Trump is no Hitler – he’s a Mussolini, says Oxford historian

Historians in the News
tags: Hitler, Mussolini, Trump



It is common today to draw parallels between modern politics and those of the 1930s. Historian Margaret MacMillan, professor and outgoing Warden at St Antony’s, sees obvious similarities between modern Islamophobia and the anti-semitism of that era. ‘You get political leaders like Trump making it acceptable to demonise and damn a whole group of people. He talks about Mexicans as rapists and criminals, and Muslims as terrorists.’ On Donald Trump’s US entry policies, she comments, ‘I find it very disturbing.’

But is it going too far to compare Trump to charismatic 20th century tyrants like Hitler or Mussolini? In some ways it is, MacMillan says. ‘He’s not a Hitler — he doesn’t head a fascist party — and the Republican Party is more and more divided by the day. But I think he’s like Mussolini in wanting public attention and portraying himself as the great strong man, making grand gestures and searching for enemies. He’s a lot like some of the Latin American dictators like Chavez or Castro or Perón — claiming to speak for the people; loving the crowds… Making promises — “I will give you money and jobs” — then blaming “our enemies” when they aren’t delivered.’

These days MacMillan (pictured right) is often asked if we should fear a return to the fascism, racism and financial crises of politics between the First and Second World Wars. An article she wrote ahead of the 1914 centenary, noting how we are haunted by events of 100 years ago, achieved ‘far wider circulation’ than she had anticipated; she was ‘surprised by how many people picked up on it’. That has proved to be a harbinger of a widening tendency to view that era as a mirror for our own times.

Yet the Canadian-born historian is always cautious about the idea that history repeats itself. It’s ‘too glib’, MacMillan says. When the Financial Times asked her in the autumn to compare our own time and the early 20th century, she wrote reassuringly about the differences.

The Thirties Depression is not the same as the economic crisis that began in 2007, she argues. ‘Governments intervened in the recent crisis. We don’t have the level of economic contraction and unemployment we had in the 1930s.’ As she points out, in Britain today we have a social safety net, in the form of benefits and the NHS, which prevents a lot of the misery of the Thirties, when people were sometimes reduced to living in tents. ‘We certainly have problems today but not on that scale,’ she says. ‘Democracy is also better rooted in countries like Germany than it was in the 1930s — the Weimar republic was only ten years old when the Great Depression hit.’

Nor are today’s right-wing politics broadly comparable to fascism and Nazism, MacMillan insists. Some of the anti-immigrant, highly nationalistic ideas of the Thirties are ‘in the air’ now, with the debate over the Brexit referendum last year making it ‘okay to say things about immigrants’. But she sees organisations like UKIP as ‘marginal’. ...




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