Adolf Hitler is making a big comeback this year. The leader of Germany from 1933 until his suicide in 1945, he was responsible for the murder of millions of civilians, mainly Jews, during World War II. He is considered the very embodiment of evil in our time.
So why Hitler’s big bounce this year? Two words: Donald Trump.
Trump has murdered nobody. He does not advocate genocide against anyone, though he does believe in banning Muslim immigrants and visitors from entering the United States, at least temporarily, lest some carry out terrorist attacks here.
The comparison of Trump to Hitler on the internet and in the mainstream media is not meant to be an exact one. It is meant to be a warning.
It is meant to say: Hey, the good guys didn’t take Hitler seriously in the 1930s and never expected him to rise to power and take over most of Europe while coming close to taking over most of the world.
But Hitler got as far as he did because of what Edmund Burke said in his most quoted quotation: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
And the question that should be asked today with regard to Trump is, therefore, simple: Are good people doing nothing?
A lengthy, deeply researched piece on the front page of the New York Times recently quoted everyone from Holocaust scholars to Hollywood superstars to Anne Frank’s stepsister.
The question: Should we be worried that Trump is the thin edge of modern fascism with real menace to follow? And should we be reporting on him the way Hitler should have been reported on when he first started amassing power?
The New York Times piece, by Peter Baker, one of the most respected journalists around, at one point says: “President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico criticized Mr. Trump’s plans to build a wall on the border and to bar Muslims from entering the United States. ‘That’s the way Mussolini arrived and the way Hitler arrived,’ he said. The actor George Clooney called Mr. Trump ‘a xenophobic fascist.’ Louis C. K., the comic, said, ‘The guy is Hitler.’ Eva Schloss, the 87-year-old stepsister of Anne Frank, said Trump ‘is acting like another Hitler by inciting racism.’ It got to the point that his wife, Melania Trump, was prompted to say, ‘He’s not Hitler.'”
The real shocker, however, came not with the quotes but with the illustrations that accompanied the article. One was a photograph of Hitler and Benito Mussolini standing side by side in full military uniform and delivering the fascist salute.
Even some months ago, it would have been hard to imagine a mainstream newspaper running such a photograph. Two thoroughly loathsome mass murderers illustrating an article on the presumptive Republican nominee for president? That would have been considered way over the line — a few months ago. Today it is considered a justifiable warning.
From the Times piece: “‘This could be one of those moments that’s quite dangerous and we’ll look back and wonder why we treated it as ho-hum at a time when we could have stopped it,’ said Robert Kagan, a scholar at the Brookings Institution known for hawkish internationalism.”
The piece was careful, however, to find a Trump defender or two, such as Newt Gingrich, who said: “Trump does not have a political structure in the sense that the fascists did. He doesn’t have the sort of ideology that they did. He has nobody who resembles the brownshirts. This is all just garbage.”
But the piece also began by quoting William Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts who a few weeks ago compared Trump’s call for the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to Hitler’s infamous “Night of Broken Glass,” a night that marked a wave of anti-Semitism in 1938 in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
“I can hear the glass crunching on Kristallnacht in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vienna when I hear that, honest,” Weld said of Trump’s deportation plan.
Though Weld declined to call Trump a fascist, Weld did say: “My Kristallnacht analogy does evoke the Nazi period in Germany. And that’s what I’m worried about: a slippery slope.”
Trump responded in somewhat typical fashion. Through a spokeswoman, he said: “I don’t talk about his alcoholism, so why would he talk about my foolishly perceived fascism? There is nobody less of a fascist than Donald Trump.”
Other mainstream newspapers are also ringing the tocsin, however, some with language rare for their usually stately editorial pages.
On May 25, under the editorial headline “Trump lies and lies and lies again,” The Washington Post called Trump’s recent behavior “mendacious” and “disgusting as well as dishonest.”
Yes, political behavior often tends to get rougher at this stage in a campaign, the editorial noted. “But the Republican Party, the media and voters cannot pretend that Mr. Trump is a normal candidate,” said the Post. “Trump is pathologically dishonest and morally bankrupt.”
“Pathologically dishonest and morally bankrupt” are not the kind of accusations that editorial writers usually attach to leading presidential candidates. But these are not usual times.
How unusual are they? Even comedians are telling us that if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.
“Analysts say Hillary Clinton’s plan to defeat Donald Trump involves painting Trump as ‘dangerous and bigoted,’ ” Conan O’Brien said. “She plans on doing this by quoting Trump accurately.”
Which could really do him in.
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