Trump and Hitler
by Rob Tiller
When I left work on Friday, the weather was pleasant, and I was thinking of hitting a few golf balls on the practice range, but I had an almost flat tire. Fortunately, Murray’s Tires was still open. I love those guys! As soon as I parked, before I could get out of the car, one of them was beside me asking if he could help. He had in stock a sporty used Continental Extreme Contact for a very reasonable price, and 20 minutes later I was back in business.
On Saturday evening, Sally and I walked over to Fayetteville Street, which was closed to traffic and lined with craft stands and food trucks, and sampled the free performances at the IBMA bluegrass festival. There were many talented fiddlers, banjo pickers, mandolin strummers, dobro sliders etc. making bouncy music. At The Haymaker, a new cocktail bar, I tried the Fabuloso, with vodka, mezcal, and lavender syrup, which was profoundly flavorful. For dinner we did The Remedy Diner, a casual veggie-friendly spot with a rock-and-roll vibe, where I had the tasty Tempeh Tantrum sandwich. We discussed the difficult question of how a lot of otherwise normal people can support Donald Trump.
Godwin’s Law has it that the longer and more vigorously an internet dispute continues, the likelier it is that one of the arguing parties will compare another to Hitler. This is a clever reminder of the evils of emotional hyperbole and the value of civility. The comparison is almost always over the top.
There was, however, a review by Michiko Kakutani of a new Hitler biography by Volker Ullrich in the NY Times that seemed startlingly relevant to our present moment. I was struck enough to pay for the ebook, which is now waiting on my iPad to be read when I do my trip to southern Utah next week. Check out these excerpts, and see if you too think that Hitler’s personality and methods sound disturbingly like someone we all have been watching with stunned amazement:
Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity.
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Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” . . . . A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” . . . .
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Hitler was an effective orator and actor, Mr. Ullrich reminds readers, adept at assuming various masks and feeding off the energy of his audiences. . . . “Hitler adapted the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners,” Mr. Ullrich writes. He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds’ fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.
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He often harked back to a golden age for the country, Mr. Ullrich says, the better “to paint the present day in hues that were all the darker. Everywhere you looked now, there was only decline and decay.”
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Hitler’s repertoire of topics, Mr. Ullrich notes, was limited, and reading his speeches in retrospect, “it seems amazing that he attracted larger and larger audiences” with “repeated mantralike phrases” consisting largely of “accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future.”
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He benefited from a “constellation of crises that he was able to exploit cleverly and unscrupulously” — in addition to economic woes and unemployment, there was an “erosion of the political center” and a growing resentment of the elites. The unwillingness of Germany’s political parties to compromise had contributed to a perception of government dysfunction, Mr. Ullrich suggests, and the belief of Hitler supporters that the country needed “a man of iron” who could shake things up. “Why not give the National Socialists a chance?” a prominent banker said of the Nazis. “They seem pretty gutsy to me.”
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Hitler’s ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of domestic adversaries who failed to appreciate his ruthlessness and tenacity . . . . Early on, revulsion at Hitler’s style and appearance, Mr. Ullrich writes, led some critics to underestimate the man and his popularity, while others dismissed him as a celebrity, a repellent but fascinating “evening’s entertainment.”
It’s nice to think that if you and I had been Germans in 1933, we would not have been among those who were seduced by him. Also, it may be we wouldn’t have been among those who dismissed him as merely a pathetic clown and ignored him. Perhaps we’d have been very brave, even when things started to get dangerous.
With reasonable luck, we won’t have to put ourselves to that dire test. That fellow whose personality defects and rabid style might remind you of Hitler continues to shoot himself first in one foot, and then the other, and the mainstream press is finally treating him less as a joke and more as a menace.
The WSJ had a good piece about his Atlantic City casino business that pretty well put stake through the heart of the fable that he was a brilliant business success. The story compared his casinos to others there, and found that they earned much less and fired many more employees, while going through multiple bankruptcies. The only person who made money out of the financial debacle was – guess who?