I’m no fan of Donald J. Trump. Among other things, I’ve called him a “motor-mouthed charlatan,” a “pathetic simpering crybaby,” and a “ginger-topped goliath lumbering across the electoral map while grunting dumbly and swinging a club at all that is decent and rational.” I also have only contempt for the Norm Ornsteins and Media Matters of the world, who spend all their time demanding that we “tone down the rhetoric.” Too often “toning down” seems synonymous with “shutting up.”
So this is a weird blog post for me to write. I don’t presume to chide anyone over the temperature of their prose and I certainly don’t want to play Internet hall monitor. Nevertheless, for those of us who oppose Donald Trump and don’t want to see him win the GOP nomination, I think it’s time for a new rule: stop comparing him to Hitler and ISIS.
First to the Hitler comparison, which is the far more popular of the two. Its most prominent promulgator is Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who accused Trump of taking “a page from the playbook of Hitler.” The New York Daily News, a failing women’s fashion magazine, refashioned the old Martin Niemoller quote about Nazism (“First they came for the Jews…”) on its cover to bash Trump. And former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman declared, “This is the kind of rhetoric that allowed Hitler to move forward.”
To Whitman, comparing Trump’s words to those of a genocidal megalomaniac is valid “because you have people who were scared the economy was bad, they want someone to blame.” It’s true that Hitler was a savant at old-fashioned scapegoating, but there’s also the matter of him rampaging across Europe and slaughtering 6 million Jews in death camps, something Trump has yet to pull off. Any comparison to the Nazis, even if you root it in 1937 and not 1945, comes charged with some of the most horrible crimes against humanity ever committed. Associating Trump with Hitler trivializes those atrocities. There are plenty of other historical figures to which a better parallel can be drawn: Father Coughlin, William Jennings Bryan, the leaders of the Know-Nothing Party.
Besides, tenuous comparisons to Nazism can be easily reversed. For example, Mayor Nutter wants to ban Donald Trump from visiting Philadelphia. The Nazis in 1938 passed a law restricting the Jews’ freedom of movement. Maybe Nutter is Hitler. The Nazis also wrote condemnations of people they didn’t like. Maybe I’m Hitler too. It calls to mind Orwell’s famous quote: “The word ‘fascism’ now has no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.'”
Jon Stewart is one of many pundits who has spoken out against both Republicans and Democrats making promiscuous Nazi comparisons. Yet it was his successor Trevor Noah who took a plunge into the rhetorical sewer last night, hauling out correspondent Hasan Minhaj who, after a long rant that was heavy on sanctimony and light on humor—Stewart fanboys take comfort: very little has changed—pronounced that “Donald Trump is white ISIS.” Trump, you see, is a radical ideologue with racist proclivities who’s trying to spark a war between Islam and the West. Left unmentioned by Minhaj’s was Trump’s failure to enforce Sharia law, behead apostates, and deploy mentally challenged children as suicide bombers.
Don’t let it escape your attention that most of the aforementioned offenders are on the left. The same liberals who spent most of Obama’s second term with their ears to the carpet straining to hear dog whistles blown by tea partiers are now letting loose with the most overheated rhetoric imaginable against a Republican presidential candidate. Wait a minute: overheated rhetoric…manifest hypocrisy…maybe the best touchstone for understanding Trump isn’t Hitler or Baghdadi, but the Daily Kos.
It’s not that Trump doesn’t deserve the abuse. But imagine you’re a hard-working, middle-class American who’s played by the rules, raised a family, and now believes the country is being torched around you. You (wrongly) blame Islam and illegal immigrants for these problems, and nod along when you hear Donald Trump on television. Then you change the channel and hear someone calmly explaining why you’re a Nazi.
You’re not going to have a sudden epiphany and throw your support behind Hillary Clinton. You’re going to double down, order a “Make America Great Again” hat, wear it to a Trump rally, and check the box next to his name come election time. And that’s exactly what we don’t need.