When I was young I undertook a study of Fascism and Nazism from both an ideological and historical perspective. There are many overlapping ideas and trends, but they are also different in aspects of their underlying theories (especially in relation to early, Italian Fascism) and their historical development. But I was particularly fascinated with how Germany, the country of Göethe, Beethoven, and Kant ... with the most educated and literate population then extant, and possessing a representative democracy, one with a system of laws and distributed powers ... could in less than a decade become a land of unprecedented intolerance, death camps, and a country that would cause the deaths of tens of millions of people across the globe, indeed, bringing the entire world as close as it has ever come to being enveloped in a dystopian abyss. It is especially remarkable that throughout most of the 1920s and up to 1933, Adolf Hitler was a laughing stock and a figure of derision among the elites on both the conventional right and left, including the governing and military classes. He was thought to be a comical buffoon by the political cognoscenti; a crass vulgarian by the upper classes; a semi-literate theorist by the professoriate; and a silly, erstwhile corporal and martinet by the senior officers of the Reichswehr hailing from the elite Preussische Kriegsakademie. Soon enough, though, these smug elites would be singing a new tune, and they would be goose-stepping and Sieg Heil-ing to it, and be assured, most people did—including the complacent naysayers of the universities, drawing rooms, and military--or they'd find themselves in a camp or swinging from a rope or affixed to a meat hook. Such a buffoon ... a laughing stock that could never rise to power ... is among us today. I am referring to Donald Trump. I believe Trump and Trumpism represent a greater existential threat to the American way of life than ISIS, which is not to understate the need to deal with violent fundamentalism, but it is important in doing so that one not lose all one holds dear or one's humanity.
There are obvious differences between the US now and Germany then, and, to be sure, between Trump and Hitler; however, there are too many similarities to go unnoticed. Trump, like a good Nazi or Fascist, is very adept at blending the popular ideas of both the ideological right and left, and he does so in a way to capture the imagination of many, and especially of the dispossessed, the disgruntled, and the insecure. And I draw special attention to the latter condition: insecurity. There has been a fair amount of economic insecurity for many years. Now there is the insecurity of physical safety. Like Hitler, Trump borrows easily from both capitalism and socialism (e.g., he has supported a single-payer health insurance, and would restrict markets and trade, among other things), and he cannot be categorized in any conventional sense ... consider Hitler's own words in describing National Socialism: "From the camp of bourgeois tradition, it takes national resolve, and from the materialism of the Marxist dogma, living, creative Socialism." (Adolf Hitler, Max Domarus. The Essential Hitler: Speeches and Commentary. pp. 171, 172–173) Trump is a complete utilitarian and opportunist, adopting whatever principle that will work to win support, and he is especially adroit at appealing to our darker biases and tendencies, and playing upon our primal fears. And like the author of Mein Kampf, Trump well understands that even the biggest lie, when it is repeated both often and loudly enough, will be believed by many. He is no fool, and contrary to the musings and smugness of today's elites ... he is the smartest man in the Democratic or Republican field, not in a cerebral, literate, or intellectual sense ... but in an instinctive, intuitive way, and not altogether unlike Adolf Hitler's peculiar and Satanic genius... and, like the latter, a master of self-promotion and publicity, gifted at understanding and tapping into the darker impulses of people. He is much smarter than the media, too, both the mainstream and conventional left and right-leaning outlets, including even its most gifted puppet masters, such as Roger Ailes of Fox News.
I will make a bold and, I believe, defensible assertion: Donald Trump is the most dangerous politician of prominence in the United States since Huey Long, the "Kingfish” of Louisiana who might well have taken the presidency away from FDR in the thirties, and who was another kind of American-styled Fascist. Indeed, Trump is perhaps much more dangerous given his wealth, national pulpit, mastery of media, and the breadth of his popularity. Recent events have given his appeal and potential for power even greater sustenance. In my view, he is potentially even more dangerous than the criminal Richard Nixon, who produced the greatest Constitutional crisis since the American Civil War, or even the foolish war criminal, George W. Bush, and his sidekick, the odious brigand, Dick Cheney, who together killed tens of thousands of people unnecessarily, and whose stupidity ultimately gave us ISIL. Each was very bad, of course ... but none a Fascist or Nazi-like in any real, historical or ideological sense. Saying someone is worse than Richard Nixon is a very big leap for yours truly. But Nixon, for all of his criminality and paranoia, was not a proponent openly--or even surreptitiously--of as much wholesale evildoing as Donald Trump. As Trump is a clear and present danger to the US, indeed, the ultimate Anti-American, he is therefore a danger to the world as a whole. Taking even the slightest chance of handing over America's economic and military might to this man should send shudders up every thinking person's spine.
Trump is an obvious authoritarian, and he glibly ignores many of the most important aspects of the U.S. Constitution and the laws protecting minorities and the individual liberties of all, and he does so in a very clever and sometimes subtle manner, one that appeals to large swaths of an aggrieved population. He is clearly a racist; probably an anti-Semite (one need only have heard his unbelievable speech to conservative, Republican Jews, one that punctuated with the worst stereotypes!); a bully who suffers no criticism, one who even countenances physical action against those who dare to do so (such as the forced removal of a Black Lives Matter protester and a Hispanic reporter from his rallies) ; a hyper-nationalist, making ordinary flag-waiving patriotism seem tepid; an economic protectionist and proponent of state corporatism--a quasi-centralized control, much like the Nazi’s unholy economic cartels and alliances; an unabashed nativist; and he identifies the greatness of the nation with his own personality. Add to this his highly exaggerated sense of machismo and masculinity, hallmarks of the self-portraits and public posturing of both il Duce and der Führer. Every single one of these characteristics was shared by the leaders and major proponents of Nazism ... and all but racism and anti-Semitism by Italian Fascists, that is, until Mussolini (and then only when it benefited him as part of the Axis, and much later in his career).
Hitler had much material to work with, of course, with the aftermath of WWI and the pervasive feelings of national disgrace that obtained; the Weimar economy with high unemployment and hyperinflation; the perceived threats of communism and anarchism; a distrust of free or unfettered markets and of the bourgeoisie; a perceived moral decay and the libertine lifestyles of elites; and fear of the principal bogeyman of all, the Jews, the alleged source of all manner of depredations, economic and otherwise. And though different in some major respects, Trump has his own material in the current environment: feelings of dispossession, economic dislocation, and alienation among the uneducated white working-classes; fear of the "other" as manifested by anti-immigrant sentiments in major segments of the population; and an unsettled middle-class and even many affluent, educated people who are looking for predictability and stability. He has of course made much of the “otherness” of President Obama, and he is the chief instigator and popularizer of “birtherism” and the result is that 43% of Republicans consider Obama to be a Muslim and even more think he is an illegitimate president. Only 29% of Republicans believe he was born in the United States. This is all part and parcel to Trump's insidious agenda to turn the present majority of whites against minorities and to capitalize on the changing demographics in America. It is not that he is a theoretical racist with an overarching racialist philosophy a la Herder, other proto-Nazis, or the malevolent Joseph Göebbels; he is much more of a practical racist. Indeed, like some Nazis, such as the Strasser brothers, Trump panders to those he would abuse or exclude, and uses them as dupes (his African American acolyte, Omorosa, comes to mind), but only to the extent that it is useful. Perhaps more worrisome than anything, however, is the increasing insecurity that arises from the reality of terrorism and the growing (disproportionate to reality) fear of it, which serves to attenuate tolerance and to magnify all of the other concerns I've mentioned. And now Trump has even insinuated in not-so-subtle terms that Obama has a hidden agenda to support Islamic terrorism.
Just to scratch the surface of some of Trump's most reprehensible ideas, he unreservedly has promoted identifying and tracking Muslims ... even if they are American citizens; he advocates killing the families and destroying the homes of families who have the misfortune to be related to terrorists, notwithstanding their guilt or innocence (presumably babies and children, too?); he would erect walls around the nation to keep people out, walls that might also keep people in; he openly and repeatedly accuses Hispanic immigrants and African American citizens of being criminals of the worst kind; he is a crude and vile critic of all who disagree with him; he would trample the property rights of owners to suit the interests of the state, and he would ignore (and routinely says he would) enshrined principles and statutes of commercial and contract law, both domestic and international; he would violate even the Geneva Conventions on military matters; he says awful things about women and the disabled; and he is an utter fabulist, making things up about other people, historical events, and even about his own biography at every turn. All of these things are in various ways and in various degrees eerily similar to a certain failed, Austrian artist.
Donald Trump is definitely not your grandfather's Republican. Taft, Eisenhower, Dirksen, Goldwater, and Rockefeller are all spinning in their graves. He is not even a Reagan or Bush or Romney Republican. That only a handful of nationally prominent Republicans today--or even Democrats--are roundly, unambiguously, and pointedly denouncing him is shameful. Who among them, like Churchill not so very long ago, will take the political risk of denouncing this evil man, notwithstanding any public ignominy that could result? Donald Trump is something very different than previous Republicans. He is certainly not a liberal or libertarian, but he is also not a conservative. Hitler and Mussolini did not fit into any of those conventional categories either. He possesses all of the key characteristics of a Fascist, and many of a Nazi, though I have only lately come to use the latter designation in describing him. I do not use these labels lightly, I hasten to add––unlike many who did in my idealistic youth, or even some today who use those appellations flippantly and, more often than not, inaccurately ... or those who compare various people on the political right with whom they disagree to Hitler, which is nearly always inaccurate and sheer hyperbole. There is only one Hitler, but no one of importance comes as close in style, character, and ideological makeup in my view as Donald Trump. Modern conservatives (who still hue to and wish to "conserve" many liberal principles) or even most reactionaries or nationalists/Chauvinists (in the proper sense) are not Fascists or Nazi-like. Donald Trump, however, is like one by every significant lexical and historical standard. Is he genocidal or will he be rounding up people and putting them into camps? That might be a stretch, and I simply don't know. He has not said so.But I do not trust him. Hitler was not openly so or advocating this for many years, either. He gained power, first. And many of the things he said and did to gain power are not dissimilar to things one hears today from Donald Trump in his constant bellowing about making America great again (its renewed greatness achievable only through him, of course, for he is great himself, and Americans can share in his greatness by basking in his unalloyed and glorious reflection) ... and by his very open pandering to people's hatreds and fears.
There is one more historical thing to consider. Do not think what is beginning to occur with Muslims, at least in terms of the open talk, is altogether dissimilar to what was happening to Jews in Germany in the early to mid-1930s, and particularly prior to 1938 and leading up to Kristallnacht (late '38), after which things would rapidly deteriorate into the Holocaust. The Jews, a relatively small percentage of the population, were blamed for many ills, ranging from Bolshevism to financial mischief, and it was customary to point to the depredations of a very few Jews to paint a broad brush across all Jewry. Sound familiar? The Jews were increasingly seen by many as a threat to security ... as being un-German , unpatriotic, and even traitorous (Germany having been “stabbed in the back” by Jews in WWI ... causing the nation's humiliation and defeat … and a well-known Nazi shibboleth) ... and dangerous in many different ways. Do keep in mind there were a very small number of radical Jews who were also anarchists and Bolsheviks, and who committed some violent acts of insurgency. The Nazi's used and magnified such incidents to great effect in their propaganda. This is not altogether dissimilar to the small number of radical Jihadists among Muslims in the west. (A great many more violent acts were committed by people of Christian backgrounds then and now!! But never mind that! Just as over 33,000 people die each year from guns in America today, and almost all at the hands of non-Muslims!) And then it all began in the early 1930s with identification programs, then enforced segregation, then restrictions of legal rights and finally the elimination of all rights, and so on! In a matter of a few years well over half the Jewish population left Germany. Over 90% of those remaining, a couple of hundred thousand by the beginning of WWII and within Germany's borders proper, were exterminated. It couldn't happen again? Don't kid yourself. And if you think some of the things we hear today from the likes of Trump, especially Trump, but also from his sympathizers and his fearful apologists (some on Fox News, for example), is all that different from things that were being said in Germany in the 20s and 30s, you are very mistaken and need to read the history about that period. There were differences in conditions and national characteristics, to be sure ... but some very unsettling similarities.
I believe it is incumbent upon all liberal-minded (in the broadest sense of the word, not a partisan one) and thinking men and women of good will to denounce Donald Trump; to declaim against his repugnant beliefs; and to take steps to prevent this monstrous personality from ever gaining power. Never have I had Santayana's admonition about repeating history by not learning from it as much in mind as I do now. Perhaps it is unlikely that he will be the nominee of the Republican Party. But we should not assume that he won't be, and we should not as individuals remain silent while there is a chance that he could be. And if he is the nominee, Americans, please vote practically, not idealistically ... for whomever on the current scene is against him (most likely Hillary Clinton) and who also has a chance of winning, even if he or she would not be someone we’d prefer. In the meantime, I am considering registering as a Republican (temporarily!!)--a party I mostly have loathed since 1969--just to vote against him in the primary! Heaven help me.
I apologize for the prolix nature of this. I hope others might agree. And finally, I hope that someone prominent on the political scene will rise above his or her fears and find the courage to roundly denounce this man and his evil views. President Obama is too professorial and analytical in my view, though he certainly has access to the pulpit. The Republicans up until now have mostly been afraid or cannot gain the attention necessary to do so. Hillary does not have the oratorical skills. The nation will never elect Bernie Sanders. As all who know me know, I am no fan of either Clinton, but Bill is the most capable politician with a national audience, and perhaps only he has the requisite oratorical skills and the standing to do what is necessary. I hope he sets practical political calculation and triangulation aside, takes the necessary risks, and rises to the occasion as Churchill once did when no one else would, and that he condemns this charlatan and his odious ideas loudly, persistently, and once and for all. If not him, then someone else must. I know some will think I am overreacting or overstating the case. That is exactly what many said, no, what most thought after the failed and somewhat comical Hitler-Ludendorff-Putsch of 1923, and for several years thereafter. Not so much by 1934, though, at which time Hitler declared himself Führer. Let us therefore not take any chances.