Before I even begin, I want to make something clear. This is not going to be a post about how Trump isn’t Hitler. I have written posts like that, but I don’t particularly like them, because they end up sounding like defenses of Donald Trump. And I don’t want to defend Donald Trump, especially with his current policy of punishing asylum seekers by ripping their children away from them. It is monstrous, and it must stop. I do not want anyone mistaking this post for anything that can be interpreted as a defense of this terrible president or a minimilization of the terrible things he is currently doing.
So let us begin.
A Jewish friend of mine who is no fan of Trump posted a Facebook status update asking people to refrain from comparing Trump to Hitler. Acknowledging the fact that Trump was awful, she called it disrespectful to the millions of people slaughtered by the Nazis to equate Trump’s current evils with Hitler’s exponentially more monstrous crimes.
As could be expected, she was inundated with angry comments from both sides, and the thread degenerated into namecalling and nastiness, at which point she deleted her status and replaced it with one that said “I like roses.” Thus shamed into silence, she exited the conversation as the rest of social media continued to go full Godwin and make wall-to-wall Hitler comparisons from morn until night.
I do not think people realize how helpful such comparisons are to Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
- Bill Clinton survived impeachment in 1998 not because everyone was hunky dory with a 50-year-old president having an affair with a 21-year-old intern in the Oval Office, but because Clinton’s adversaries were seen as puritanical hypocrites who were even worse than he was. I don’t recall anyone calling Clinton Hitler at the time, but I don’t think it would have been helpful if they had.
- George W. Bush won reelection not because he was adored in 2004 – by then, his post-9/11 sky-high approval had fallen to earth and then some – but rather because he was able to define John Kerry and the Democrats as weak, unpatriotic pansies unable to stand up to terrorists and rogue regimes. It’s not insignificant that pictures of W. with a Hitler mustache were all the rage at war protests.
- Barack Obama entered 2012 with dismal approval numbers, but the people who hated him were unpleasantly angry white dudes in tri-cornered hats who had plenty of Obama-is-Hitler memes at the ready.
The point being: modern presidents typically don’t win reelection because they are beloved. They win when they effectively define their enemies. And when those enemies resort to Hitler comparisons, defining them as extremist loons becomes much, much easier to do.
If I were Donald Trump, and I had the option of 1) defending my indefensible policy of ripping children from their parents when they cross the border seeking asylum, or 2) defending myself against charges that I am Hitler, which option would I choose?
No contest. Like Donald Trump himself, I’d be #2 every time.
Now you can try to make the case that the Hitler charge forces him to defend both positions, but that’s demonstrably incorrect. It actually makes it easier for him to minimize the horror of what he’s doing because it’s not as horrible as what Hitler did.
I say this is demonstrable, so allow me to demonstrate.
On June 17, actress Debra Messing made the following post on Instagram:
See that? “This little boy, who has been taken from his parents, has been assigned a number. #47 on his chest and arm. Like the Holocaust.”
LIKE THE HOLOCAUST!!!
Okay, with that caption as the catalyst, where is this conversation likely to go? Is it going to focus on the inhumanity of separating children from asylum seekers? Or is it going to be on whether or not this is an apt Holocaust comparison?
Because this isn’t an apt Holocaust comparison. People are assigned numbers for all kinds of purposes all the time. (When you take a number at the deli, is that like the Holocaust?) And of course, those interned in concentration camps weren’t given T-shirts; they had their numbers tattooed on them. And the tattoos, as awful as they were, were the least of their problems. How likely is this little boy to be forced into hard labor with little or no food until he succumbs to sickness or starvation? What are the chances that he’s going to be led into a gas chamber?
Now before you get angry and start arguing about the aptness or non-aptness of my comparison analysis, take a moment and recognize what you would be doing if you were to engage me on this. All I have to do to win that argument is prove that this photo isn’t the Holocaust. It’s the kind of argument that Donald Trump could win easily.
In fact, he could cut you off at the pass by pointing out, as Snopes.com did, by pointing out that this whole story is fake. According to Snopes, a “closer look at the image shows that the numbering is part of the shirt,” and that this is “a shirt manufactured for retail, not government issue.” Which makes sense – where are kids #1 through #46? It’s probably a sports jersey of some kind. This photo was taken as “Border Patrol agents [were] taking in a father and son, neither of whom had yet been processed. The snapshot was captured as the pair were apprehended, meaning they had not been issued clothing.”
So if you were to have this conversation with the president, you would be arguing he’s just like Hitler, and he would be arguing that you’re blowing things way out of proportion and making the whole thing up. And he would be right and you would be wrong.
And neither one of you would be focusing on the terrible things that are actually happening to this little boy.
That’s the real problem. You want to defeat Trump? I sure do. And you don’t defeat Trump by fighting on his turf, where exaggerations carry the day and facts are open to alternatives. That’s the turf where Trump-as-Hitler lives, while in the meantime, the real Trump is splitting apart real families and creating a great deal of human misery. 2020 is going to be an absolute nightmare if all Trump has to do to win reelection is be better than Hitler.