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Why it suddenly might not be crazy to compare Trump to Hitler in 1933

In November 2016, a scholar named Sebastian Schutte—a Marie Curie fellow at the Zukunftskolleg and the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz in Germany—wrote an interesting article in The Washington Post. In it he argued that Trump had not reached Hitlerian heights. Not yet. But he warned that we look to the past to potentially predict future actions. Schutte’s criteria are interesting to reexamine now, nine months later.

1) Scapegoating, Schutte wrote, “was a Nazi maneuver to blame minority groups for policy failures and the weak economy. Trump has blamed foreigners and minorities for taking away jobs and killing Americans, but we need to see if this rhetoric from the campaign trail continues once he takes office.”

Has it continued? Yes. You know, the Mexicans. The refugees.

2) Media co-optation (“Gleichschaltung”) “proceeded in two steps in Nazi Germany: extending ideological command over the media where possible and shutting down those media outlets Hitler could not control.

“In the United States today, this type of autocratic control would be virtually impossible, though attempts at censorship are imaginable. Trump has had openly hostile relations with major newspapers such as the New York Times and The Washington Post, and threatened legal action during the campaign.”

Shutte continued by saying that “legal quarrels between his administration, the media and social networks would be a red flag, and a threat to the First Amendment.”

Have there been legal quarrels? In a way, yes. While there has not been a direct lawsuit yet (to my knowledge), Trump has threatened to “open up” libel laws so he can more easily sue media. Then there was the time he askedthen-FBI Director James Comey to imprison journalists. Since Trump’s election, the rise in violence and threats against journalists in the U.S. has reached new heights. And how can we forget, for even a day, his rallying cries against “fake news”?

3) Paramilitary organizations “were also part of the Nazi effort to boost national-majority cohesion. The “Sturmabteilung” (SA) violently attacked and intimidated adversaries, most notably on “Kristallnacht” in 1938, when they carried out large-scale attacks on Jews and political opponents. …

“Americans in general are not fond of government-run organizations, but there is one scenario that could theoretically materialize after 2016. Should Trump insist on rebuilding America’s highways and bridges while keeping low-cost foreign labor out, a government-subsidized labor service could be a way to increase cohesion among his constituents. A combination of government-tolerated violent acts by right-wing extremists and government-controlled labor service would add weight to the comparison.”

Do we have citizen-run paramilitary organizations carrying arms in the streets? Do we have government-tolerated acts by right wing extremists? Do we have constant government rhetoric about keeping foreign labor out? Check, check, and check.

4) Emergency laws “came about in Germany after the 1933 arson attack on the Reichstag (Germany’s parliament). Hitler used the threat of terrorism and foreign aggression to justify sweeping autocratic policies… .

“Changing the U.S. Constitution to abolish elections and remove freedom of speech is hardly imaginable. The United States has an uninterrupted democratic history, while Hitler was able to tap into nostalgia for the times under the last German emperor.

“But the United States has had similar measures in place since Sept. 11, 2001, which have boosted government surveillance while limiting checks and balances on domestic policing and the use of military force.”

Not only that, but Trump has reportedly actually considered abolishing the First Amendment. And while he has not (yet) moved to change the Constitution to affect elections, Trump convened a commission on “voter fraud” to prove that he didn’t lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. There has been zero evidence that “millions” of votes were fraudulent, as Trump claims. As to Schutte’s first criteria here, about using “the threat of terrorism and foreign aggression to justify sweeping autocratic policies,” we all know about the Muslim ban.

Even a quick look at what’s happened since January 20 has alarming echoes of 1933, when Hitler was appointed chancellor. But Trump didn’t cause this moment in history all by himself. For more on who and what is behind it, see: “Trump, women, media: White supremacy in Charlottesville has taken a village.”



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Lauren Wolfe
Director, Women Under Siege
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