Time to Retire the Reductio Ad Hitlerum

We see the president’s critics clearly when they see Adolf Hitler when they see Donald Trump.

“If Trump tries to deport millions,” Keith Olbermann reasons, “logistics will eventually require opening Concentration Camps.” Van Jones, who juxtaposes Trump as a mass-movement leader with “a very bad history of that in Europe over the last century,” maintains of the president’s executive order vacating Obama-era global warming policies that “Trump may have just signed a death warrant for our planet.” Hitler biographer Ron Rosenbaum observes of the president’s rhetorical tactics, “The playbook is Mein Kampf.”

Does Trump find his marching orders from Russia today or Germany 75 years ago?

The lazy reduction ad Hitlerum lacks imagination, trivializes the Holocaust, and strikes as cheap. A Hitler does not come along every day. But a comparison to Hitler does. The failure, thankfully, of the many past knee-jerk Hitler comparisons to pan out should serve as an inoculation against future ones. But we forget the million Hitler comparisons. We can never forget Hitler. So, the comparisons keep coming without repercussions.

Associating the American president with the German Führer says more about the vulgarity of the people making the linkage than anything else. Aside from the major difference involving Hitler wiping out millions of people and Trump merely firing dozens of people on his reality program, the political aims of Nazism do not in any way resemble the president’s agenda.

The Nazi Party platform of 1920 demanded “the total confiscation of all war profits,” “profit-sharing in large enterprises,” “a law for expropriation without compensation of land for public purposes,” “the immediate communalization of the large department stores,” “the banning of juvenile labor,” and capital punishment for “usurers” and “profiteers.”

Put another way, the Third Reich exuded a murderous dislike for the likes of the profiteer-turned-president.

People surprised that the German fanatics advanced a socialist platform generally express surprise that Nazi comes to us as a portmanteau of national and socialist. The National Socialists flew a red flag for the same reasons the Soviet Socialists flew one. “There were the posters, always in red, the revolutionary colour, chosen to provoke the left,” Hitler biographer Alan Bullock notes about early Nazi propaganda, ending the factual observation with a questionable editorial point. They attached the term Volk to cars and newspapers and radios the way other socialist states use their version of people to modify just about anything. Like Coke and Pepsi fighting over the same market, Nazis and Communists battled because of their similarities, not their differences. “You and I,” Joseph Goebbels, recognizing this truth, wrote a Communist leader, “are fighting one another, but we are not really enemies.”

Barnard College Professor Sheri Berman, author of the forthcoming Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Regime to the Present Day, details the overlooked social ideology underlying Nazism in a new essay at Aeon.co:

Nazi Germany remained capitalist. But it had also undertaken state intervention in the economy unprecedented in capitalist societies. The Nazis also supported an extensive welfare state (of course, for ‘ethnically pure’ Germans). It included free higher education, family and child support, pensions, health insurance and an array of publically supported entertainment and vacation options. All spheres of life, economy included, had to be subordinated to the ‘national interest’ (Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz), and the fascist commitment to foster social equality and mobility. Radical meritocratic reforms are not usually thought of as signature Nazi measures, but, as Hitler once noted, the Third Reich has ‘opened the way for every qualified individual – whatever his origins – to reach the top if he is qualified, dynamic, industrious and resolute’.

Largely for these reasons, up [until] 1939, most Germans’ experience with the Nazi regime was probably positive. The Nazis had seemingly conquered the Depression and restored economic and political stability. As long as they could prove their ethnic ‘purity’ and stayed away from overt shows of disloyalty, Germans typically experienced National Socialism not as a tyranny and terror, but as a regime of social reform and warmth.

As the writer acknowledges, the significance Nazism does not lie in its massive construction projects and social welfare policies, which more closely resemble New Deal programs than anything going on today. Hitler explaining, “National Socialism has as its historic task to create the new Reich and not to preserve the German States,” does not mean Americans jealous of states’ rights hit as the reincarnation of the German thugs. In other words, none of this — not Hitler’s vegetarianism, not his crusades against tobacco, not his belief in astrology — stands as Nazism’s essence.

Nazism remains alive as a debating brickbat more than seven decades after its demise because its leaders orchestrated the extermination of millions of people, invaded neighbors, and installed power in one man. Does any of this resemble Trump’s first hundred days?

Mein Kampf and The Art of the Deal read as two very different books. But their authors strangely strike strange persons as the same person. There’s something of the Big Lie in always finding a shiny-eyed guy in a Charlie Chaplin-mustache under the mask of presidents of the opposing party.

Daniel J. Flynn
Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website, www.flynnfiles.com.   
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