It’s Our Responsibility To Compare Trump To Hitler

For the last few weeks, I’ve watched with dismay as many of my fellow Jews have risen to speak up against any comparisons of Trump to Hitler.  It’s understandable, this anger of trying to limit the comparisons people make to one of the most evil men in history.  After all, comparing people and movements to Hitler seems to be one of the most overused and misapplied historical comparisons in our society.

But the danger is much greater when we don’t see where it does apply.

The arguments always seem to be the same.  Trump never claimed to want to commit mass genocide or to spread a world war or to do anything as horrific as the Holocaust.  The word “trivializing” is often used when people describe this comparison.

But underneath it all, it seems to me, is a certain demand of ownership: the Holocaust was our tragedy.  Don’t “trivialize” it by drawing comparisons to building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants or to restricting Muslims from coming to our country.

In other words, the lesson of Hitler is about antisemitism and its singular uniqueness.

And therein lies the danger.

Because Hitler’s rise and success was not just a lesson on antisemitism.  When we say “never again” we don’t mean it just for Jews and we don’t mean only in the case of the most drastic extremes of human depravity.  We are talking about something bigger, something wider.

The lesson of Hitler, the Holocaust, and World War II is the utter danger we put ourselves in when we allow a despot to rise to power.  When we want a despot to become our leader.

In other words, the comparisons to Hitler aren’t about him or Trump.  They are about our role in his rise.  They are about understanding that Hitler’s rise wasn’t just about one evil man, it was about a country, a continent, and a world, that stood back and allowed him to rise or actively engaged in his ascent.

Hitler would have just been an art school failure without his followers.  His demented dreams would have stayed in his mind where they were meant to stay.

His rise was a tragedy, then, not just for the Jews.  It was for a world that allowed him and enabled him to rise.  The people in his nation who heard him spout hate and yet did not stand up and say something.  The people who did not see the unique nature of this man, the despot in him, and how hate was the engine by which he fueled his movement.  The world which stood by while he invaded nation after nation before they finally realized that his words of world domination weren’t empty.  The people who then watched as Jews were being shoved into cattle cars with their own eyes and didn’t say a word, or who cheered on while it was happening.

Trump is also singularly unique in American history.  Never in modern American history has a serious candidate directly argued for war crimes as part of his platform.  Or argued that if the military refused to do those war crimes, “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.”   Or openly threatened to attack freedom of the press in order to limit criticism of his campaign.  Or argued that an entire religion should be barred from entering our nation.

But even those things aren’t what define Trump or his rise.  Just as Hitler wasn’t defined by his antisemitism.

No.  It is the despotism.  The effect it has on the populace.  People giving themselves over to every single whim of a man simply because he is that man.  A literal political idol.  The point of Trump, and the point of Hitler, is that both men could literally say anything and their followers would agree to it.  That is what is dangerous, not just the specific manifestations of those whims.

(His later disavows, then, are not for their benefit but for ours, in order to make us question whether he really means what he says. Another strategy of despots.)

Just because Trump hasn’t called for the genocide of Jews does not mean that he is any less a despot.  His extreme statements don’t mean a thing without the support of millions of Americans.  What is scary isn’t that he has said those things but that he says whatever he wants and that just inflates people’s support.  That is the mark of a despot.  And that is how Hitler rose to power.

The reason comparisons to Hitler are not just important but necessary, then, is to show us just how far despotism can take us.  It is to show us the in the darkest and starkest terms where letting go of your agency to one man’s whims takes you.  That Trump is not a one to one comparison with Hitler is simply our good luck and a symbol of the time in history in which we inhabit.

“Never again” is not a call to look out for men who have a weird mustache and an antisemitism fetish.  It is a call to us.  A call to see the process by which Hitlers rise in the world, and our role in that process.

It’s thus doubly tragic to see Jews, of all people, claim that comparisons to Hitler are trivializing.  It’s the exact opposite.  To not be able to see that antisemitism has been the marker of a larger hate, a deeper hate, used to gain traction when taking advantage of people’s legitimate or illegitimate anger at the “state of things,” and to claim it as only for us, is to trivialize the lessons we have learned from thousands of years of being on the receiving end of that hate.  To not see that we have a duty, a calling, to now use those lessons and see how others are using it against other groups to spark their own rise, is to trivialize our role in history.

The ultimate lesson of antisemitism, of Hitler, of the Holocaust is that the group or groups a despot demonizes are just the beginning of the destruction to follow.  The hate is just the kindling by which the spark of the despot’s machinations then spreads.  World War II plunged the entire world into darkness, resulting 60 million people dead, a continent destroyed, two nuclear bombs dropped.  The Holocaust was the beating heart that kept the hate and destruction spreading.

So now we have a choice.  We can be active participants by pushing for the rise of a despot because he happens to say any word that makes us feel like he understands us.  We can be the quiet group that is too afraid to say a word.  Or we can stand up and say, “Never again.”

  • Thank You! May G-d bring Moshiach now!

  • Jeremy McCandlish

    Amazing, and the vox about NYT on hitler (http://www.vox.com/2015/2/11/8016017/ny-times-hitler) is also amazing. I had never heard such history mentioned before.

    I have mixed feelings about physically leaving the place where something like this is happening.

    On the one hand, we live in a world where a lot of spiritual weaponry doesn’t really require a person to be on-site, and it would be better to be in a place that strengthens…on the other hand I heard in a story about the Rebbe (though my memory or the original source could have mixed up people) that he did not make aliya because that would be leaving lots of Jews behind.

    hmm

    • Jeremy McCandlish

      Another note: I have heard the thing described in vox mentioned as a war strategy, “passive aggression”. The citation was Robert Greene’s “33 Strategies of War”.

  • Zerach Moshe Fedder

    Waste of time Elad. G-d decides who rules not man.

    • Rebecca K.

      Yes. However, we are 1) expected to do hishtadlus, and 2) expected to exercise our bechira. It is important to vote, regardless of the outcome. What if a despot came to power and we get to Olam Haba and are confronted with our lack of voting against that despot when we had the chance. That punishment might be great.

      • Zerach Moshe Fedder

        Sounds great Rebecca. If you are really concerned about doing your political histadlus then please move to your own country to make it stronger and vote for the leader of the country of the Jews rather than voting for the foreign leader of a country that is not your own. What if you get to Olam HaBa and the Abishter asks you why you didn’t come to live in Eretz Yisrael when you had the chance? What histadlus brings more justice and redemption to the world?

  • Yehudis Chana Meshchaninov

    Interesting, Elad.
    Did you intentionally evoke the midrash narrative of Pharaoh’s three advisors?Will we be a Balaam, Jethro or Job?

  • Yosef Werner

    After reading this, and the Facebook interchange in response to it, I wonder if a better title might have been “It’s Our Responsibility to Compare 21st Century America with Weimar Germany.”

    • The point of this article is that Hitler wasn’t living in a vacuum that caused him to suddenly have unlimited power. It was through the people that he found his power. And that’s what I think is important to understand about Trump too. They’re both mirrors for the people who put them in power, and that’s why the comparison is important.

      • Yosef Werner

        I get that. In reading other comments I think people are getting hung up on the individual personalities of Trump and Hitler, and failing to consider the political context each took/are taking advantage of. Hence my admittedly tongue-in-cheek suggestion – comparing what drove the people of Germany under the pre-Hitler Weimar government to what is currently driving the shockingly large number of modern Americans supporting Trump.

        • Haha okay, I’m SO BAD at detecting tongue-in-cheek/sarcasm on the net.

  • c finlander

    Keep running on the lame stream media misquotes about “illegal aliens” and “unvetted muslims”! just shows bias.

  • Solomon Rybak

    Just by the way he spoke at the Convention of Jewish Republicans should have told us enough of how dangerous a man he is. He practically justified “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ How people didn’t stand up and leave the room is not to be understood. I imagine the people sitting there did not know of the passage,’k’chu musari v’al kasef. They rather live by the passage of,’V’hakasef ya’ane et hakol’

  • Nobody.

    I just any to make it clear. The JEWS are the blacks that live in the Americas today. You jewISH people are just converts and occupy our home and have stolen our identity. All according to Revelation 2:9. It’s ok though Yah will return us to our former state once all things are fulfilled.

  • fitz71

    Agreed. It’s not the exact degree to which Trump and Hitler are similar. It’s the degree to which WE are similar to the Germans who let Hitler happen. And while Hitler targeted Jews (and some Catholics, gays, gypsies and minorities), a lot of people also died trying to take him down. That’s a cost to avoid, as well.

  • Shannon Beranek

    Trump stirs up and manipulates the masses. He can get people riled up with the same words said in different organization, sentence after sentence. This is his power. He is not and never will be a true leader, but he is a motivator and can get a body of people to sway his way. Case in point, the old mad who sucker punched the black protester… he was later interviewed and said something along the lines of he didn’t know what came over him during the rally. That is what we should be afraid of and why we need to call Trump out and show him for what he truly is.

  • Funny!

    What I’m about to say is probably not going to be popular here. Nonetheless, here goes: Trump is a popular guy and he has a certain charisma that many respond to. That doesn’t make him comparable to Hitler, just as it didn’t make Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton comparable to Hitler.

    Regarding waterboarding, many people in high places have argued for and against it – it was and still is a difficult discussion. What Trump said about it is if he can make it legal, he will use it. This implies that if he fails to change the position that waterboarding is illegal, he won’t use it. It also implies that he cares about the law. This is not the hallmark of a despot. A despot isn’t simply a charismatic person – it’s a person who has absolute power and wields it without regard to responsibility to the law or morals/ethics. Just because Trump is popular with a wide array of the populace does not make him a despot.

    Regarding the killing of terrorists’ families, Trump never said this. What he said was he would “take them out” and when asked later to be more clear, he said that he would be quite firm, quite severe with family members that could be shown to have known of the plans of their terrorist family members. He gave the example of the San Bernardino couple, saying that the mother saw the pipe bombs and the guns/ammo and must have known that her son was involved in bad stuff, but did nothing about it. Sounds to me like he meant that he would deal with family members very firmly and severely using the legal system – they would be charged and tried without remorse or mercy if they abetted heinous acts of their relatives – even passively. He also brought up the government-enabled escape of Bin Laden’s family after the 9/11 attacks, indicating that nothing of the kind would be allowed if he were president. He did NOT say that he would kill them, and to continue to represent that he did is LYING.

    Regarding the comment about opening up libel laws so that news entities could be sued, what’s wrong with that? Libel is false accusation. If a news agency reports that Trump says he would kill the families of terrorists when he clearly didn’t say that, why should he NOT be able to sue, for example? This is not an attack on free speech or free press. The press is like anyone else: they can print anything that is true or opinion. They should not be able, however, to make things up out of whole cloth. It is currently legal to say that Trump may have meant he would kill family members of terrorists when he said he would take them out, but to quote him in headlines and news articles as saying he would kill family members is, in fact, libel. Just one example of many, many examples.

    Regarding the idea that Trump wants to bar anyone from a whole religion from this country, that’s not true either. What Trump clearly said was that he wanted to suspend the allowance of foreigners from Muslim countries UNTIL WE CAN FIGURE OUT HOW TO VET THEM. Somehow, that last part is always left out. Somehow, it’s also ignored that this is exactly the recommendation that the current president’s own security advisers are making, and it’s also the stance of other Republican candidates. Actually, after Brussels, it’s now the stance of most of the EU security leadership as well.

    I’m no Trump fan. This isn’t the first time he’s run and, truthfully, I laughed this time just as I did the other times – how can he think we’d take him seriously, with his bluster and his publicity stunts and his weird hair? Somehow, though, I’ve come to realize that weird hair and a few goofy personality traits are not the best reasons to disqualify a candidate. Trump says many things without having thought them through, such as the comment about punishing women who have abortions if abortion becomes illegal. Interestingly, though, is the phenomenon of watching him completely turn around on something very shortly later, when he’s had a chance to talk it over with his advisers and hear the public’s responses. You can call that flip-flopping if you want. I’ll call it a willingness to recognize he is wrong and to respond appropriately and decisively. That’s also not a hallmark of a despot, nor a narcissist.

    Regarding the comparison of Trump to Hitler, please know that Hitler had already made his evil ideas and plans known clearly in his ever popular work Mein Kampf well before his latter rise to prominence, and the power brokers behind the scenes still lifted him up. Trump has NEVER espoused such evil ideas, either openly or by implication or action. The opposite is, in fact, true, and that’s easy to see if you have eyes for the truth. Anyone can take similarities and make parallels out of them: Trump has two hands, each with five (stubby) digits, and Hitler had exactly that number of hands and fingers. therefore, Trump is comparable to Hitler. That makes just about as much sense as comparing Trump to Hitler because both have charisma.

    I’ll probably vote for Cruz (who I also can’t stand) when it comes time to vote in the Republican primaries. To help you, I’ve created a list of valid reasons (not comprehensive of course) for not supporting Trump: He’s bombastic (not presidential), he often speaks without thinking, he’s unpredictable, he’s not clear about his policies, he’s crass, etc. However, if you say he’s a racist, or a liar (any more than any other candidate or average person, if fact), or a despot, or a fascist, you’re either buying into the lies or you are purposely lying participating in lashon harah.

    I hope it’s the former – I love all my fellow tribespeople, so I’ll choose to think the best of you and not believe you’re actually consciously and blatantly lying about Trump – you’re just caught up in the feeding frenzy of lies and spin. But if you are, then you should realize that one of the things that attracts the populace to him in droves is the realization of how strenuously the establishment and left are trying to bring him down, and how easy it is to shove your finger into the eye of the real fascists – the establishment and left: just vote for Trump.

    • Honestly, you’re misinformed about most of what you’re saying. He clearly said, for example, that he would kill terrorists’ families. I even provided a link to the video in order to substantiate my point. The fact that you are so positive he didn’t say it is a testament to the misinformation campaign this man has run.

      This accusation of lashon hara (during an election for president!) I’ve noticed thrown around by quite a number of Jews, and it always seems to be about shutting people down rather than an actual halachic analysis of the way people speak. I suggest you research that as well instead of spreading another false accusation.

      As I said in the post, and perhaps you kissed it, the comparison to Hitler is about us much more than it is about Trump. One of the most worrying issues of a demogauge rampaging towards leadership are those who rationalize his rise, see it as normal, try and shut down those who speak out, etc. in other words, people like you who are “against” such people, but not really. Because you are supporting his actions, his way of running his campaign, his dangerous style. That opens the door to him to continue his behavior, and even more worrisome, it opens the door to more candidates like him. THAT is the danger of the campaign. The people in the middle that allow this to continue, and THAT is the comparison to Hitler that people need to hear.

      • Funny!

        I clicked your link. Now I invite you to listen again: he did not say he would kill the families of terrorists. He said he would take them out.

        Regarding Hitler’s rise to power, just as there are fingers and hands to compare, there are similarities here as well. There are also telling differences. For example, Hitler, like most politicians, rose to power with the support of very powerful background king makers. Trump is exactly the opposite. In fact, the current batch of kingmakers are bleeding from their ears (and perhaps other places like their noses or mouths or whatever) because they have found themselves powerless in a situation where an outsider is bringing his own money and running on a shoestring in comparison to other candidates. The fact that Trump is an insurgent is also a major difference – this isn’t Johann German going with the flow, this is Joe American rebelling! Completely different circumstances.

        I’m inviting you to speak out on Trump, on the basis of fact, not lies. Please do. I think it’s interesting that you think Trump’s method of campaigning is any different from any of the other candidates on either side (Dr What-his-name being a possible exception – and you know where he is regarding the current elections). Maybe you’re mad for the same reason the establishment and opponents are: he’s better at campaigning than them. I would actually be a strong supporter of Cruz if he didn’t engage in lying just like the others, but he has, so I’ll vote for him with a paperclip on my nose. The problem with Trump is that he uses just the opposite tactic: he tells the truth as he sees it and let the chips fall where they may.

        So, let the chips fall where they may, and fight him, if you like, based on what he says and what he does – not what “they” say he said and what “they” say he does. That’s all I’m saying. Plenty of fodder to fight Trump with without comparing him to Hitler or misrepresenting his statements. It’s kinda like what they did to Romney with the 47% thing and the binders of women. Sad. The difference is Trump is pretty good at riposting.

        You’re right about the lashon harah thing – let me take it back. I don’t believe you’re purposely misrepresenting Trump’s words and actions. But, as I said earlier, that really only leaves on alternative. I do find it much easier to love a brother who is ignorant than one who is the other alternative. 🙂

        • “He said he would take them out.”

          I’m sorry, this is the sort of silly word play that Trump uses to mess with people, and it’s deeply disturbing to me to see how it seems to have been caught like an infection by even people who ostensibly claim to “disagree” with him. And it, in my mind, again proves why this man is dangerous. He could literally say anything and people would find a way to defend him or minimize his danger or claim he meant something else. It’s precisely this issue that makes these sorts of discussions almost impossible at times.

          • Funny!

            Then you missed my comments later about his clarification. He specifically mentions the San Bernardino terrorists and the Bin Laden family and dealing with them legally for abetting the attacks. You can choose to assume the worst about his phrases like “take out their families” or you can get more information or clarification. What the reporters in that clip chose to do was immediately accuse Trump of wanting saying he would kill the families of terrorists. If there is anu doubt about meaning, they should have asked him – like they did with Cruz when he said he would carpet bomb ISIS in Syria, only to backpedal later when civilian “collateral damage” came up. That was Cruz trying to be as brazen and bellicose as Trump, but failing and getting himself in trouble. So, you dislike Trump because he’s better at this stupid game. Fair enough – just say so.

  • Brendan O

    Trump’s popularity seems to be in significant measure related to his assertion that he will “put America first” and his position to severely limit the numbers of illegal immigrants into the USA. Immigration as a problem seems to resonate as a major concern although Trump does not, I believe, express intention to diminish the one million legal immigrants into the USA yearly; a number that has been fairly consistent for about the last 30 years.
    Another aspect of putting America first by Trump is his asserted intent to stop the continuing de-industrialization of America; a de-industrialization achieved during the last 20 years by removing factory machinery/hardware from US factories and shipping it offshore primarily to Communist China. Most of US manufacturing capacity has been removed to offshore locations, [mostly to China]. Trump also vows to compel where possible the departed manufacturing apparat to be relocated back to the USA. These things are the prominent features of such speeches by Trump that I have watched on the internet relating to his bid to be President. I might add that his speech to AIPAC is
    suggestive that Israel will continue to enjoy the special status it now maintains with the US Federal government.

  • Steve Mickelson

    Why do I continue to re-post remarks against Donald Trump? It not because I consider him funny or entertaining. The office Trump seeks, as President of the United States of America, represent values in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, that require the leader to honor and aspire to the principles expressed in them. Trump does neither, and sadly, the parallels to Trump and Hitler are more than casual or superficial. My dad served in the U.S. armed forces across Europe and a medic and bandsman. Of all the wars from that era to date, dad felt that only that war was truly justified. That being said, the sacrifice and massive loss of life on all sides would have been avoided if people had stood up and said “no” to the despotic leaders of that time. Surprisingly, a leader has arisen in the world’s most powerful nation, running on a similar platform of religious , racial and ethnic hatred,(which would qualify as hate mongering in many other countries), and yet millions blindly follow and endorse him, which would cause dad to flip in his grave. For the sake of my dad and the millions of victims, as well as the millions who sacrificed their lives because of such toxic politics, I must continue to oppose Donald Trump and say “never again”. This politician leads his followers on such a hateful and dangerous path, aimed at allowing an evil dark page of history to repeat itself, especially in a country that opposed similar despots just a generation or so ago. If we do not exercise our right to oppose the danger now, we may find ourselves drawn to a circumstance where we cannot do so after this November. Lest we forget!

    • Carolyn D. Ward

      Well said.

  • Nancy Williams

    I can’t stand Trump and could never vote for him as a conservative but you are truly disgusting. you’re comparing a loud mouth narcissistic maniac with Hitler who murdered entire branches of family trees. I don’t put Trump on same level as Hitler but I absolutely put you as an equal to Trump, both of you are loud mouth narcissistic maniacs who will say anything to be notice.

  • ItIsClear

    The person that wrote this is a disgusting MORON!