November 17, 2018

Is Trump Hitler?

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wondered in print whether Donald Trump isn’t the second coming of “the bully from the beer halls.”

Me, I keep my Holocaust analogies to the bare minimum: Cambodia, Rwanda, Armenia. Those were holocausts. The Iran deal? The refugee crisis? Animals in slaughterhouses and aborted fetuses? No, no and no.  

Godwin’s Law, coined by American attorney Mike Godwin in 1990, states that the longer a topic is discussed online, the more likely someone will compare something to the Holocaust, Nazis or Hitler. But just because that’s the law doesn’t mean we have to obey it.

The same goes for throwing the word “Nazi” around as an adjective, which some people do as easily as they say the words “green” or “sad.”  You know who I call Nazis?  Nazis.

And Hitler?  Well, Trump needs to answer for his overtly racist rhetoric, but criticisms of him need not fall prey to the same easy rhetoric of, say, Donald Trump.

Hitler’s goal was to reshape Western civilization according to his delusional vision of a Third Reich. Trump’s vision is to get even richer and even more famous. Trump doesn’t want to destroy society as we know it — he just wants it to pay him even more attention. 

Hitler based his vision on his understanding of history. The only book Trump ever talks about is the one he wrote. The only history he ever refers to is his own. 

Hitler was a great communicator. You cannot take that from him. Trump is the Great Panderer.

“What you get from Trump are commonplace ideas pronounced as received wisdom,” journalist Mark Bowden, who interviewed Trump extensively a decade ago, wrote at vanityfair.com. “The ideas that pop into his head are the same ones that occur to any teenager about terror attacks.” 

Hitler cared more about destroying the Jews than saving his country. Is there anyone anywhere who thinks Trump cares about anything more than Trump? Yes, he’s willing to lose business with Saudi Arabia or NBC, but he has done the calculations and believes the losses there will be more than made up for by increased exposure elsewhere.

But if Donald isn’t Adolf, he isn’t harmless, either. He has revealed and stoked the ugly and ancient human capacity for hate and prejudice, which dies down but never burns out. 

“Do not think that that is all, you men,” Bertolt Brecht warns us at the end of “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” after the despot is dead, “for though we rose up and we beat the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

The funny thing about the bitch’s spawn is it never emerges looking like it did the last time. We have all been on the lookout for the loser Jew-hating neo-Nazi, and we are certainly attuned to very real Islamist hate, but this year’s model comes out of right field — a billionaire real estate magnate reality TV star. Who’d have thought?

Fortunately, there is every indication decent folks are prepared to rise up and shut down Trump.

That was clear in the reaction to Trump’s call for banning Muslims from the United States, in response to which, as I pointed out last week, every single Jewish denomination from Orthodox to Reform has fiercely objected. 

That was clear in Washington, D.C., at the White House Chanukah party on Dec. 9, where a rabbi’s speech before the menorah lighting invoked the need to bring light to the kind of darkness Trump brings to the world.

“The word Chanukah means dedication,” Rabbi Sid Schwarz, a senior fellow at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (Clal), said as he stood next to the president and the first lady. “At a time when we hear the most shameful expressions of bigotry in our public discourse from prominent personalities, we must rededicate ourselves to the principles of tolerance and justice for all.”

And that was clear Sunday morning on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, where Mayor Eric Garcetti joined with local leaders, dozens of Muslim, Jewish and Christian clergy and a crowd of concerned citizens to condemn terrorism and the kind of racism that Trump has stoked in reaction to it. 

“We know that acts of hate that follow seek to divide us,” Garcetti told the gathering. “And if we are to be a truly safe people, we need not only the protection of those in uniform, we need the trust between one another.” 

And that was clear, finally, at a remarkable gathering last Sunday night in Marina del Rey, where dozens of concerned Americans gathered to raise money through the Democracy Council to provide teachers and doctors to Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan. Ambassador Frederic Hof, former special envoy to Syria and a Vietnam veteran who is the recipient of a Purple Heart, made clear that the way to help the refugees and to defeat ISIS is to fight terror there and hate here.

“How in the world will we defeat the Islamic State without the help of American Muslims?” Hof said to the audience of Muslims, Jews and Christians. “Will we let our politicians manipulate our fears so that they can get elected?” 

Alhough the fundraiser didn’t set out to be an interfaith event, it became one — because this is not yet Donald Trump’s America, not even close.