After listening to the Republican debates, watching some of the speeches given by Donald Trump, and reading a bit about his platform and position, I began to worry about the direction his campaign was going. It seemed very familiar. It was a page out of Germany of the 1930s, or so I at first thought. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the comparison was unfair and inaccurate. Here are some of the things I realized that made things now different from Hitler’s rise to power.
- First, Hitler did not come from wealth. His father tried his hand at farming, and, failing that, started a career in the customs bureau. Trump’s father was financial success, a real estate developer. Where Hitler had to deal with the death of his siblings at a young age, Trump’s siblings are also all successful. One is even a federal judge. Although both seemed to clash with their fathers, young Adolph rebelled and when his father died, it steeled his resolve. Trump, on the other hand, bent to the will of his father, who sent him to a military school.
Adolph grew up on orphan benefits, where Trump was smack in the crotch of luxury. Latching on to German Nationalism to help form his identity and ingratiate him with his peers, Adolph grew to love his adopted country of Germany (He was Austrian, originally), even serving in the German military in World War I. Trump avoided the draft in a variety of ways, and never served.
In other words, their backgrounds were stunningly different. Adolph, who wanted to be an artist, didn’t have the talent for it and failed. If Trump had any creative desires, they were buried under his desire for money, and he made his first million before he even left college. Of course, the half million dollar investment from his parents helped. Adolph’s parents were dead by the time he was 18.
- The environment of post-World War I Germany and the present day United States could not be more different. Germany was in an economic free-fall, brought on by a devastated economy due to war reparations and horribly managed, well, everything by the German government. Hitler joined a small political party, and energized its young members to grow to eventually take over the government, blaming much of the ills of Germany on the Jews.
Trump, on the other hand, has latched on to the Republican party, literally called the “Grand Old Party”, and allied himself with the racist base of the party, blaming non-whites for the ills facing the country. The problem is that the United States isn’t a country in economic free-fall, not really. We’re solidly on the road to recovery from the mismanagement at the hands of the last GOP president. So, instead of a single propaganda front (It’s the Jews fault our economy is broken!), Trump has to make up his propaganda from whole cloth (Our economy is bad, really it is! And it’s the immigrants fault! And the Muslims!). In addition, in Germany, the real problem was multifaceted, from harsh war reparations to poor economic management by the Weimar Republic. In the US, the problem was lack of regulation of the banking industry which led to risky and ultimately disastrous investment strategies.
- Germany was a country that had lost its core identity. They had lost a war, they had lost their government (It was less than a decade and a half since their government had fallen to revolution), their economy was in the toilet, and they needed direction. Hitler arrived with a fiery energy and revitalized the nation. Of course, he also had a scapegoat to blame, and the country set off on one of the most recognized genocides in world history.
America, on the other hand, is sharply divided, but the core identity remains intact. Yes, there are issues which polarize our people, from marriage equality to abortion, but we can go out to the market and buy a loaf of bread without needing a wheelbarrow of cash, the rich are still rich, the trains are still running, and we don’t have any black eyes from lost wars any time in the recent past. We are still Americans.
So, even if he thinks he is using Adolph’s playbook, the board is not set for the same type of game, so I do not think Trump will get the same kind of result.