So Trump is Really Hitler?

Donald Trump is often compared to Hitler by otherwise normal people. If they go beyond a simple assertion of similarity the fearful ones do not compare the actions and experiences of the two, but rather they take their worst imaginings of what Trump might do in the future -- which, surprisingly, are very like what Hitler did. These wild fears are too removed from reality to deserve serious consideration. But we have detailed information about both Trump and Hitler, so real comparisons can be made, and there are significant differences that ought to be remembered.

The first has to do with political activity. From the end of World War I when Hitler was nearly 30 years old he devoted his life exclusively to seeking power.  Donald Trump, on the other hand, graduated from U. Penn at the age of 22, and for the next 40 years or more devoted himself to making money. It is useful to remember the wisdom of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who observed: “there are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in making money.” He didn’t have the opportunity to compare seeking money to seeking power.  In our nation’s capital, it is clear that getting political power is an excellent way of getting money, but Dr. Johnson might not have found that method so innocent. The net worth of our senators and representatives typically increases geometrically while they work full-time for a modest salary more than double the median family income in the nation. Perhaps that increase in wealth is just good fortune. And yet many of these people have done nothing in their lives except to seek power and would be manifestly incapable of making significant money in any form of legitimate, productive employment.  From this angle of comparison it is clear that virtually every member of Congress is more similar to Hitler than is Donald Trump.

In 2016, at the age of 70, Donald Trump, for the first time, decided to seek power. He subjected himself to years of calumny and subversion and harassment by petty politicians, lawyers, and media personalities. His net wealth declined significantly. At the age of 76 he is attacked by conspiracies of his inferiors who hold public office and the pygmies of the mass media. He endures these attacks with remarkable good humor though he often strikes back with crude insults. We can only imagine the reaction of Hitler to far milder criticism, but clearly this comparison will not find similarities.

At the time of Donald Trump’s first inauguration there was disorder in the capital city far exceeding that of January 6. Trump’s reaction may be compared to the January 6 repression to determine who is most similar to Hitler.  His critics’ comparisons to Hitler are based on little more than their own fantasies of how they would react if they had the power. Another possible comparison is how Hitler would have reacted to the Hamas atrocities of October 7. While Trump has beloved Jewish grandchildren, many of his attackers do not conceal their support for Hamas.

Trump’s foreign policy was remarkably peaceful.  He began no new military adventures abroad, unlike all his recent predecessors, and he attempted to unwind those that were ongoing. His immediate predecessors had engineered a coup in Ukraine that replaced an elected president on good terms with Russia and the enormous Russian-speaking minorities in that country. The new regime was unfriendly to Russia, and with encouragement from the U.S. began fantasizing about NATO membership which had long been recognized as intolerable to Russia. The new regime also engaged in repression in the Russian-speaking areas. During Trump’s years in office this problem simmered, but did not grow greatly worse, until his successor’s advisors attempted to provoke a world war.  How would Hitler have exploited this unstable ethnic conflict? We can only imagine.

Then we can consider foreign policy in general. Hitler very soon began expansionist projects targeting Austria, Czechoslovakia, and soon Poland. Trump never challenged the world status quo.  His reaction to the mass invasion of the United States by an army ethnically distinct from the vast majority of Americans was to attempt to enforce the clearly defined immigration laws of the United States. Again we can only imagine, (but it is easy to imagine) the reaction of Hitler if millions of non-Germans were pouring across the German border.

The concept of projection is often useful in analyzing the fears of some of our politicians and media personalities. Never more so than in the Trump-Hitler comparisons. These weak critics are imagining what they would do with unlimited political power to deal with their enemies.  Naturally the activities they imagine are horrific. Luckily they are relatively powerless, and Trump is not the monster that they would be, nor are there any foreseeable circumstances in which his power could be unlimited.

Finally, it is useful to compare early life experiences of Trump and those of his rival. No one claims that Trump was blameless in his youth, but when comparing him to Hitler or to the most vociferous of his envious detractors, it is probably significant not only that he was a rich boy, but that he was a good athlete, quite beautiful, and intelligent as well.  And in his business career he was quite successful, and despite reported promiscuity, his marriages appear to have been mostly successful and his ex-wives less unfriendly than the usual. His family can be favorably compared with that of his successor. Those who accuse him of narcissism seem to have no idea of the characteristics of this disorder.  The less pleasant formative experiences of Hitler are easily researched. Needless to say, the differences exceed the similarities. It is hard to imagine these immensely different life experiences resulting in similar character or inclinations. All that is left is to beg those who make the comparisons for a list of similarities based on actual behavior and not the projected imaginings of his enemies.

When one observes the intensity of feeling with which the Trump-Hitler believers make their assertion it is hard not to wonder where it comes from.  It is common, in our times, to misunderstand both the meaning of envy and its effects.  The book Envy. A Theory of Social Behavior by Helmut Schoeck can provide a deeper understanding, but for the present it is enough to consider a definition like this one: “to feel displeasure and ill-will at the superiority of another person in Happiness, success, reputation, or the possession of anything desirable.”  Consider the ill-will many people hold who know Trump only through journalism, or through seeing him acting on a TV show. Who has not experienced this in acquaintances?

Envy is important enough to find a place in the age-old listing of seven Capital Sins, dating back to Tertullian (born in 155 A.D.)  That Envy is important enough to make the short list is puzzling to people who confuse it with jealousy. But bearing ill-will toward another caused only by the other’s superiority in anything can be destructive to both parties, but is certain to harm the sinner. And the ill-will plus opportunity can lead to acts as evil as those springing from anger. The Trump-Hitler believers usually have little opportunity to harm Trump. But it is the case that sin has evil consequences for the sinner (and I don’t mean punishment from a supernatural being). A person is damaged by bearing ill-will against another -- there are no victimless crimes if the perpetrator is harmed and becomes a worse person. Anger is in the list too and anger without actions obviously harms only the angry person; envy is the same.

So the envious Trump-Hitler folk are hurting themselves, and would deserve our sympathy if only they weren’t so tiresome.

Image: Slope Records

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