Though I’ve touted the analogy many times, Donald J. Trump is not Adolf Hitler, and this is not Weimar Germany, circa 1933.
Do not mistake my tone as anything like approval. I’ve lived long enough to know that lesser evils make real differences in a lot of lives. Had the majority of voters prevailed in their choice of Al Gore as president in 2000, thousands more people would be alive today. So, unlike many millennial Bernie Sanders supporters, I’ll not use my vote to protest Hillary’s unimaginative corporatism. Still, it is informative to compare the real consequences of the candidacy of Donald Trump to the apocalyptic evil of Hitler.
They bear many resemblances– unapologetic racism, class scape-goating, guilt by association, gross manipulation of facts, enraptured followers with limited apparent capacity for critical thinking, and so on. But I submit the nomination, and even the election, of Trump bears small probability of unfolding anything akin to what happened to Europe in the Thirties.
Despite a lack of professional diagnosis, it is probably safe to say both Trump & Hitler are mentally ill. Both are likely sociopaths, charming and talented, but without decency or other capacity to appreciate others. Still, Adolph Hitler cultivated power relentlessly to assuage the wrongs he perceived had been done to him, and by projection to the German people –by jews, intellectuals, homosexuals, and Marxists. He had genius not just in using fear to motivate disenfranchised people (like Trump), but also in marshaling power to achieve distinct revenge-based objectives. He famously made German trains to run on time, reinvigorated German industry, and manipulated all of Europe to capitulate to much of his early economic and political agenda.
Hitler was a doer. Trump is not. Hitler had multiple, real talents. Trump is very short on them.
Like Hitler, Trump has big dreams. But his past shows he quickly tires when it comes to execution. He has no genius for marshaling resources over the long haul. His bankruptcies, lawsuits, and romantic conquests attest to an attention span more like a fruit fly than a German Shepherd.
Multiple commentators have already hypothesized that Trump might resign before taking the oath of office. Even if not, Trump will be an inattentive president. His principal psychological deficit is extreme narcissism. It’s clear to any discerning observer that Trump’s candidacy is motivated for the adulation and attention it gives him, not because he has any particular convictions he wants to put into action. That, above all, distinguishes him as a person from Adolf Hitler.
If Trump were motivated by policy, he would be spinning plans for his objectives with energy and fervor. Take the Mexico wall. If he were serious, we’d see details about it: how, when, where, how costly, how to police it, what departments he’d involve, etc, etc. Instead, on the Trump web page we see the same several-hundred-word generalities he spits out in speeches, with a couple specifics tossed in by staff.
So, the inauguration of Donald Trump as president will not lead to anything resembling the Nazi scourge. Trump would likely lose interest, energy and attention to the dull, incessantly demanding business of government as fast as a toddler changes toys. His presidency would produce a default of power to staff, whose principal duty will be boosting his ego. Will that be bad for the country? Certainly. And it elevates his staff choices to critical importance.
But here, other important differences appear. The Weimar Republic was Germany’s first, brief attempt at democratic representative government. The US has a much deeper, stronger separation of powers than 1933 Germany. Also, Germany –in fact, the whole world– suffered under a much more severe economic depression. Trump’s staff will be forced to navigate the delicate knife-edge of accommodating the ego of their boss to the asseverations of an assertive congress, life-appointed federal judges, and a tenured bureaucratic corps. That includes the military, who, as with Hitler, will tell Trump what he wants to hear, but quietly try to script their own agendas. And, unlike Hitler’s, our military is rooted in American egalitarianism and pragmatism.
Having few convictions of his own, Trump will be irrationally compliant at some turns, dictatorial at others. Billions will be wasted, careers will be trashed. Though the damage to responsible governance will be substantial, another world war is unlikely to result. That would require a focused avarice Trump just doesn’t possess.
The bigger danger is that the power vacuum of a vacuous Trump presidency will be filled by a hidden-hand, another Dick Cheney pulling strings conceived in K Street backrooms instead of American living rooms. There, Trump’s cabinet choices become paramount. And again, Congress will have its say. Trump, with few congressional friends, will not have an easy time floating a cabinet of yes-people. Both parties will dissect every nomination by microscope. Trump will rant and stomp his feet, but he will not get his way with regularity. And on the upside, Trump is unlikely ever to be the lightweight that rendered George W. Bush as Cheney’s chess piece.
Adolf Hitler started early on being ruthless. Within months of his election as Chancellor, Hitler suppressed every source of opposition except the Army and Nazi party. His “blood purge” of competing Nazis followed in just a year. At the same time, Hitler’s leadership skills turned Germany into Europe’s fastest-growing economy. Trump may or may not possess similar ruthlessness, but again he lacks focus. Unlike Hitler, Trump is uninterested in power to achieve any particular goals, he wants it only to satisfy his ego. With Trump, devolvement into malevolent darkness is far less likely than descent to mere social chaos.
What will result therefore is not so much apocalypse, as ineptitude. Trumps followers will soon find their messiah has breached virtually every promise he made to them– their jobs will not have come home, their wall has not been built, 11 million “illegals” will not be deported, and we won’t have “terrific” relationships with the rest of the world. America will not be “great again.”
This almost inevitable eventuality will spawn the rest of the story. 40 million now-REALLY-angry Trump voters will do one of two things– they will flee or they will fight. Most will retreat to the holes from which they only just emerged to vote for the first time in their lives. They will continue to inhabit the rabbit-holes of white America, trash-talking others over their problems, but taking little initiative to do anything substantial.
Sadly, a few of those former Trump voters will be angry enough for self-help. America’s newly aroused Timothy McVeighs will exercise their Second Amendment right to “defend” themselves in whatever way their twisted minds think necessary to secure the promises that Donald Trump did not. They will likely not blame Trump. Taking Trump’s well-planted lead, they will conjure scapegoats who will become the unwitting targets of their lethal ire.
But, if Trump is defeated in 2016, which he likely will, his supporters will remain. And their notional scapegoats will loom larger than ever in their collective and individual imaginations. If Hillary Clinton is our next president, the lunatic Trump fringe will have every incentive to grow ever more crazed, and find plenty of guilty people who have infringed their perceived liberties. Trump, for his part, will become sainted, much as these same people now bestow sainthood on the destructive presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Neither path is pretty. But Hitler is not running for president.
© Roy H. Andes, 2016