Thanks to Trump, We Can Better Understand How Hitler Was Possible

Roundup
tags: Hitler, election 2016, Trump



... Trump’s astonishing selection as the GOP candidate for the presidency, his continuing appeal to millions of Americans and the basic characteristics of his message have provided a new and valuable viewing angle on one of the last century’s most perplexing questions: how was Adolf Hitler possible? 

And please spare me your “how dare you compare” indignation, if you are so inclined. I do not claim that America is Nazi Germany, that Trump is Hitler or that another Holocaust is just around the corner. But the blanket ban on using the most discussed, most debated and most researched issue of the 20th century as a reference point for viewing current events is, in my view, beyond ridiculous. Especially as it usually comes from people who routinely depict every two-bit Arab propagandist as a Goebbels and every minuscule human rights NGO as successors of kapos and Judenrats.  

Viewed through the lenses of the current presidential campaign, historical descriptions of Hitler’s appeal to the German masses suddenly seem hauntingly familiar. Take, for example, Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw’s description of the recurring themes in Hitler’s speeches: “The contrast of Germany’s strength in a glorious past with its current weakness and national humiliation – a sick state in the hands of traitors and cowards who had betrayed the Fatherland to its powerful enemies and behind them, the Jews...a cheating and corrupt government and party system presiding over economic misery, social division, political conflict and ethical collapse.”

Or Richard Evans, writing in The Coming of the Third Reich: “He gained much of his oratorical success by telling his audiences what they wanted to hear. He used simple, straightforward language that ordinary people could understand, short sentences, powerful emotive slogans...There were no qualifications in what he said; everything was absolute, uncompromising, irrevocable, undeviating, unalterable, final. He seemed, as many who listened to his early speeches testified, to speak straight from the heart, and to express their deepest fears and desires. Increasingly, too, he exuded self-confidence, aggression, belief in the ultimate triumph of his party, even a sense of destiny.”

Of course, most people didn’t take Hitler seriously at first. Refined Germans viewed him with distaste and dismissed him as a buffoon, and not only because of his melodramatic speeches and volatile gestures. Writing in the New Statesman, social critic William Crotch recounted his own impressions of the future German dictator in the late 1920’s: “Another thing that struck me was the man’s utter incapacity to deal with important details....His talk was a succession of vague generalities, couched in attractive if flowery language, but showing in every case either complete ignorance or at least complete contempt for detail.”

But while Hitler was becoming the darling of the masses nonetheless, he never considered himself one of them. As historian Yaakov Talmon wrote in Myth of the Nation and Vision of Revolution, Hitler was contemptuous of the slow-witted German masses. “Denying them rational understanding, judgment, willpower, and mental balance, he composed an astonishingly shrewd vade-mecum (handbook, CS): how to bamboozle them with hysteria and incitement, oversimplification and repetition, stunts and tricks, parades and ceremonials. Brooding morbidly over its lost glory and wallowing in an ecstasy of self-pity, a defeated Germany offered a uniquely propitious target for the possessed demagogue to cast his spell and hypnotize its masses: he and they shared the same resentment of defeat and foreign dictation.” ...




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