Historian Benjamin Carter Hett: Trump’s “cultivation of dishonesty” strongly reminiscent of Nazis

Historians in the News
tags: Hitler, Trump, Benjamin Carter Hett, The Death of Democracy

... How is Donald Trump's political style and agenda similar (or not) to that of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler? What parallels and comparisons exist between the economic and social crisis in German society and democracy during the 1920s and 1930s and the United States in the age of Trump? How did mainstream right-wing German politicians -- like Republicans today -- enable Hitler's rise to power? How are anxiety and guilt among the dominant group regarding their treatment of minority groups used by right-wing authoritarians? What lessons do that earlier era of "fake news" and "the big lie" hold for America now?

In an effort to answer those questions, I recently spoke with Benjamin Carter Hett. He is a professor of history at Hunter College and the City University of New York and author of the new book "The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic."

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How do you explain Donald Trump's rise to power and eventual election to the presidency?

I am a historian of Germany, particularly the time of Hitler. When I look at what happened in the 1920s and the 1930s, what strikes me about the downfall of democracy in Germany and the rise of the Nazis was how they attracted a lot of support and particularly angry protests against the effects of economic globalization. When people initially voted for the Nazi Party, their votes were motivated by discontent with what they felt the global political situation was doing to them.

But that would not have gotten Hitler into power if it had not been for a number of very powerful people in high positions in government and in business. They looked around and said, basically, "This guy Hitler is kind of crude and he’s kind of rough -- but we can use him." It was elite accommodation that allowed Hitler to get through the doors of power. You could draw a kind of rough and ready analogy from that to how mainstream Republicans have found themselves either wanting Trump or feeling compelled to adopt Trump and his base as a means of keeping themselves in power.

There is another aspect that is also a striking parallel. The Nazis were very much involved with cultivating deliberate lies for political purposes. In a way I think you could say the Nazis were the inventors of "fake news" as a political tool.

Donald Trump has been unapologetic and transparent about his authoritarian values. Yet so many Republicans and other conservatives have supported him, despite all the ways Trump is a dangerous and disruptive presence in American politics and society. How will history remember them?

A certain segment of elite conservatives put Hitler in power and soon started to grasp the scale of the disaster that he represented and how to get out of it.

I think the strongest example of this was a neoconservative intellectual named Edgar Julius Jung. Jung wrote a book in 1927 which was his critique of democracy, called "The Rule of the Inferior." He was a vehement opponent of the democracy of the Weimar Republic. But as soon as Hitler was in power, Jung said to a friend, “We are partly responsible for this guy being in power. We have to get rid of him.” The first resistance movement that had a real chance of getting Hitler out of power came from people who were inside the system, highly placed governmental and political operatives.

They started to feel like their duty was to remove Hitler from power but they were mostly killed in the process. ...

Read entire article at Salon

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