Friday, July 20, 2018

Hitlerian aspects of Trumpism

Sandy Levinson

One should begin with the obvious point that Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler.  Trump has no obvious commitments beyond self-aggrandizement.  In foreign policy, he seems to be far more an isolationist than someone eager to expand American influence (save through trade wars).  He is more than willing to engage in dog whistles to white supremacy, but even his most vitriolic opponents, among whom I'd count myself, do not believe he has set out a path to a Final Solution, etc.

So why bother to engage in the undoubtedly incendiary comparison of Donald Trump and Hitler?  The quick answer involves a page from a new book I'm currently reading, Benjamin Carter Hett's THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY:  HITLER'S RISE TO POWER AND THE DOWNFALL OF THE WEMAR REPUBLIC,  a short well-written overview of what was obviously one of the key moments of 20th century political and social history.  The striking discussion occurs on p. 38:

.... While working as a reporter in Munich, Konrad Heiden, a Social Democratic journalist and Hitler's first important biographer, witnessed Hitler speaking many times.  "At the highpoints of his speeches," Heiden wrote, "he is seduced by himself, and whether he is speaking the purest truth or the fattest lies, what he says is, in that moment, so completely the expression of his being . . . that even from the lie an aura of authenticity floods over the listener."  On the other hand, Hitler's finance minister, Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk, observed, "He wasn't even honest towards his most intimate confidants. ... In my opinion, he was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth."
And, of course, as Hett notes, it was Hitler (and Goebbels) who emphasized the importance of the "big lie."  "In 'the greatness of the lie there is always a certain element of credibility,' Hitler explains, 'because the broad masses of a people can be more easily corrupted in the deeper reaches of their hearts' than consciously or deliberately. 'In the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves sometimes lie about small things but would be too ashamed of lies that were too big.'"

It has been reported, in part based on a statement by hist first wife Ivana and seemingly confirmed by Donald, that a friend had given him a copy of Hitler's speeches (as distinguished from Mein Kampf).  The crucial point is that it can scarcely be denied that we have a pathological liar as president who has seemingly turned that into a feature of his political success.  What is more ominous, in many ways, is the willingness of the GOP to serve as collective useful idiots in Trump's behalf (in order to get the judges they want and tax cuts for the rich), not to mention the stunning support that Trump  continues to receive from the Republican base.

Many "sophisticates" in 1933 believed that they could control the clown who had become Chancellor and therefore gain their own objectives.  Trump might not be Hitler, save in his propensity to lie, but Ryan or McConnell etc. may be the von Papens who believed that they could successfully ride the tiger.  They should be consigned to the 10th circle of hell even ahead of Trump, since as a pathological narcissist he really can't help himself, whatever the consequences for the American constitutional order.  What excuses do Ryan and McConnell have?


Trump's kidnapping of children and babies, apparently with no intention ever to return them ( is Hitlerian, and in my view, far worse than anything else that he has done since he was installed by the Electoral College. Granted, the kidnappings may not be on a path to a Final Solution, but Hitler didn't implement the Final Solution for a number of years.

“The crucial point is that it can scarcely be denied that we have a pathological liar as president who has seemingly turned that into a feature of his political success.”

When have we not? Maybe you’ve forgotten the previous President assuring us that if we liked our health insurance policies, we could keep them? Not a mistake, one of his staff later admitted. Just an outright lie. One of many. Remember that YouTube video being responsible for an embassy being attacked?

Takes a lot more than just being a politician who lies to justify Hitler talk. People only liken somebody to Hitler to suggest they’d commit mass murder. Not to imply that they’re a dishonest politician.

"He is more than willing to engage in dog whistles to white supremacy"

I think we're long past the stage of "dog whistles". The subtext has become text.

"They should be consigned to the 10th circle of hell"

This must be the Spinal Tap version of Hell. Does it go to 11?

Brett, that's a pretty weak defense of Trump's lying. It may be true that all politicians tell lies -- though it's generally arguable whether it meets some technical definition -- but not all politicians are liars on the scale of Trump. He doesn't just tell lies, every word out of his mouth is a lie. Including "and" and "the".

Brett immediately dives into "false equivalency" in his defense of Trump's lies as just that of another politician. But Trump has been a liar all of his life, having become a politician in only the past few years. Those who have followed Brett's role as a troll at this Blog going back to the Bush/Cheney Administration well know Brett's true colors. As such a troll, Brett attempts to accomplish the same things that Ryan and McConnell, who have actual power, try to accomplish. But Brett seems to be a "wanna be" Trump, having gone "international" after a bad divorce. Brett probably thinks Trump outdid Putin at the Helsinki Summit. Trump is a national security problem.

I will not insult Brett's intelligence by suggesting that he believes that Obama and Trump are comparable as liars. Brett's statement seeks to provoke, not to make a serious point, and, as such, is best ignored. To refute such statements on the merits is to demean oneself.

One thing Brett and Bart's comments here over the years demonstrates well is that movement conservatives have little awareness/value in distinctions of degree (unless it involves defending one of their own that has done something that 'nuance' might suggest is less bad, remember the only principle they ultimately have is principals).

For what it's worth, I think Trump is far more Berlusconi buffoon than Hitlerian mad, evil leader.

"Brett's statement seeks to provoke, not to make a serious point"

Another central tenet of movement conservatism. They actually elected someone intellectually best defined as a troll.

"Trump's kidnapping of children and babies, apparently with no intention ever to return them "

It's indeed ironic that a staple line by conservative paranoids during the Clinton and Obama administrations was to talk of secret plans to 'put people in camps,' and yet the actual rounding up and putting in camps of thousands is cheered by them.

There's a Stephen Fry bit from the Fry & Laurie show called "On Language" which spoofs the smug weirdness of linguists that I used to show in introductory classes. I haven't been able to shake it--every time Trump talks, I think of Fry asking whether English is capable of sustaining Hitlerian style: would we be moved by it or would we simply laugh?

I think the answer is equivocal.

"every time Trump talks, I think of Fry asking whether English is capable of sustaining Hitlerian style"

The anti-intellectualism of the conservative movement has been a historical process. There was a time when conservative leaning intellectuals could have great fun picking on the Democratic Party, the party of Bryan, the 'booboise.' Decades later, the corrupt Nixon administration would start the war on intellectualism (nattering nabobs of negativity). The following presidents included a B actor, a doofus (W) and now Trump, a man who is a huge intellectual mess.

Now, I'm not saying Bill Clinton or Barak Obama were very smart people. I have a milder claim: they thought it was of *some* importance to appear smart. In a position in which comportment is very important, this is a very big feature.

I'd likely be a Republican if not for the awful irrational tendencies of movement conservatism. I like lower taxes, I think capitalism is great, I've long wanted different immigration restrictions (I voted for Buchanan for Pete's sake). But I can't live with this ugly stupid side of the movement.

Prior to Trump's candidacy in 2015, Trump had developed his brand over many decades. As President, Trump uses the "skills" he employed in developing that brand. As I thought over Sandy's post, Edward Bernays, the "Father of Public Relations," came to mind. So I did some quick Googling to refresh my recollections of Bernays. This link:

"The manipulation of the American mind: Edward Bernays and the birth of public relations" July 9, 2015.

This was published shortly before Trump announced his candidacy. Trump used the techniques of his brand to defeat the creme-de-la-creme of the Sweet Sixteen Republican candidates. Add to this the Russia efforts in the 2016 election to assist Trump's candidacy. Then re-examine Trump's performance as President, with all the documented WaPo lies by Trump. Consider Trump's foreign policy efforts with North Korea, with the G-7 meeting in Canada, with the recent NATO meeting, with his backstabbing of England's Prime Minister May, his Unconditional Surrender Helsinki Summit, the follow-up multiple walk-backs. We still don't know what happened in Trump's one-on-one meeting with Putin, although Putin's people have referred to Trump's okay on Crimea. Add to this Trump's trade wars. While some Republicans have challenged Trump with words, they have not taken action. Then consider Libertarian Senator Rand Paul at this link:

"Rand Paul says he 'absolutely' stands by Trump after Russia summit, blames outrage on 'Trump-derangement syndrome'"

Perhaps this Blog's comrades-in-arms Brett and SPAM, self described libertarians, sometimes of the anarcho variety, agree with Sen. Paul

Anyway, there seems to be a bit of Goebbels in Trump's behavior with the brand he developed long ago.


I'm reading John Fea's "Believe Me" on why evangelicals like the guy. Big thing there is fear. And, other things. Good book so far. He knows the material being both a historian and evangelical himself.

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Hitler's biographers apparently disagree on the question whether he should be considered morally responsible for his actions, or a moral imbecile. The same issue arises with Trump.

One curious feature of Trumpism is that his approval rating is slightly but consistently higher than that of the generic Republican Congressional candidate. There must be a number of Americans out there who disapprove of Trump's policies (as implemented by the GOP in Congress) but like the man. More at any rate than the more comprehensible converse.

"I will not insult Brett's intelligence by suggesting that he believes that Obama and Trump are comparable as liars."

Obviously they're not the same sort of liars. They both lie, of course.

Trump tends to lie about silly stuff, like the size of his inauguration crowd. The term is "braggadocio", and it's a vice. Braggadocio doesn't usually aim at persuading people, of course, it's more of a character flaw where the person can't admit they're not superlative at everything.

OTOH, if he says he's going to nominate judges from a list of people provided by the Federalist society, surprise: He nominates judges from a list of people provided by the federalist society! That's an important sort of honesty which Trump's foes don't credit him for, because he's being honest about doing things they don't like, they'd rather he had been lying.

Obama doesn't bother with the braggadocio much, beyond honestly reporting his own inflated self-worth. "I can do every one of your jobs better than you can," Instead he tends to lie in the manner of ordinary politicians: Calculated lies designed to attain his ends by successfully deceiving people. Get a policy enacted by lying to the voters about its consequences. Deflect blame for a tragedy by deflecting it onto somebody innocent.

They both lie in the usual manner of somebody who has done something they know won't be approved of, and so denies having done it. That's common to all politicians, how often do they come clean about something disreputable they've done?

So, no, not identical liars, but both liars, and I personally find Obama's sort of lies more consequential.

I must say this comment thread demonstrates something that has me worried about the future of American democracy. Democracy requires TWO sane parties, not just one.

Democrats are losing their capacity to disagree moderately, politely, to accept that they can legitimately not get their way. Every opponent is a Hitler, everybody on the opposing side is a monster, the rhetoric has been turned up to 11 and the knob broken off.

And, when your opponents are all monsters, what can you not justify doing? Restraint falls by the wayside. "No platforming" starts to look reasonable. Violent riots are just "protests". The other side doesn't deserve to have normal private lives, they must be driven out of polite society, not permitted to eat in restaurants, buy groceries in person, not have their front laws "occupied" by violent mobs 24/7.

And, inevitably, when a whole party becomes convinced all the opposition are monsters, some fraction are going to take it seriously, and go monster hunting. Reportedly that's a factor behind so many Republican Congressmen retiring this year: They just got sick of all the death threats, aimed at their families, too. And have to take them seriously after the House baseball team got shot at, and Paul put in the hospital by a lunatic neighbor.

This seems to be feeding on itself, as anybody less vociferous is suspect, and context (Obama was separating families, too.) is just "whataboutism".

I don't think it's heading towards revolution, but something like the Iris "troubles" wouldn't surprise me.

Brett, you contradict yourself. First, you say that Trump engages in braggadocio, not aimed at persuading people. (Admittedly, you qualify this with "tends to" and "doesn't usually aim.") Then you say that he lies "in the usual manner of somebody who has done something they know won't be approved of, and so denies having done it."

You're right about both. Trump's latter sort of lies (what you call "calculated lies") include his lying during the debates with Clinton about having opposed Bush's invasion of Iraq, his lying that his decision to kidnap children and babies was forced upon him by a Democratic law, and his lying that he meant to say that he saw no reason why it "wouldn't" be Russia that interfered with our election.

I said above that, to refute your provocations on the merits would demean oneself, but this last comment of yours seems to be in good faith, so I will note the obvious: Trump's lies are so frequent and so blatant as to be pathological, whereas Obama's were probably less frequent than most politician's. I am no defender of Obama, by the way. I believe that his failure to prosecute torturers will haunt us by allowing Trump and future presidents to torture. I also recognize that Obama lied with respect to the reason he gave for not prosecuting torturers: that we should look forward, not backward. Obama knew that deterrence is looking forward.

"No platforming" starts to look reasonable. Violent riots are just "protests". The other side doesn't deserve to have normal private lives, they must be driven out of polite society, not permitted to eat in restaurants, buy groceries in person, not have their front laws "occupied" by violent mobs 24/7."

1. What does "No platforming" mean?
2. No Democrat has endorsed violent riots. Nor have Trump's opponents engaged in violent riots.
3. No violent mobs of Trump opponents have occupied front "la[w]ns" (if that's what you mean) of Trump supporters, even for one minute, let alone 24/7.

As for whether child kidnappers deserve to be driven out of polite society, that is debatable (I say "yes"), but it is fascinating that interfering with their meals exercises you more than does their child kidnapping.

I have replied to your post even though I believe that your referring to Republicans as the sane party was intended to provoke. I can't believe that you really believe that, and I sincerely hope that you don't.

Other nations who suffered worse than we have on the torture front "looked forward" by avoiding prosecutions though one or more of them also did more to address the issue. But, the winners there were different, so they had more power to do so. Obama is one person. If we are not going to "defend" him, I think was should look at the whole picture there, including the country as a whole not wanting to prosecute, to "look forward." If something will "haunt us," the blame is shared. So it is today in a different context.

"Lie" is being used in a special way there. It is an incomplete answer, since looking forward can include prosecutions (along with changing the rules, airing out documentation, putting new people in place, condemning etc. ... all things he did). Saying it is a "lie" is valid in a fashion but we only say part of the truth a lot and people don't really think of it as "lying" as a general matter.

Perhaps, this sort of open-ended usage allows some to handwave Trump as not really too much of a liar, since "they all do it." That might be a bit unfair but thought the reference gratuitous. Not a defender? Why? Because on this issue you disagree? What President is to be defended at all by that standard? Who doesn't have a major mark against them in some fashion given all involved in their presidency, especially if it is about something that they themselves alone did not do, but it was a policy of the nation as a whole.

But, this is where we are at when strong criticisms of someone particularly worth it bring up "what about Obama" talk. People feel a need to criticize him to defend their bona fides or something. A little bad angel is happy, getting their wings.

BTW, I would believe it, if I was you. Anyway, I'll leave it there.

1) No platforming: "Prevent (a person holding views regarded as unacceptable or offensive) from contributing to a public debate or meeting, especially one at which they had originally been invited to speak. 'dozens of other speakers have been no-platformed because they hold non-leftist opinions'

2) Haven't been paying much attention to, for instance, Maxine Waters?

3) Rep. Lewis might disagree.

"As for whether child kidnappers deserve to be driven out of polite society, that is debatable (I say "yes"), but it is fascinating that interfering with their meals exercises you more than does their child kidnapping."

I would ask for some consistency here; Police routinely do things that would be described as "child kidnapping" when dealing with criminal parents. Is this only going to matter if the criminals in question aren't US citizens?

Democracy cannot survive if the winners of elections are going to be attacked any time they do something the losers didn't want. If you're going to establish a rule that members of the party in power can be publicly attacked by the losing party, better understand that new rule isn't going away if your side happens to win a few elections.

Consider Brett's use of "attacked" (twice) in his closing paragraph at 11:21 AM with the 1st A's "speech" clause in mind. Does Brett have in mind some 2nd A "self-defense" as his means for democracy, as he seems to misunderstand it, to survive? Consider that Trump became president because Trump attacked, abetted by Russia.

By the Bybee (expletives deleted, despite Gina), our comrades-in-arms Brett and SPAM might have a tad of concern with this Politico article at:

"Republicans Have an Alger Hiss Problem Named Mariia, The arrest of an alleged Russian spy has conservatives running for cover. Here’s what they should do instead." By BILL SCHER July 21, 2018

Of course, Trump could pardon her if Putin is nice to Trump on his upcoming White House visit.

In response to Brett's 11:21 AM comment:

Maxine Waters did not endorse "violent riots." She endorsed a restaurant's refusing to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders and endorsed protesting other Trump officials when they appear in public. I think that Brett knows that.

If Rep. John Lewis said that violent mobs of Trump opponents should occupy anyone's front lawn, I haven't heard about it, so I would be grateful to be enlightened.

Brett writes: "Democracy cannot survive if the winners of elections are going to be attacked any time they do something the losers didn't want." I agree, but this is a strawman argument. No one advocated "attacking" Trump officials "any time they do something the losers didn't want." As Brett knows, the refusals to serve and the personal protests against Trump officials has been solely in response to the moral monstrosity of kidnapping children. Those responsible for it are moral monsters and should not expect to be accepted in decent society.

Now, having called child kidnapping a "moral monstrosity," I must reply to Brett's comment that "Police routinely do things that would be described as 'child kidnapping' when dealing with criminal parents." That is false. When a person is imprisoned for committing a crime and consequently is unable to care for his child, his child is not kidnapped. He or she stays with his other parent, or, if another parent is unavailable, with relatives. If relatives are unavailable, then he or she may be placed in foster care, but, unlike with Trump's kidnappings, the government keeps records of the child's location and reunites the parent and child when the parent is released from prison. Trump apparently had no intention ever to reunite parents and children, and he apparently kidnapped children in order to deter people from entering the United States without documentation and from legally applying for asylum. After all, he could have detained parents and children together. Finally, the parents whose children were kidnapped had either legally applied for asylum or had committed a misdemeanor by crossing the border. As a judge has found, they and their children, unlike the criminals to whom Brett refers, were denied due process of law.

As a follow up to my 3:02 PM comment, it is reported that Putin's people have already contacted Trump's people (Sec'y. of State Pompeo) to object to the arrest of the alleged Russian lady agent Butina. Is an exchange in the works between Putin and Trump?

One of Trump’s more frequent and striking styles of lying is when he blatantly contradicts himself and denies doing so, even if the earlier contrary statement is on the record and readily available.


You don't understand the Bellmore method. It is to find one thing, anything, that a Democrat, any Democrat, has said or done that can, by the wildest stretch, be compared to something Trump has done - much more often - and that automatically absolves Trump. Note also that Pelosi and Hoyer were critical of Waters' remarks.

Brett has no leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing calls for violence. His hero, Trump, talked during the campaign, about "second amendment people" doing "something" if Clinton won, who called for his supporters to beat protesters, etc. Further, Brett himself has suggested a revolution would be justified if the Supreme Court made some decisons he disliked, and further agreed with another commenter that it might be necessary to kill "huge numbers" of "Socialists and Fascists," by which was meant ordinary liberals.

Sandy in the closing paragraph of his post refers to "sophisticates" who enabled Hitler in 1933. To add to byomtov's points about Brett, I would describe Brett as one of Trump's "unsophisticates" (aka Trump's base of the Forgotten).

By the Bybee (expletives deleted, despite Gina), how are Trump Vodka sales doing since Trump's Unconditional Surrender Helsinki Summit with Putin?

I have noted that this Blog's comrades-in-arms Brett and SPAM are self-described libertarians, sometimes of the anarchyo variety. I was reminded of this by the NYTimes Op-Ed"

"Libertarians in the Age of Trump, Did our populist president crush the libertarian moment, or co-opt it?" By Ross Douthat, July 21, 2018

I rarely read Dothan, but this was too delicious to pass up. There are many types, styles, versions of libertarianism. The article addresses this in the current times of Trumpism. Read the article to identify Brett and SPAM's libertarianism. Mostly, be entertained by Douthat's takes on Senator Rand Paul both during the 2016 campaign and post-Trump's Helsinki Summit with Putin. And here's a teaser paragraph from the article:

"So it was interesting to be among the libertarians in a time when, like other right-of-center faiths, they have seen their political ideals swallowed up by the rule of Donald Trump (whose own FreedomFest[*] appearance, back in 2015, featured a question for him about Russian sanctions from a certain red-haired Russian spy)."

Trump had long been known as a libertine, but was Trump also a closeted libertarian?

[*] The column starts off with Douthat's revelations of his attendance and observations at FreedomFest 2018


Hitler hardly had a corner on lying. Telling people what they want to hear regardless of the truth is a common malady among political leaders and other kinds of salesmen.

Among POTUSes, Trump hardly has a corner on lying. Obama routinely and quite consciously lied about and misrepresented his socialist ideology, every single one of his major policies and any event which cast him in a bad light (see Benghazi).

The Donald generally lies to self-aggrandize, but has been remarkably truthful about policy. To my considerable surprise, Trump is largely governing as he campaigned.

Sandy’s concern about POTUS lying is thus completely partisan.

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The Libertarian movement, in the form of the Libertarian party, was crushed by the Democrats and Republicans cooperating on changes to campaign laws and election related institutions which were intended to lock out third parties. Campaign finance laws that starved the LP for money, higher barriers to ballot access that drained what money the LP did get on ballot access efforts that left the party exhausted at the start of the actual campaign, exclusion from debate forums, media agreements to stop covering third parties, pressure on pollsters to not count third party support. It was a death of a thousand cuts, and the LP was effectively dead before the turn of the century, just shambling on as a shadow of itself, mostly kept alive as a zombie spoiler party, and a playground for major party losers to play big fish in a smaller pond.

Having been thus crushed, the institutional Libertarian movement was denied any outlet outside the major parties, and appears to me to have bifurcated. Part of it aligned with the left, and is increasingly disinterested in aspects of libertarian ideology that conflict with the left's aims. The other half went with the right, and similarly had to prioritize the parts of the ideology that the right didn't find objectionable.

Movements that don't succeed often die and get co opted. That's life.

I chose the right side of that fork, because I thought the left too obviously totalitarian in its ultimate aims and its preferred tactics, and because economic liberty is pretty important. If you're poor, what other liberties can you afford to exercise?

And I was rather disappointed that Paul did so badly in the primaries. I never even got a chance to vote for him, he dropped out before S.C..


Speaking of official lying, Judicial Watch finally obtained a massively redacted copy of the FBI application for FISA warrants to spy on Carter Page.

It appears the FBI lied to the court by, among other things, suggesting the Trump campaign was working with Russia to hack the Democrat computers!

Given the number of people in FBI and Justice required to sign off on such an applicaiton, both departments are too conflicted to participate in an investigation of thise weaponization of the national surveillance state. As much as I dislike them, there is no alternative to appointing a special prosecutor with a portfolio to conduct a criminal investigation of all government surveillance and criminal investigations of Trump, his campaign and associates.

I do not expect those here who raged about a hypothesized Bush 43 weaponization of the national surveillance state to give even passing comment to the Obama administration’s actual weaponization.


Mr. W: The anti-intellectualism of the conservative movement has been a historical process|

More like learning by experience.

One of modern totalitarianism’s favored propaganda techiques is to portray their preferred policies as grounded in science and intellect and to condemn those who dissent as “anti-science” or “anti-intellectual.”

"If you're poor, what other liberties can you afford to exercise?"

It's fascinating to me that you can write this sentence and yet fail to draw the (liberal) conclusion.

More recently, our method actor self-labeled himself a conservative and the other one was a Cruz supporter, who is also a conservative. "Believe Me" by John Fea discussed Cruz's evangelical supporters, which is understandable in part given Rafael Cruz Sr. is a pastor.*

[One of St. Scalia's sons is a priest; one of Stephen Breyer's daughters is a minister.]

They come off as conservatives though at times that has a libertarian tone on certain subjects. "Believe Me" about why evangelicals support Trump by a history professor who is an evangelical himself was good overall. A primary theme: “the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for a national past that may have never existed in the first place.”

* I have a certain nostalgia for mine and Mark Field's debate over the natural born citizenship of Ted Cruz. I also see that he might have to update his book.

We may get a chance to re-visit Cruz' citizenship. I have some new material on that.

As for the book, I'm skeptical but the details are too vague to say much.

Moment passed though I'm sure some major candidate will have "issues" in 2019-20 too.

I won't believe Cruz' moment has passed until I see a wooden stake through his heart.

Beto O'Rourke may provide the stake symbolically, assuming Cruz has a heart.

Unfortunately for this particular case, the Vampire Slayer has to be a girl.

I know a few who might do the trick.

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