he would make Germany great again ... I shiver and shake when I hear what Trump is saying. Did I and thousands sit in cold fox holes to defend our country and now are about to have a leader like the one we defeated. God forbid!!!"

Pitts continues.

... I don’t predict a new Holocaust if Trump bamboozles America into electing him. But some new calamity, inconceivable to us now, but repulsive to the values we claim to hold dear, does seem certain.

And that raises a question: If one should never be too quick to make comparisons to Germany in the 1930s, is it not also important, on the rare occasions it is merited, to make sure one is not too slow?

One reason, after all, that no one saw Hitler for what he was is that people simply could not conceive of anything as preposterously monstrous as what eventually occurred. They took refuge in the assurance — the false assurance, as it turned out — that reason would eventually reassert itself.

The failure of imagination is often a component in tragedy. That’s why I’ve always declined to blame the Bush administration for 9/11. Before that, who could have conceived of fanatics using jetliners as missiles?

But afterward is another story. Once you have seen for yourself that the unthinkable is not, it moves from the arena of imagination to that of history.

And then, you must use it to understand where we are and help chart where we should — and should not — be going. You can’t blame people who didn’t realize what Hitler was. They had never seen anything like him before.

You and I, however, have no such excuse.

Not only that, we have sharp instruments, history and analogy, to be applied in defense of our democracy. We need to learn from history lest we repeat it by electing another demagogue who promises to make us "great again." We need not suffer another global calamity to relearn that lesson.

h/t Mark Mandel for the Pitts tweet

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