Trump Versus Hitler: What We Can Learn From Weimar Germany

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tags: Hitler, election 2016, Trump



Nathan Stoltzfus is the Dorothy and Jonathan Rintels Professor of Holocaust Studies at Florida State University and the author of Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany.

While commentators have increasingly likened Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler as a convenient condemnation—others assure us that we (Americans) are better than that. So far there are, in fact, some instructive points of comparison, most significantly in the relationship between these men and their followers, as well as in the compromises that established political leaders are willing to make with these two men, under the assumption that they will be able to control them once they reach office.

Like those who helped Hitler to power, politicians and operatives have decided that they can harness Trump to their own purposes. Polls consistently show that two thirds or more of Americans have a negative impression of Trump. But he still could become our next president as Republican politicians and operatives help maneuver him into power.

In September 1930, as the Nazis surged in the polls to become Germany’s second largest party, German president Paul von Hindenburg was confronted with how to handle Hitler, founder and leader of the Nazis. General Hindenburg initially scorned Hitler as a “Bohemian Corporal,” in reference to his Austrian origins and lowly rank in World War I.

But Hitler benefited from Weimar’s polarized political atmosphere, fed by the national loss of prestige and power in World War I, now greatly exacerbated by the Great Depression, and illustrated acutely by the continuing popularity of the German Communist Party. With the election of July 1932, the Nazis formed Germany’s most popular party, and conservatives convinced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler chancellor, amusing themselves with the belief that they would soon push him into a corner so hard he would squeak.

The United States is not now facing a “Weimar moment,” because the sense of crisis is not nearly as palpable and widespread as it was in Weimar Germany. Trump also does not seem driven like Hitler to slip history itself into a straightjacket cut to his own ideology, and his criminal cunning is less acute. Still, if helped into power by a combination of mass popularity and political operatives hoping to help themselves, Trump could do massive harm to democracy, considering his racist demagoguery, unbridled self-confidence, and authoritarian hostility toward a free press, to name just a few factors. His newly pronounced conditions for defending NATO allies could signal a willingness to make a deal with Putin about political spheres of influence. ...




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