I’m going to try and thread a needle here that may not be threadable. So if I fail, it’s Donald Trump’s fault.
Indeed, I want to be clear at the outset that a lot of things are Donald Trump’s fault. I have believed, from the outset of the campaign, that he is wholly unfit to be President of the United States, and I have said so repeatedly and publicly. I officially left the Republican Party after he became the nominee. I have been on national television three times deriding Trump and his candidacy, so I would hate to have anyone read this blog post and assume that I’ve “come around,” that Trump is somehow my guy now, or that what am I about to say should in any way be interpreted as apologia for a president who, in the best case scenario, will largely be an ineffectual buffoon, and, in a more-likely worst case scenario, could do real and permanent damage to the nation.
With that as background, I’m now going to begin my needle-threading. Conceding and recognizing everything about Donald J. Trump that is loathsome, repugnant, and genuinely stomach-turning, I think it also needs to be said that the president-elect is not the moral or practical equivalent of Adolf Hitler.
Hear me out here. This shouldn’t be interpreted as high praise, as “Not Hitler” is a pretty low threshold to cross. One can be all kinds of despicable and still not approach the evil of slaughtering six million people in a deliberate, state-sponsored genocide. One can also be legitimately and justifiably opposed to Trump, frightened by Trump, enraged by Trump, and sickened by Trump even if he doesn’t round up people and put them into gas chambers.
Which, honestly, he’s not going to do.
Again, understand the needle I’m trying to thread. Trump’s call to keep all Muslims from entering the country is xenophobia at its worst. (He’s backed down to something called “extreme vetting,” but the standards he’s using to accomplish this would essentially accomplish the same goal.) He’s now talking about a Muslim immigrant “registry” that sounds embryonically Hitler-ish, and so I understand the concerns, and I’m not encouraging complacency. As Trump proposes awful things, and he will continue to propose awful things, he needs to be vigorously and unrelentingly opposed, and I intend to be part of that opposition.
Now for the needle-threading. Is cracking down on Muslim immigration a step toward Muslim concentration camps? Is it a precursor to Trump rounding up Muslim-American citizens and authorizing the police to smash their windows, loot their shops, and throw them into ghettos before engineering a “final solution?” And after he’s done purging Islam from America, are we going to see ethnic cleansing against Hispanics or Jews, too?
All these things are possible, I suppose, but they’re also very, very unlikely. And here’s why.
In the first place, Trump is not smart enough to be Hitler. Keep in mind that by the time Hitler came to power, he had already written Mein Kampf and laid out for the world his rancid reasoning for blaming the Jewish people for all the world’s ills. Hitler was evil, vile, and wrong, but he was not a casual or shallow thinker. One of the reasons he was able to rise to power is that the elites didn’t take him seriously, and they assumed he didn’t really mean all the vile things he had said and written. They were horribly wrong. Hitler knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he let the world know well in advance that genocide was at the top of his agenda.
Donald Trump has not only not written a book; he’s never read a book. I don’t think he’s even read his own books. (Read this piece by the ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal to get the full extent of Trump’s ignorance.) A couple of years before running against Hillary Clinton as a pro-life conservative, he was praising Hillary Clinton as “terrific” and reiterating his support for partial-birth abortion. This is a man without any discernible ideology who believes only in his own ego and who’s thinking seems to be a byproduct of his bleached and ludicrously-swirled hair. He is only a racist when it’s convenient to be a racist. He lacks the sustained and bilious passion necessary to codify American genocide.
“Ah,” I hear you say. “But what about Steve Bannon?”
For those of you living under a rock, you should know that Bannon is Trump’s “white supremacist” appointee who will serve as the Karl Rove of the new Trump administration. Ostensibly, Trump will be a vapid and thoughtless puppet having his strings pulled by Wormtongue Bannon, who will sneak into the sleeping president’s bedroom every night with wireless earbuds so he can subliminally expose the Puppet Fuehrer to an iPod looped with Nuremberg Rally speeches.
The problem is that the case the Bannon is a “white supremacist” is hanging on a pretty thin reed. The smoking gun is a single statement by his ex-wife made in the crucible of a heated divorce, wherein she claimed he didn’t want his daughter to go to school with Jews. The fact that the daughter did, in fact, go to school with Jews would suggest that perhaps one statement from an angry ex-wife is not sufficient to convict Bannon of being a 21st-Century Goebbels. Bannon has been the subject of many supportive columns from Jewish defenders who know the man and insist that genocide is not at the top of his agenda, and I’m inclined to believe them.
Once again, do not mistake this as an endorsement, or even a defense, of Steve Bannon, who may well be an anti-Semite. Certainly he’s a thug, a bully, and a bigot. He’s also said a number of things about Mormons that demonstrate conclusively that he’s Grade-A pond scum. My point is that pond scum is pond scum, and, generally speaking, I would prefer that pond scum weren’t in the White House.
But pond scum is still a whole lot better than Hitler.
There’s also the rhetorical problem of the fact that we’ve seen too many instances of the Boy Who Cried Hitler in recent years. We were told that Bush was Hitler; we’re told that Obama is Hitler. Now that there’s someone who’s exponentially more Hitler-esque than either of the previous Hitlers, we need to be really worried, because, well, this one’s really Hitler.
Okay. Maybe this one is. But can we admit, then, that the previous ones were not? And can we also consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this new Hitler may not be Hitler, either?