A recent trip to London and Paris to get away from our ghastly election news cycle perversely opened my mind instead to some horrifying parallels.
Before getting to that topic, the thing that rang loudest in my head was the amazing beauty of Paris for several days of fabulous pre-fall weather. Then as an Uber approached L’Opera the bright sun light shone on its greenish copper tower in a way I could not recall having seen before. The brave German General Dietrich von Cholitz deliberately ignored Hitler’s final order to blow up Paris making it still possible to see that gorgeous sight. The Parisians should consider a small monument for him to remind themselves how lucky they were compared to the rest of Europe ravaged by Hitler.
Perhaps my mind moved to that idea because I have been reading a very new and AMAZING book about Hitler (Hitler: Ascent by Volker Ullrich). This book tells the story of how Hitler maneuvered his way over thirteen years through byzantine German party politics, actually got elected, and went on to tear up the world.
Many of us knew the rough outlines of that history, but this book takes you by the hand and moves through the whole contorted process in fascinating detail and with great intensity, as if it were happening again! And, to an amazing extent that actually seems to be the case. The rough outline you thought you knew really does not begin to do the story justice. And the full story is terrifying parallels to the current political situation in the US about the amazing ascent of Trump.
Let’s hope to God that today’s outcome is completely different!
We must remember that it took Hitler 13 years to get there. A handful of highlights:
1—Hitler found just after WWI that he had a ‘voice’ and could inspire people. Trump discovered his television skills in the 1980s almost always, it is worth noting, playing himself.
2—Hitler failed as an artist and architect and had both an inferiority complex as well as extreme narcissism. Trump was virtually wiped out in his casino collapses in 1995 and he then set out to make his name a profitable narcissistic brand.
3—Hitler had three basic goals. He wanted to make Germany great again after the Versailles treaty. He believed that Jews were undermining and contaminating the German world and had to go. And, he believed that Germany needed to move its borders to have room for its cleansed population. Trump wants to make America great again and wants to rid the US of Muslims and Mexicans and build a border wall against Mexico at its expense.
4—Hitler had a knack for tailoring himself and his speeches to his many different audiences. He invented facts and he had no compunctions about lying and hiding his real agenda, when it suited his purposes. Trump has revealed at least three personas and has charmed some people. Who is he really?
5—Hitler had little use for his staff. They included some genuine experts who had been seduced by his claims to power, but he rarely listened to them. Trump listens only to his mirror and occasionally his children of three marriages.
Quite a number of people have been making the Hitler reference since the summer of 2015—including me. We have all gotten slammed for going over the top. WRONG. The critics either never knew the real story or simply chose to ignore and forget it.
The reference to Hitler, then and now, is less about Jews and murderous war than it was/is about a certifiably crazy person tapping into millions of peoples’ fears and misunderstandings to divide and conquer a majority of a relatively well-educated population that was reeling from economic turmoil. And then converting the German body politic, which was as badly fractionated as is ours today, into a pure dictatorship maintained by complicit military force who had been seduced by money.
The parallel between Trump and Hitler is that they both had/have an uncanny gift of arousing fear and hope among large numbers of gullible people in a large and diverse population. Of course, there are many differences. But the similarities make dismissing the parallels into an ostrich-like response to something that needs to be revealed.
Hitler largely hid his murderous side until he was safely in power. Similarly, we have no way of knowing today how Trump is going to abuse his Presidential power.
Indeed it is true that people who do not know or forget or ignore history are likely to see it repeated.
Everyone who reads should read Hitler: Ascent ASAP and they will see for themselves the fearsome parallels.
Only then perhaps Trump will begin to drift off into ‘what if’ space.
If only that had happened in 1933, the year that FDR became President. The world today would surely be a different and better place.