During an interview by Spanish newspaper, El País, Pope Francis was asked if he worried about the President Trump's new administration. Although he objected against prejudgement, the Pope warned against Trump’s populist rise by hearkening back to 1930’s Germany and the danger of narrow minded political optimism.
It is said that history repeats itself. Given the horror of Hitler’s dictatorship and ease in which he convinced a nation of people to follow him and turn against their fellow countrymen, of course we want to stop any political relapses to this violent extreme. Trump is pushing for a Muslim registry, building of walls and control of media — likening him to Adolf Hitler is an early label to what may come.
Hitler was elected by disenfranchised people in a post-war crisis. He defined his rule by absolute power and centered his rhetoric around convincing his supporters that he alone could save Germany from becoming weak. This is a similar claim on which Trump has built his motto, “Make America Great Again.”
In Trump’s convention nomination speech, he claimed to fight for the commoner, “nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” His slogan of “America First” hearkens back to pro-Nazi sympathizers in 1930’s America, and supports a narrative where America has fallen behind because it is overrun by foreign interests. In his inaugural address, he described an “American carnage” which has caused the U.S. to lose “wealth, strength and confidence.”
Trump’s use of the word “foreigner” has taken a pejorative meaning, created a scapegoat to target blame and allowed him to redefine everything which goes against his beliefs as unpatriotic and phony. His self-aggrandizing response to criticisms and feud with the media is easily likened to fascist egomania.
But I am firmly against comparing him to Hitler.
It is important to, first, not misunderstand history. While Hitler may have been seemingly democratically elected, his rise to power was framed by violence, intimidation and manipulation. Hitler enacted emergency laws, so that he could redefine the legal limitations on his power and dissolve opportunities for opposition. His control over the media and his party’s use of armed force in the early months of assuming power supported his rise and signaled a turn away from democracy to form the path that would lead to its horrific conclusion.
We also cannot lightly make these comparisons because it is to absolve the historical primacy and reality of the Holocaust into a mythos where we may speculate and place our deepest fears — rational or not. We cannot allow our doubts about Trump to be so randomly placed or wildly manifested in these comparisons. We are living in today’s time and place, which offer their own singularly unique circumstances for examination.
Trump’s anti-globalism rhetoric fits within a bigger trend of the global response to our increasingly accessible world. His xenophobic language follows ideological trends against immigration in response to terrorism, religious conflict and the refugee crisis of recent and past years. His election was not an usurping of power, but rather a complex result of populism, a failing Republican party and other problems which are present and modern, not the same fascist themes which struck the world nearly a century ago.
I also think this comparison removes the recognition from our own failings as a democratic society, and places them in a historical time capsule where we may be calmed — certainly we wouldn’t let another Holocaust happen.
I’m not arguing that Trump’s style of government isn’t reminiscent of fascism or that fascism couldn’t reappear or doesn’t exist. I am deeply troubled by his need to redefine the borders of the U.S., political thinking and media reporting. His calls for unity are worrisome because we cannot simply just agree—not only because we have become accustomed to and restricted by a partisan system of government, but also because democracy does not require its citizens to be of one opinion and belief.
If there is one comforting end to this all, it is that there are people willing to stand up and push back as the nationwide women’s marches showed. We can’t know what will happen in the next four years, but I can at least take comfort in the fact that there is still a large, thriving group who oppose him. He doesn’t endear himself to the media in any way, and they are eagerly reporting every ridiculous tweet and speech he utters. Just how long, however, will it take for us to become used to the fiction and lies, and when does this become dangerous?
Sandra Sanchez is a junior studying history, Chinese and global and international studies.
— Edited by Ashley Hocking