Thirteen Similarities Between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler

  1. Both times were/are extraordinary. Voters were/are polarized between the left and the right, and centrist leaders struggled to stay in office. Germany in 1920 was far more polarized than the United States in 2020. Several German provinces had Soviet revolutions. A right-wing private army, the Freikorps, killed thousands of Reds. Street brawling between the left and right occurred nightly in cities across Germany. The recent unrest in Portland and Kenosha has been far less violent than the world Hitler lived in.
  2. Both times were/are extraordinary for the same reason: conservatives were discredited and lost control of the right, enabling the rise of right-wing populists. In 1914 Prussian conservatives, led by Kaiser Wilhelm II, started World War One (WWI). In 1918 Germany lost WWI. About two million German soldiers were killed and four million wounded. The German economy was destroyed and millions of Germans were unemployed, hungry, and cold. The conservatives, who were generally well-educated, affluent, and had been in positions of influence for generations, were discredited. Their place was taken on the right by populists, who were not educated or affluent. The 2007–2008 Great Recession was followed by a realization that the wealthy “1%”, who are associated with conservative politics, had both caused the recession and benefited from it. Since 2008 economic disparity has increased in the United States, i.e., the rich are getting richer and the poor are becoming poorer. This discrediting of conservatism led to the 2016 conservative loss of control of the Republican Party, with conservative leaders being replaced by populists. While the pattern is similar, there is difference in degree: WWI was far more destructive than the Great Recession.
  3. The German right-wing populists, including Adolf Hitler, were dedicated to restoring Germany to its pre-WWI status as one of the leading nations of Europe, economically and culturally. Current American right-wing populists, including Donald Trump, promise to “make America great again.”
  4. In 1920s Germany conservatives supported the right-wing populists on the belief that the conservatives could control business and industrial policies while the populists focused on popular conspiracy theories, such as international cabals of Jewish bankers and Freemasons, secret Catholic societies, and Russian control of German Communists. Since the 2016 election conservatives have made a similar deal with right-wing populists, who enthrall voters with wild theories about Mexican immigrants, Muslim terrorists, and Democratic pizzerias.
  5. Democracy was a new concept in Germany in the 1920s. The Nazis believed, correctly, that a small minority of fanatics could gain power over larger numbers of more or less indifferent voters. American democracy is far more firmly established, but the Republicans were able to gain the Presidency after losing the popular vote in 2000 and 2016. Republican-controlled state legislatures have used gerrymandering and changing voting laws to maintain control.
  6. A key step in the rise of the Nazis was the 1920 purchase of Munich’s Völkischer Beobachter newspaper. The newspaper’s editor, Dietrich Eckart, a talented poet and playwright, used the newspaper to shape the “Hitler Myth.” At first the newspaper was semi-weekly, with its subscribers reading other newspapers on other days. In 1923 the newspaper moved to daily editions, with Nazi supporters reading only the Völkischer Beobachter, enabling the Nazis to shape their followers into fanatics. Donald Trump doesn’t own Fox News but their relationship is symbiotic. Cable news and social media algorithms enable Trump’s followers to live in a news bubble, shaping their views.

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Thomas David Kehoe

Thomas David Kehoe

I make technology for speech clinics to treat stuttering and other disorders. I like backpacking with my dog, competitive running, and Russian jokes.