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Wednesday, 08 March 2017 20:09

Trump’s rise has some similarities to Hitler

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To the Editor:

Among the many sources available to explain current events in Washington is an excellent recent book that looks provocatively into the past rather than the present or future. Titled Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by the German author Volker Ullrich, it explains in well-documented detail how history's most evil man came to murderous power and, more importantly, why Germans let it happen.

Though Ullrich doesn’t touch on the comparisons between Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump — whose election came after the book's publication last year — they should be obvious to any Americans who don’t depend on Fox “News,” Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart for what they mistake as information.

Hitler was a racist demagogue who lied without restraint or remorse, and so is Trump. Neither ever won a majority vote in a fair election. Hitler's megalomania, craving for adulation and intolerance for criticism owed to a deeply rooted personal insecurity. So, it seems, do these conspicuous flaws in Trump’s character.

Both gave clear warning to how they would make life hell for scapegoated minorities. Trump's view of a free press as the “enemy of the people” eerily matches Hitler’s own.

Hitler was made chancellor by politicians who thought they could manage him better if he were inside the government rather than screaming at it from without. Most of the Republicans in our Congress are practicing the same sort of reckless opportunism.

But, to compare America today to Germany in the time of Hitler, is to appreciate the strengths in our country that were tragically lacking there, notably our powerful traditions of free speech and dissent. The Weimar Republic, Germany's experiment in democracy, was only 14 years old when Hitler fulfilled his ambition to destroy it. Anti-Semitism and authoritarianism were embedded in the culture.

“It was astonishing not just how quickly, but how easily Germany was turned on its head,” Ullrich writes. Even Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, was astonished how quickly Germany fell into line. “Now, everyone is a Nazi,” he said with contempt.

Here, however, the mass anti-Trump demonstrations and the torrent of protests to Congress bespeak a majority of Americans who are not prepared to fall into line. The question is whether we can keep it up. The answer is simple: We must.

And that extends to fighting like the devil to keep Trump, Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions from populating the federal courts with right-wing toadies. North Carolina’s progress in fighting gerrymandering and voter suppression depends on that.

The most astonishing dissimilarity is painfully ironic.

Germans knew almost nothing about Hitler’s personal life before or after he became chancellor. He took pains to conceal his mistress, Eva Braun, from the public “to maintain the myth of the Führer sacrificing himself day and night for his people.” Apart from selling his art work, he had no record in business, no trail of cheated workmen and contractors, no “Hitler University,” no bankruptcies, no boastful claims to the right to sexually assault women, and no massive tax evasion, although he would exempt himself entirely later.

In candidate Trump, on the other hand, Americans perceived a mountain of sleaze, much of it from Trump’s own mouth. How was he elected despite all that? It means that the minority who voted for him — and they were a minority — were more interesting in throwing bombs than in building bridges. An assortment of highly personal motives — resentments, hatreds, disappointments, or selfish desires—matte r ed more to them than the character of the leader of our country and of the free world.

But for the intervention of a foreign enemy and FBI director James Comey’s October surprise, Trump likely would have lost the Electoral College too. Fixing that anachronism, which has now crowned a less popular candidate five times, must be an urgent national priority. A democracy like ours doesn’t deserve a loser like Trump.

(Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville. This article is condensed from an op-ed on the web site Florida Politics. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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