Trump isn’t Hitler, he’s Vladimir Putin

The historical context of Nazi-era Germany is often used to explain the rise of Trump in America. Certain parallels are undeniable. The fact that Trump’s closest adviser — Steve Bannon — has ties to the alt-right. The fact that the administration’s chief political strategy —Lügenpresse, or “false press” — was invented by Hitler’s regime. The fact that America seems to be one Reichstag Fire away from some sweeping executive order giving absolute power to law enforcement. But in the end, it’s counter-productive to call someone a Nazi.

Arguments start slowly with disagreements, typically ending abruptly when one person compares the other person to Hitler. Instead, a more relevant and thought-provoking comparison — a time in history that explains the justifiable apprehension of those on the left — is the Cold War.

It’s pointless to exhaust oneself trying to convince non-believers that the Russians interfered with the US election (they did). Or that the interference had a significant effect on the outcome of the results (it did). We shouldn’t be focused on trying to convince someone it actually happened (i.e. reality). Instead, it’s more important to convince them why it would happen. In other words, Cui Bono? Who benefits?

As a pretext, one should first understand why a cyber attack during an election is so brutally effective. There’s three significant differences between a clandestine cyber intelligence operation like Russian hacking and, say, a militarized attack like 9/11.

First, unlike 9/11, where the attack consisted of known perpetrators including Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and 19 foreign hijackers, the Russian hacking was never meant to have a face behind it. There was never supposed to be anyone specific to point fingers at and place blame. Inherently, that’s the entire appeal of a cyber attack.

When you try to place blame on an entire country — let alone a former Cold War rival — and accuse them of hijacking an election, it understandably sounds like conspiracy theory to many Americans. The notion is so absurd and counter to the idea of American exceptionalism, that it naturally discredits itself. More importantly, if it were true, it would discredit the beliefs of half the country. Which is to say, there’s already a solid base of loyal constituents in America willing to defend against these accusations.

This brings us to the second reason why this attack was so effective. Unlike 9/11 — which was an attack against America as a whole — the Russian hacking was an attack against an America that was already divided. Not only did the attack favor one side over the other, the mere existence of the accusations only inflamed partisan politics, further dividing the country. The same way the attacks on 9/11 united Americans, the Russian attack was meant to do the opposite. It was meant to divide us.

Third — and most relevant to the question of who benefits — is that the damage of the attack was meant to be caused from within. Unlike 9/11 — a militarized attack meant to cause mass casualties — the Russian attack was meant to destabilize America long-term.

The Russians knew, because of sanctions, they would never be able to compete economically. And, because of the NATO alliance, they would never be able to compete militarily. They recognized the only way to erase the idea of American exceptionalism was to let America attack itself from within — force America to de-legitimize itself. The election of Donald Trump played a pivotal role.

You can’t argue the attack had no effect on the election because putting Trump in power was the entire purpose of the attack. It was the first step toward the reemergence of Cold War spy games and political gas lighting. And this brings us to the question at hand: who benefits? If you haven’t figured this out by now, I’ll give you a hint: it’s Russia.

For younger generations of Americans, it’s easy to overlook the monumental importance of winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union. It wasn’t just a race to the moon, or a hockey game in Lake Placid, or a boxing match between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago. It was a war between the two remaining post-world war superpowers — a war between competing ideologies — that nearly ended in mutually assured destruction.

The aftermath of the Cold War had significant long-term effects on Russian society. Military spending was cut drastically (the military-industrial sector had previously employed one of every five Soviet adults). When it was dismantled, it left hundreds of millions throughout the former Soviet Union unemployed.

After embarking on capitalist economic reforms in the 1990s, Russia suffered a financial crisis and a recession more severe than the Great Depression. Above all, Russia lost it’s spheres of influence around the world. The historical context is important because it establishes a motive.

There’s one poignant similarity between the Russian hacking and the attacks on 9/11: both were an act of revenge. Both a long time in the making. It’s important to remember that Putin is a product of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, and the KGB. Make no mistake, his revenge is both political and personal. Look at what he’s gained: America’s president is now vehemently pro-Russian. Trump’s inability to lead or unite this country could ultimately lead to our destruction from within. This is Russia’s endgame.

Our only hope to defend against this attack is uniting as a country — coming together in the face of a common enemy, instead of fighting with ourselves. At some point, we have to put ideology aside and realize this might be bigger than politics. Quite possibly a devastating attack against America. Unfortunately, the real damage will only be revealed slowly over time.

The purpose of exposing the reality behind this attack is not to determine who won or lost the election. It’s about preventing others from making that decision for us. It’s about speaking truth to power and preserving the legacy of free elections that has come to define our strength through democracy.

Russia didn’t create another Hitler. It created another Putin: an autocratic reality-denying oligarch with complete disdain for the opposition. If you support Trump, it doesn’t mean you’re a Nazi. It means you support Putin. If you believe Trump/Russia are infallible, it doesn’t mean you’re a fascist. It means you’re complicit in treason. It means you’re turning a blind eye to an attack against your own country. Trump supporters might be unaware of the long-term implications. But to Americans who remember the Cold War, there’s good reason to believe the implications might be disastrous.