At the very beginning of this article, let me first state that I am not saying that Donald Trump is Adolf Hitler. Then why am I bringing it up? Because everyone agrees that when it comes to the subject of dictatorship, Hitler provides the gold standard. He is the model dictator in everyone’s books. Therefore, we can safely use him as a measuring rod for danger signs with respect to dictatorship here in the United States, not only with respect to the Trump presidency but also to other presidencies, both Democratic and Republican.
All of our lives, we have been taught to view Hitler primarily in terms of the Holocaust, the horrific event in which the Hitler regime killed some 6 million people. President Trump and his predecessors, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush certainly didn’t do that, although in fairness, it should be pointed out that the total number of people these U.S. presidents have killed certainly numbers in the millions, including the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children that were killed because of U.S. sanctions, the two U.S. wars on Iraq, the war on Syria, the war on Yemen, and the war on Afghanistan. The U.S. death toll doesn’t add up to 6 million but it’s still nothing to scoff at.
It is also worth noting that at least some of what Hitler did likely served as an inspiration here in the United States. For example, consider the U.S. Interstate Highway System. This massive public-works project was established by President Dwight Eisenhower, who, as commander of Allied forces in World War II, was inspired by Hitler’s Autobahn system in Germany.
Hitler was also an ardent supporter of Social Security, which shouldn’t really surprise anyone, given that the idea of Social Security arose within German socialists and given that Hitler headed the National Socialist Party in Germany. Social Security, of course, would be enacted here in the United States during the 1930s by the presidential regime of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt.
In fact, the similarities between Hitler’s economic policies and those of Roosevelt are striking. Examples include massive military spending, Roosevelt’s infamous National Industrial Recovery Act and Blue Eagle propaganda campaign, and his big public-works projects. For an excellent comparison of Roosevelt’s and Hitler’s economic policies, along with those of fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, see the book Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 by Wolfgang Schivelbusch or just read this review of the book or this one or this one.
Moreover, the Pentagon’s tribunal system at Guantanamo Bay for trying accused terrorists might well have been inspired by Hitler’s People’s Court, a tribunal system that Hitler established to try terrorism cases that ran alongside the regular Germany judicial system, just as the Pentagon’s tribunal system at Gitmo does.
Hitler’s extermination program and death camps didn’t get established until the midst of World War II, which began in 1939. Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933. That means that there were six years of Hitler rule before the outbreak of the war. There were numerous anti-Semitic laws that were being enacted and enforced, including through concentration camps, but let’s face it: there was anti-Semitism all over the world, including here in the United States. It’s worth noting, for example, that when Hitler offered to let German Jews leave Germany in the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt refused to permit them to come to the United States. He cited America’s immigration quotas as the excuse, but the fact is that the Roosevelt administration was riddled with people with anti-Semitic views.
The era I wish to explore is 1933-1939, the period before the war. Specifically, how did Hitler become a dictator? After all, we shouldn’t forget that when Hitler became chancellor, Germany was a democracy, something that has been a longtime goal of U.S. foreign policy.
In my article yesterday, entitled “The Trumpster Phenomenon,” I pointed out that there is a large segment of conservatives who unconditionally support whatever Trump does. Their reason? They see him as a Great Leader, one who is just trying to make America great again. Therefore, the Trumpsters say, he should be given the widest authority to do what he thinks is best for America and for “national security.” Nothing, and certainly not Congress or the courts, should be permitted to stand in his way.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that conservatives are not the only ones who suffer from the Great Leader concept. So do liberals/progressives, specifically when their Great Leader is president. Consider Barack Obama, for example. Today, liberals are shedding lots of crocodile tears over the harsh immigration enforcement measures that Trump is inflicting on illegal immigrants. Yet, when it was Barack Obama who was deporting so many illegal immigrants that he earned the moniker “Deporter in Chief,” there was a dearth of crocodile tears and not even the hint of criticism from the left. That’s because they viewed Obama as their Great Leader, one who should be given wide authority to do what he felt was best for America.
That is precisely why Hitler became so popular in Germany. For a large number of Germans, Hitler was viewed as a Great Leader, one who was leading Germany out of the Depression and on to greatness. Their feeling was the same as it is here among conservative and liberal supporters of Trump and Obama — that Hitler should be given the widest powers to do what he believed was right for Germany.
Moreover, Germans weren’t the only ones who admired Hitler for being a Great Leader. So did Winston Churchill. He declared that if England were ever to find herself in the same desperate plight as Germany, he hoped that England would be able to find her own Adolf Hitler to lead the nation. Of course, Churchill issued his statement long before the outbreak of World War II.
An interesting aspect of the Great Leader phenomenon in Germany took place early in the Hitler regime. On February 27, 1933, there was a major terrorist attack on the Reichstag, which was the German Parliament building. There was evidence that the terrorists were also communists. Ironically, communism and terrorism would later become America’s official enemies during and after the Cold War.
Deeply concerned about the terrorist and communist threat to Germany, Hitler asked the Reichstag to grant him temporary dictatorial powers. When the Reichstag balked, Hitler and his supporters went into a rage, accusing opponents of jeopardizing national security. Through his angry tirades and bully-like pressure on the members of the Reichstag, Hitler got what he wanted — the grant of dictatorial powers to deal with terrorism and communism, but only for one year. Thus, each year Hitler dutifully returned to the Reichstag and got an extension of his dictatorial powers.
Interestingly, much the same thing happened here in the United States after the 9/11 attacks. President George W. Bush announced that since the United States was now at war against the terrorists, he now wielded dictatorial powers as the nation’s “commander in chief.” In other words, he didn’t go to Congress and ask to be given such powers. He just assumed them. That’s how we have ended up, for example, living under a system where the president and his military-intelligence forces possess the dictatorial power to assassinate Americans and others who they label “terrorists.”
Now, it’s true that the CIA has been assassinating people practically since its inception as part of its Cold War against communism. But those assassinations were always maintained as a semi-secret power of the federal government. With the 9/11 attacks, the power to assassinate Americans and others became a formal, acknowledged power of the president and his military-intelligence forces, fully confirmed by the federal judiciary.
Meanwhile, woe to anyone who criticized Hitler or disagreed with his policies. He and his supporters would go ballistic, just as ballistic as the Trumpsters and Obama supporters do when hearing any hint of criticism of their Great Leader.
For example, watch a particular segment of the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. The movie is the story of the White Rose, a group of German students of diverse religious beliefs at the University of Munich who were secretly distributing pamphlets containing essays critical of the Hitler regime. They were caught and put on trial before the People’s Court, the special tribunal system that Hitler put into place because he didn’t trust the German court system to deliver the “right” verdict in terrorism and treason cases.
If you haven’t seen the entire movie, I recommend it highly. But in the meantime, begin at 1:31:07. It is about 3 minutes long. It is the courtroom scene in which the presiding judge, Roland Freisler, questions Sophie Scholl. Notice the extreme rage displayed by Freisler over Scholl’s “treasonous” behavior. (Notice also how her scared attorney does nothing to defend her.) Freisler provides a perfect example of the Great Leader mindset.
Americans should reflect on all this when they see Donald Trump arbitrarily raising taxes on the American people or building walls or other public-works projects without congressional enactment. The end of that road is the destruction of liberty.