Remember when Hank Williams Jr. was fired from his Monday Night Football gig when he compared then President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler? This led Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood to sing “You can’t compare the president to Hitler!” in their opening to the 2011 Country Music Awards.
Apparently, Brad and Carrie were wrong.
As you have no doubt heard by now, earlier this past week, CNN’s pompous news anchor Don Lemon compared President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. To be fair to Lemon, he acknowledged this to be an “extreme example,” but this did not prevent him from making the extreme comparison anyway, suggesting that media should not give a platform to Trump — “a bad person doing bad things” — the way they supposedly gave it to Hitler.
Fellow CNN host Chris Cuomo rightly pointed out to Lemon that to make such a comparison is absurd: “You are now taking a guy who says things you don’t like and comparing him to a genocidal maniac.”
Unmoved — and apparently unnoticed by those viewers who were still processing the Hitler remark — Lemon, seeking to clarify, then went on to imply that Trump voters were like the people who drank the Kool-Aid at the Peoples Temple in Guyana. As clarifications go, this one was not helpful.
Lemon is not the first to make the Trump — Hitler comparison. On the contrary, it seems part of a larger strategy. To wit:
Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson, with not just a little fearmongering, compared Trump’s “rise to power” — most just say his “election to office” — to Hitler’s: “Americans, particularly black Americans, can’t afford to make that same mistake about the harm that could be done by a man named Hitler or a man named Trump.”
Congressmen James Clyburn and Jerry Nadler drew an equivalence between Trump and Hitler, calling Trump “a threat to democracy,” conjuring images of swastikas hanging in churches, and even suggesting that his border policy is similar to that of Nazi Germany toward the Jews.
Vanity Fair resurrected an old Trump story circulated by Ivana Trump’s divorce attorney — always a reliable source of information — that Trump kept Hitler’s speeches by his bed. GQ jumped on this, too.
Salon says that Trump’s attacks on the press are “part of a long and troubling history” that takes its direction from Hitler. One might reasonably conclude that Trump’s attacks on some media outlets have more to do with the fact that they pedaled a false Russia collusion narrative for almost two years and because they, well, call him Hitler.
The New York Times, the voice of all things reasonable, offered a modest corrective, saying that “Trump is no Hitler, but the way he has manipulated the American people with outrageous lies, stacked one on top of the other, has an eerie historical resonance. Demagogy has a fixed design.” That sounds like they are calling him everything just short of being a Hitler.
In March of this year, New York magazine, in an eyebrow-raising piece that is woefully lacking in self-awareness, condemned Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks for comparing Democrats to Nazis, saying: “Left-of-center political writers have long observed a sort of unwritten rule about critiques of Donald Trump: Don’t compare him to Adolf Hitler, or his followers to Nazis. That line has held firm …”
With so many left-of-center political writers ignoring this “unwritten rule,” perhaps someone should actually write it down.
Have the people at New York magazine looked at any other magazines? A better question, have they looked at their own magazine? In 2016, they ran a column titled “How Hitler’s Rise to Power Explains Why Republicans Accept Trump.” Accompanying the article is a photo of Trump waving in profile that is clearly meant to suggest a Nazi salute. And just the other day they sought to advance the Trump-Hitler narrative.
And, finally, my favorite: Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe said Hitler and Trump shared “physical and behavioral resemblances.” To say that this is a stretch is to give Tribe’s assertion more merit than it deserves. Trump resembles Hitler about as much as he resembles Kim Jong-un. (Not to be left out, Kim has, incidentally, also compared Trump to Hitler.)
Many years ago, it was my good fortune to be awarded a fellowship that sent me to Europe to study the intellectual origins of the Holocaust. Along the way, I visited Dachau, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Nuremberg, Mittlebau-Dora, Obersalzberg and other similarly cheery locales associated with the Nazi era. It was the first of many visits. Indeed, I was at Dachau and Berchtesgaden earlier this year. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in Trump’s policies to justify comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis’ seizure of political power; creation of a police state to terrorize not only Germans, but much of Europe; organized brutality against opponents; suppression of free speech; euthanizing of the sick, weak, and otherwise infirm; aggressive warfare against peaceful neighbors; and systematic annihilation of whole populations.
To make such comparisons is, at best, naïve, and, at worst, a gross display of extraordinary historical ignorance.
“Anybody who compares Trump or anybody else to Hitler essentially is a Holocaust denier,” said Alan Dershowitz, another Harvard Law Professor. “To compare the American political system to anything that happened in the Holocaust is just outrageous.”
Indeed, it is. Such comparisons trivialize who Hitler and the Nazis were and what they did. Journalists, congressmen, and entertainers like those cited above would do well to keep a copy of Hitler’s speeches along with a biography or two on their own bedside tables. Maybe then they would be able to tell the difference between a lawfully elected president who presides over a free people and whose power is so limited that he is unable to fulfill a central campaign promise to build a border wall and, in Cuomo’s words, “a genocidal manic” who wielded absolute power and murdered no less than 11 million people.
Perhaps most worrisome in all of this is what everyone appears to have missed in Lemon’s remarks, and that is why he referenced Hitler in the first place: Lemon was essentially advocating the suppression of free speech, the denial of “space” as he put it, to “bad people who do bad things.” Implicit in his commentary is the notion that media — that is, guys like Don Lemon — will determine for the rest of us what constitutes “bad.” Given the direction that Big Tech is headed on censorship, this should be of concern to all Americans, be they Left, Right, or Center.
A final historical note: Hitler and the Nazis loved censorship.
Larry Alex Taunton is an author, cultural commentator, and freelance columnist contributing to USA Today, Fox News, First Things, the Atlantic, CNN, and The American Spectator. You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com.