Sunday, October 2, 2016

Donald Trump is No Adolf Hitler

Some of you may have read an article I wrote for The Mercury last week that was published two days after the first presidential debate.

It was your typical local newspaper story, exploring a local angle on a national event.

In this case, it was based on a phone interview with Marcel Groen, who spent 27 years as the chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party -- and is now state chairman -- who was at Hofstra University for the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Necessarily, his comments were primarily pro-Clinton and anti-Trump, none too surprising given Groen's job and decades of advocacy for Democrats.

What you did not read is a portion of the story that was removed by my city editor, which is, of course, his prerogative.

I had interviewed Groen several years before and recalled that his mother had survived World War II in Holland and asked him what she thought of the debate and the campaign.

"She survived for 18 months in a cellar in Holland, which was where I was conceived," Groen said of his 94-year-old mother.

What he said she told him about the campaign, which was cut from the article, was that "she remembered being 10 or 11 years old and a man was saying he was going to make Germany great again, and that only he could do it."

Groen said his mother told him that "they would have rallies where they would beat up people who did not agree with them. Sound familiar?"

My editor said he thought those comments went too far beyond the scope of the article and I will not dispute that decision here.

But it does raise an interesting question about the western world's relationship with the history and legacy of a man whom many consider to be the most evil human being ever to rise to power.

For the last 52 years of my life, people have been comparing people they don't like to Adolf Hitler. As a result, the comparison itself has become an empty, over-used parody of itself.

It seems like everyone from Mother Theresa to Dr. Kevorkian has been called Hitler, compared to Hitler, or painted with a Hitler-tinged brush.

As Shalom Auslander wrote in The Washington Post on Sept. 13, "Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, has also compared Trump to Hitler. Cher has compared Trump to Hitler. Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has compared Trump to Hitler (although in fairness, that’s kind of his whole brand). Even Glenn Beck compared Trump to Hitler."

Hitler's shadow and legend have grown so large that it is almost impossible to view his life, his rise to power and his crimes against humanity with anything like historical objectivity.

Adolf Hitler is now a symbol in the world consciousness of something dark and horrible in the human spirit and so is used too often to describe things less dark and horrible than his true legacy, which needs little embellishment.

The hanging of a Trump banner next to a Nazi flag

at the Bloomsburg fair last week is just one of too 
many examples of how Pennsylvania's white 
supremacists have embraced Trump's campaign.
And so it is inevitable, given the adoration that America's white supremacists seem to have for Donald Trump, that this comparison will be made and made often.

Perhaps that is why Michiko Kakutani's review of a new Hitler biography in The New York Times recently raised so many eyebrows.

Without once mentioning Trump's name, she achieved what few of the ever more hyper-ventilated columnists in the media have failed to do -- showing us how many parallels there are between Hitler's rise to power and Trump's without making us dismiss this comparison out of hand.

It was so clearly (and, dare I say cleverly?) done that even The Washington Post noticed.

Yes, there are most certainly parallels, but more of circumstances and methodology than of the substance of the men in question.

Hitler was not born into wealth.

A failing student, rejected from art school, Hitler served his country in the German Army during World War I, received accommodations for bravery and was injured by mustard gas.

Adolf Hitler knew failure and rose to overcome it. Understand, I list none of these circumstances by way of praise for a man who was a monster, but they are historical facts and they helped to shape what he became.

These are also historical facts about Donald Trump to consider.

Donald Trump was born into wealth.

He never knew economic hardship or what it means to have an insecure financial future. He never knew that fear that lives in the pit of your stomach when you wonder if you can provide for your family.

Despite being educated in the New York Military Academy, Trump  never served his country.

Educational deferments and then a bum heel (he can no longer recall which one and no longer suffers from the effects of the handicap) kept him from being drafted and, sadly, robbed U.S. forces of his military prowess in Vietnam.

Trump inherited money from his father, and went on to a business career chequered by both successes and bankruptcies -- along with accusations of shady dealings too numerous to list here.

He is the star of the world's worst reality television show, if there can be said to be such a thing.

The point is, Adolf's Hitler's beliefs, as abhorrent as they were and remain to this day, were hardened by life experiences that would likely have crushed Donald Trump.

And despite sharing certain personal characteristics -- Hitler was often underestimated and never admitted to being wrong -- Donald Trump pales by comparison.

You see, Donald Trump has no beliefs.

He says what he needs to as circumstances demand to ensure he gets the most attention possible. Such a devoted narcissist does not bother with truth, facts, or, more importantly, consistent positions. All that matters is what will draw the attention of the nation that day, and satisfy the endlessly compliant national news media's inability to fill a 24-hour news hole with something of substance.

Yes, like Hitler, Trump does ascribe to using the lowest common denominator in his political parlance, but certainly he is not the first American politician to do that.

Trump is not even the first American politician to spew, much less hint at, white supremacy or ethnic hatred (I think we would give him too much credit to call it "a philosophy") in his effort to play on America's fears.

Where the parallel does cause concern, and does demand the attention of voters, is that apparently, such an approach can still work in modern America.

Some would argue, without much foundation, that the election of a bi-racial man as president meant the end of racism in America. Rather, I would argue, it has helped move it to the front burner of the national discussion.

And its not a pretty discussion. How can it be?

As just one example, consider how police violence against African-Americans, long suffered but rarely addressed, is now making headlines every day. Are we to believe this never happened before?

But we're talking about it now.

Can you remember a time when black artists were able to make the observation about "how white" the Academy Awards are without having their careers undermined?

But we're talking about it now.

It is to be expected that the tipping of the scale toward justice for all, is going to trigger a counter-reaction.

But it is dismaying to see how much traction that county-reaction has claimed.

To be certain, there are many factors at play to explain Trump's rise. And yes, like Hitler, Trump does have a knack for taking advantage of circumstances and trends for his own benefit and advancement.

The nation has grown weary of Washington's ineffectiveness -- made most recently manifest by the mendacity of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had the balls to blame President Obama for failing to inform him that a bill allowing victims of 9-11 to sue Saudi Arabia might also be used against our own service people overseas before McConnell led the effort to override the veto that made that exact point.

The nation has grown weary of crumbing bridges, undermined public schools and an economy that seems designed to favor the few.

By claiming the mantle of "outsider," a time-honored political tradition, Trump has gained support the other Republican candidates -- insiders all -- could not.

My father, a student of history if every I knew one, recently pointed me to an article in The Guardian about what British journalist Arlie Hochschild calls "the great paradox of American politics" -- in short, how people screwed over by rich business interests can support a rich guy with a reputation for screwing people over to further his business interests.

It's worth of read if you are part of the half of the country who can't understand what the other half sees in Trump. Hochschild captures how Trump speaks to the white lower middle class's feeling of being left behind in pursuit of the American dream or, more specifically, that others are being put ahead of them on the great line of progress to a better life just because they're black, or Syrian refugees.

It fleshed out the gray areas for me, helping me -- forever insisting that there is little in this world that is ever just black and white -- to see why its just too easy, too simplistic and too ineffective to call Trump Hitler and call it done.

But that does not relieve this nation of the responsibility for the fact that  it had until recently become a campaign killer to use such starkly blatant racial and ethnic hatred in a campaign for president.

There was a time, not so long ago, when saying things like Donald Trump says every day would have put a candidate immediately out of the running for president and onto the pile of fringe candidates whose names are forgotten to history.

Instead, he was rewarded for the use of such rhetoric by becoming the GOP nominee, as much a surprise to him and to Reince Priebus as to the rest of us I suspect.

(I have one friend who theorized that Trump's campaign began as a way to get free publicity for a new television show and that it turned into a serious bid by an accidental matching of demagogue to conditions and trends that too many of us failed to realize were stewing under the surface for years.)

But however accidental the candidate, it's who we face now and we have to deal with what he has come to represent now.

The first order of business is we, as voters, as citizens and as human beings, simply cannot reward such hateful, divisive, misogynistic rhetoric with the highest office in the land.

For although I feel sure that the joke would be on most white supremacists in America, who would find themselves supremely disappointed with Donald Trump as their president, being the leader of the free world is no joke and allowing him to win the election just to mess with their heads is not worth the punchline.

Donald Trump may be no more a bona fide white supremacist than he is a conservative Christian, but the use of a race-baiting ethnic hating path to reach the White House would encourage others to follow; and that America cannot allow to occur ever again.

Further, although Donald Trump is certainly no Adolf Hitler, using Hitler's political methods to win the presidency would dishonor our fathers and grandfathers who gave their lives to ensure it never happen again.

Donald Trump may be no Adolf Hitler, but that fact that his campaign "sounds familiar" to a 94-year-old woman who spent 18 months in a Dutch basement hiding from Hitler's horror should be enough to disqualify him in the eyes of American voters.

The fact that it hasn't already just adds to our growing shame as a nation.

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