In my other blog, I review Hitler: Ascent by Volker Ullrich. I’m now reading Downfall. I bought these books to help me understand how close to authoritarianism we in the U.S. were lurching under Trump. That may sound alarmist but the unprecedented attacks on the freedom of the press had me quite worried, as did the rampant misinfomation — disinformation to use the intelligence term — being thrown around. You might find it ludicrous to think that the first major democracy could self-destruct. It’s a rational concern. You just have to ask two questions:
1. Why not?
The why not is easy — history has examples. Democracies have fallen. Why would America be special? Once you get past that question, which for us Americans means shedding a lot of school-learned exceptionalism, you can look rationally at the how. And early 20th century Germany provides us with an avatar and a roadmap. The avatar is Adolf Hitler, the roadmap is his method of pushing legal boundaries and forming a coalition of fear and hatred. Hitler took advantage of historical jealousies, economic angst and fear of disruptors to the “ethnic-popular” culture to forge a legal path to dictatorship.
They have many similarities (see TOH1, TOH2), but is Trump America’s Hitler? No, I think not. Trump is as narcissistic as Hitler and also a dilettante, with ridiculous delusions of exceptionalism in just about every subject he stumbles upon. Examples? “I really get it,” Trump claimed of epidemiology, after a visit to the CDC. Yeah, sure. Hitler thought he was a military expert like Frederick the Great, but his decisions on the Russian Front led to the destruction of entire army groups. Trump was and still is effecting extreme damage to the democratic conventions which hold up the American system, but his very short attention span, thematic inconsistencies and overweening shortsightedness set him apart from Hitler. Hitler, though a self-serving and in some aspects a dilettante like Trump, had a single-minded vision for a racially and culturally ‘pure’ Germany which drove him to pursue long, difficult campaigns to upend the old order. I’d compare Hitler to Sauron, capable of changing the face of the (middle) Earth, and Trump to that kid in 4th grade who figured out how to disrupt the homeroom so effectively that no teaching got done. Except instead of homeroom, it’s my country.
The part that sends shivers down my spine are the many ways in which they are similar. Thank whatever gods you pray to Trump is as ineffective as he is.