Donald Trump reminds a lot of people of Adolf Hitler. It’s a pretty scary notion, to think that the most powerful military in the world will soon be under the command of someone who reminds you of the most hated villain of the 20th century. Is the stage now set for World War Three? I don’t think so, because there are differences between Trump and Hitler that my lightweight understanding of history reveals.
This is not a rigorous analysis, nor is it particularly well-researched. However, it’s an effort to identify whether the question is worth taking seriously. If we have been in this situation before, then hopefully we can convert ‘knowledge of the terrain’ into ‘advantage in the field’.
Abbreviated history before politics
Adolf Hitler was born into a middle-class family, and was frustrated that his dreams of art school were denied to him. Denied service in the Austrian army due to poor health, he was able to get into the Bavarian army at the start of World War I because nobody checked his citizenship. Once enlisted, he served with distinction and was wounded in combat twice. While recovering in hospital, he learned that Germany had surrendered and resolved to ‘make Germany great again’. The army was shrinking at the end of the war, and he was denied re-enlistment; the only remaining way to pursue his dream was a career in politics.
Donald Trump was born into a wealthy family of property developers, and has been largely successful in amassing fame through a much longer pre-political career. Opinions vary as to whether he has increased his inherited wealth or whether he has merely increased the perception of that wealth. There is general agreement that he has taken a ruthless approach to making money, and has been very successful at creating a personal brand that is able to recruit various forms of investment. His stated reasons for joining conservative politics echo those of Margaret Thatcher: that it is easier to become the national leader by taking control of the less intelligent of the major parties.
Mein Kampf was written during Hitler’s political career, and is a device for advancing that career. It presents the story of a young man who faces enormous hardship and difficulty, but who struggles/battles forward through life. Always working hard, the protagonist finds that each difficulty sets the stage for another, greater difficulty. At the conclusion of part 1, the hero understands ‘the truth’, which is that race supercedes nationality, and that the German nation will succeed once it is racially pure. Part 2 details a vision for the German nation.
The Art of the Deal was written during Trump’s career as a celebrity businessman, and is a device for advancing that celebrity. It presents the story of a young man who succeeds at everything he attempts, because he already understands the truth: victory in business (and all other things) goes to the man who does not allow anything to stand in his way, and who turns everything to his own advantage. At the conclusion of part 1, the hero takes a well-earned break from defeating his opponents and enjoys his wealth. There is no part 2.
Clean living and family relationships
Hitler did not smoke or eat meat, and presented a public image as a person who loves his family. Trump does not smoke, and talks openly about his affections for his family.
Racism and claims of an opposing conspiracy
Hitler claimed to be opposed by a number of conspiracies that had a unifying theme: Jewish leadership; they are identified by their religious practices and icons. Hitler claimed that he did not form any anti-semitic sentiments until his political career was in progress and he witnessed the failure of the German Worker’s Party, and there is evidence supporting this claim.
Trump claims to be opposed by a conspiracy of ‘the elites’ — a nebulous group that has taken over the role of ‘the Jews’ in neo-conservative narrative; they are identified by a tendency to use intellectual language. There is no claim or evidence that Trump has changed his views on race relations over time, and some evidence suggesting that he has always believed in that blacks and hispanics are fundamentally lazy and criminal people.
Hitler argued that collective strength is protected by racial purity, and his foreign policy was based around a concept of unifying the Aryan race (such as the annexation of Austria).
Trump argues that personal strength is protected by avoiding bad business, and his foreign policy is based around a concept of avoiding losing ventures (such as the war in Iraq).
The use of violence
Hitler served as a messenger in world war one, and had a deep understanding of how military communications become military actions. He was personally involved in a number of violent incidents, and had the respect of the military at every level. (Things started to change at the very end, after the loss of the war was seen as inevitable by most senior officers.)
Trump has not served in the military, and has not demonstrated a deep understanding of military issues. He has shown a willingness to incite others to violence whist separating himself from specific acts and specific accountability. Media reports suggest that military advisors to his campaign resigned after a dispute regarding non-payment for services.
Both men were able to attract large crowds through their passionate speeches and their capacity to reflect and amplify public sentiment.
Hitler was a passionate believer in the German nation, who believed so powerfully that Germany reshaped itself according to his vision. Unified under his rule, Germany set out to conquer the world and nearly succeeded.
Trump is a passionate believer in himself, who believed so powerfully that he became president. America is being influenced by this new leader, with individuals more ready to proclaim the irrelevance of any authority other than their own.
Hitler was terrifying because he activated Germany’s latent desire to be an all-powerful war machine.
Trump is terrifying because he activated the USA’s latent desire to live in the Wild West.
Individuals under the well-disciplined Nazi regime needed to hide their differences and to be invisible. Other countries needed to band together in order to protect themselves from the military threat.
Individuals under the undisciplined Trump regime need to band together and display their strength, in order to protect themselves from self-appointed vigilantes and mob elements incited to unfocussed and poorly-defined actions. Also, read “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell, especially the bits about Martin Luther King.
Other countries should be wary of drawing the attention of the world’s most powerful military, lest they become a device used by the regime to focus America’s hatred.