Trump Versus Hitler

Trump Hitler

It is becoming clear that, while Trump’s incoherence is bad news on a wide variety of fronts, it is very good news in this respect: he would never be able to create an authoritarian state, even if so inclined, as he very well be inclined.

So let’s be grateful for that.

Even so, the article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books on Lessons from Hitler’s Rise (Christopher R. Browning, emeritus history professor at Chapel Hill, reviewing Volker Ulrich, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939) remains of interest.

Prof. Browning itemizes, in a detailed, balanced, and persuasive way, many comparisons and contrasts between Trump and Hitler, and their respective historical contexts. And what lessons ought we to draw? Browning concludes this way:

First, there is a high price to pay for consistently underestimating a charismatic political outsider just because one finds by one’s own standards and assumptions (in my case those of a liberal academic) his character flawed, his ideas repulsive, and his appeal incomprehensible. And that is important not only for the period of his improbable rise to power but even more so once he has attained it.

Second, putting economically desperate people back to work by any means will purchase a leader considerable forgiveness for whatever other shortcomings emerge and at least passive support for any other goals he pursues. …

Third, the assumption that conservative, traditionalist allies—however indispensable initially—will hold such upstart leaders in check is dangerously wishful thinking. If conservatives cannot gain power on their own without the partnership and popular support of such upstarts, their subsequent capacity to control these upstarts is dubious at best.

Fourth, the best line of defense of a democracy must be at the first point of attack. Weimar parliamentary government had been supplanted by presidentially appointed chancellors ruling through the emergency decree powers of an antidemocratic president since 1930. In 1933 Hitler simply used this post-democratic stopgap system to install a totalitarian dictatorship with incredible speed and without serious opposition. If we can still effectively protect American democracy from dictatorship, then certainly one lesson from the study of the demise of Weimar and the ascent of Hitler is how important it is to do it early.