Stop saying Trump is Hitler
First things first let me out my bias. I am not a Trump supporter. I do appreciate some of the things he says about international trade (the results of which are often sweatshops, something I am implicitly against) but outside of that wedge of pie he loses me pretty quickly. I happen to enjoy environmental protections and despite its shortcomings the federal department of education is pretty sweet too. I identify as pretty darned trans/queer and am likely to vote for the candidate that most reflects my personal sense of queertopic-anarcho-voluntary-society (Vermin Supreme most like).
That being said I am in a unique position to respond to the recent and somewhat constant comparisons of Trump to Hitler. I am a sociologist and popular culture researcher and for the past few years I have been working on a project concerning the rise of popular totalitarianism in the Interwar period and the relationship it had to the cultural media of the time. A somewhat scandalous side effect of this line of study is that I now know an obnoxious amount of stuff about Hitler. Obviously I am not here to defend Hitler, although as an activist one of my goals is to humanize him in order to make his crimes less quasi-fictional and more apparently real and present.
I am here however to tell you to stop comparing Trump to Hitler. Roll with me here if you dare. These points will start at the most simple and work toward complexity.
They are actually different people.
Forgive me for starting at the pedantic but Hitler and Trump are different people with radically different backgrounds and political convictions. Hitler was born into relative poverty 1889 at the tail of the Victorian age. He served in WWI and was gassed (leading to his questionable mustache choice). He grew up in an age of commonplace racism and dealt first hand with the economic punishments meted out against Germany after The Great War. A life of struggle, poverty, and ethnic / racist hatred.
Trump was born in 1946, conveniently right after WWII. Trump has not served in the military. Trump has experience as the leader of businesses and investments. In making deals. Trump was born into a rich family and was given an infamous “small loan” in order to get started. Trump’s daughter Ivanka is an Orthodox Jew. Trump grew up around the metropolis of NYC with all kinds of people and employs people of all walks of life. Trump has said he supports the right of transpeople to use whatever bathroom they like, and Caitlyn Jenner tested it.
Hitler was a socialist.
Yes of course he was a nationalist socialist and there is in fact a big difference between it and simple socialism. Imagine all the things you like about socialism (sharing, friendship, joy) but only for Germans. Kill or enslave everyone else. Bam. Now you are thinking with swastikas.
Hitler favored a centralized and controlled economy. That is the essence of fascist polity — centralized control over everything. Hitler was so obsessed with controlling everything that he literally tried to take over the earth to make his dreams reality. He hired an architect to redesign Berlin so that it could be razed and rebuilt as a new Rome with brutally perfect alleys and malls. A place for everything and everything in its place. Or die.
Trump is a capitalist. This is not a compliment, but I will be gosh-darned if I don’t believe a capitalist is better than a fascist. You can do whatever mental acro-yoga you need to in order to make them the same political phenom but they just aren’t so don’t. It is true that during the Interwar period there was a healthy orgy of orgies between capitalism and fascism — but in the end capitalism won. Pretty fucking hard actually.
Trump wants to dismantle the departments of education and the environment, and leave abortion rights to the states. These are choices I implicitly disagree with yet I am called to point out that they seem to be the opposite of centralized control. Trump wants people to be able to make their own choices on a state-by-state level. I can’t say this seems fascist or nationalist-socialist to me.
Hitler was openly very racist.
Trump just isn’t. Further below I outline how hyperbole in general is aiding Trumps campaign, but before I even get there let us just focus on defining whether or not Trump is racist, or more importantly if he is racist in the same way that Hitler was.
Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico in order to stop illegal immigration. He has been very clear that his concerns with immigration are two fold: first he believes that uncontrolled immigration allows criminals to enter the US, second he thinks Islamic Terrorism is a threat to world peace. These two things need to be picked apart and treated discretely instead of mashed together into one factoid.
Trump has 37% support from Latinos. Who are these 37%? What are they thinking? It should not surprise us that a certain number of people who are second or third generation immigrants would lean toward conservative politics. It should also not surprise us that a certain number of first-generation legal immigrants would feel indignant toward illegal immigrants. Trump very specifically speaks of stemming illegal immigration, not all immigration. Regardless, these Trump-supporting Latinos exist and if Trump were truly racist on par with Hitler I doubt they would.
The harder to stomach issue is that Trump has said he wants to stop all Muslims from entering the country “until we have things figured out” or some such other nonsense. Halting entry to the country on a temporary basis is foolish and I don’t believe it will stop terrorism — but it is nothing at all akin to concentration camps, or even Japanese internment camps for that matter. Trump has no outlined plans to round up United States citizens. He has said pretty specifically he wants to round up non-citizens and send them back home. I find this solution to be foolhardy and unworkable, but not outside of the ken of typical Republican talking points and nothing like genocide. Further along and reaching conjecture, Trump himself has said that the outright ban was “his first offer”, interpret that however you will.
Yet similar to the unexplained Latino support, there are Muslims who support Trump. I see that other progressives prefer to call these people brainwashed and working against their own interests, but I have trouble dehumanizing someone simply because I don’t understand their politics. They exist and the more we complain that Trump is Hitler the more we are obviating their existence and failing to appreciate or attempt to understand their experience.
Hitler isn’t Satan
The really disturbing part of this trend is that not only does one out their ignorance of Trump when they say he is Hitler, but they out their ignorance of Hitler. Not that the average person should require a deep understanding of Hitler, but if we are going to use him as a yardstick of evil we should at least be willing to investigate the implement so chosen.
What it seems like is happening is “Trump is Hitler” is coded language for “Trump is the ultimate evil I can conceive of”. I can conceive of evils greater than Hitler on a variety of scales, from Stalin to the Backstreet Boys. It makes one seem simple-minded when the only argument one can make is “He is bad”, which is what “Trump is Hitler” reduces down town.
Beyond that it is a purely emotional argument and meant to trigger a purely emotional response. Hitler is evil and everyone knows it. It is also highly unlikely anyone will counter your statement for fear of being mistaken for defending Hitler, Trump, or Satan.
Obama is already Hitler
That is to say that “Your candidate is Hitler” is legit the exact same argument that the GOP made against Obama in 2008 and 2012 and guess what it didn’t work. It seems like when you paint a silly Hitler ‘stache on someone no one takes it seriously.
Hitler isn’t even Hitler
Hitler is Napoleon.
Comparing the candidate you don’t like to a previous-generations villain is pretty common through history. As outlined earlier, Hitler is just a secular stand-in for Satan these days.
Our hyperbole hurts us
When we short circuit directly to Hitler we skip over leagues of what must be logical arguments as to why Trump strikes us in our cores the way he does. It is not enough to simply feel an emotion and pin Hitler on it and think we are done. It would probably benefit us to try to actually understand what we don’t like about him.
More importantly though, and this is probably the most important part of this essay, is that a great part of the conservatives in this country feel unheard, unrepresented, stifled by political correctness, and that their opponents lack logical, rational, and real points for discourse. When one is debating or arguing with a Trump supporter and one says “Trump is Hitler” or even “Trump is racist, hates women, is xenophobic” or whatever — whatever you say — is interpreted as lacking any argument whatsoever. It is a confirmation to your opponent that you have no points and you lack the ability to gain them.
At a knitting party it will garner you many hell-yeahs to say that Trump is Hitler, but your knitting party friends already agree with you on almost all of your politics discounting minor differences here and there. The people who need to be convinced that Trump is a bad choice for the country are the ones we should be speaking to — and they are emboldened and empowered when we skip to Hitler. They are laughing at us because we are proving to them that we are as poorly educated and brainwashed as they believe we are. I don’t particularly care that they are laughing, but I would really love to convince them to stop supporting Trump.
Calling him Hitler excuses violence
There has been a lot of violence at rallies lately. At risk of having a corner cut off of my queer card, I am not going to pretend it has been equal or that Trump supporters are doing the bulk of it. The sources and nature of the violence are worth speaking toward but let me scoot that further down.
The violence that we are seeing is being routinely excused in the media and social circles as being Trumps fault because he set the tone. Early in his run he was more off the cuff and brash with his statements but if you watch his rallies you will see that in recent months he has started telling his supporters to be peaceful. This is an important change in his tone and should be noted.
In the meantime we have so many public voices calling him Hitler, and mainstream press voices like Huffington Post, which similarly appends the following to every post about Trump:
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.
I am of the firm opinion that Trump does not regularly incite political violence, he is not a rampant xenophobe, or a racist. He might be a misogynist but he has been hiring women into high-stakes positions since the 80s so that is questionable as well. He is in fact a “Birther” but that is such a commonplace position in the TeaParty leftovers that I can’t be scared or shaken by it. We also addressed the ban on Muslims above.
My point is that even Huffpo (some will laugh at me thinking they ever had scruples) is playing it biased and heavy with emotional attacks that are based on half truths and outright lies. The more we position Trump as being Hitler or Satan or the ultimate evil the more excuse the use of violence to stop him.
A note on political violence this season
While we are chatting about the violence of the political season let me point out a distinction I have found.
Trump “set the tone” by telling his audience members to beat up protestors who showed up specifically to disrupt the rallies. The violence we saw early on was caused by Trump supporters using inappropriate force to defend their right to peaceably assemble. In other words the Trump people were hitting protestors who were in what we could call “Trump Supporter Space”.
The riots in California and Chicago were, oddly enough, also protestors going into “Trump Supporter Space”. In both instances citizens of the United States are being blocked from the ability to peaceably assemble by intimidation and violence. Not only is this not the progressive movement I signed up for, but I am forced to point out that not a single Clinton or Sanders rally has been violently disrupted by a mass of Trump supporters.
There have been no Clinton or Sanders supporters with broken noses except where those supporters were disrupting Trump events.
Again I feel the need to clarify — I am not excusing violence in either direction. I am however pointing out that Trump supporters seem to be having their right to assemble messed with while they are not messing with anyone else’s. This is an important distinction.
Just stop already.
If we continue to repeat that Trump = Hitler, or that Trump is a racist sexist xenophobe (instead of using deweaponized and accessible language) we are dooming ourselves to an unavoidable outcome:
Trump is going to win.
Every time you call him Hitler his support grows. The opposition is quick to dismiss our every argument as hyperbolic and childish. Don’t make it so easy for them.
Anti-Trump violence is defended as being acts against a potential Hitler. The more violence is brought against Trump supporters the more the same end is true — more people are emboldened in their support of Trump, and more swing voters are turned off by us progressives and find confirmation of what the conservatives say about us.
There is a feedback loop between the two. The more violent we progressives are the more we just illustrate the worldview of the conservatives to them. They want us to be unarticulated children who don’t understand the world.
We are only proving them correct.