Why Donald Trump’s Nazi tweet is so dangerous - Macleans.ca

Why Donald Trump’s Nazi tweet is so dangerous

Hitler comparisons on all sides are being bandied around with reckless abandon, but the answer is not to demand a stop to them altogether

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks to diplomats at the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) Chairman's Global Dinner in Washington, U.S. January 17, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks to diplomats at the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) Chairman’s Global Dinner in Washington, U.S. January 17, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Donald Trump believes U.S. intelligence agencies are acting like Nazis.

Let’s just pause and digest that.

The man who will be president of the United States on Friday has compared the CIA, FBI and National Security Intelligence Agencies to Hitler’s security regime. Repeatedly.

Days later, when asked to explain this jaw-dropping comment at his press conference, Trump doubled down. “I think it was disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out,” Trump said. “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done—and did do.”

The outgoing head of the CIA, John Brennan, called the comparison “outrageous,” a deep insult to the men and women who work at the agency. Brennan and Trump are at an unprecedented, massively destabilizing war of words. On Jan. 15, Trump tweeted out another barrage of criticism, this time not only undermining the CIA’s credibility on foreign policy issues (a defensible position from an analyst, exceptional coming from the PEOTUS), but on the fundamental issue of trust and patriotism. Essentially, Trump accused Brennan of leaking false information in order to undermine his presidency. That’s just on the line of an allegation of treason.

This alone should have dominated headlines for days, but the daily torrent of tweets and statements from Trump has accelerated the news-cycle so much that it’s difficult to properly process a single incident before another overwhelms it. One moment Trump is declaring NATO “obsolete,” the next he’s picking a trade war with China or praising Vladimir Putin and, then suddenly, he jibes to Meryl Streep’s acting abilities or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reality-TV ratings. His Twitter feed is a rattling lid on a boiling pot, the constant eruptions leading to a general fear that something underneath is burning very badly.

But for a moment let’s pause on the comparison between U.S. intel agencies and Nazis. Does that Nazi comparison—or any Nazi comparison—go beyond the pale?

It’s stylish for pundits to invoke what’s called Godwin’s law anytime time someone in the public invokes a comparison to Nazi Germany. Coined by author Mike Godwin in 1990, the term described the inevitably that in any online debate, someone will, eventually, bring up Hitler. The point was to reveal how discussions online devolve into base name-calling and inane comparisons. Over the years, Godwin’s law evolved to mean the first person to invoke Hitler in any argument automatically loses.

It’s a fair point. Trump’s invocation of Nazi Germany was vulgar and irresponsible on many counts. First of all, even if the CIA did leak the document—which they deny—Trump sets himself up, in his tweet, as analogous to the victims of the Nazis. Imagine, Trump sees the damage the leaked document did to him as something as bad as the slaughter of millions by the Nazis. Quite rightly, this outrageous tweet elicited swift denunciations.

“The president-elect’s use of Nazi Germany to make a political analogy is not only an inappropriate comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust,” the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt wrote.

In an even more strongly worded statement, Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the American Anne Frank Centre for Mutual Respect said it was “a despicable insult to Holocaust survivors around the world, and to the nation he is about to lead, that Donald Trump compares America to Nazi Germany.”

Fair enough. Trump made an egregious error.

On the other hand, Trump has been repeatedly compared to a Nazi in an equally loose and irresponsible manner. “Yes, Donald Trump is a fascist,” wrote Jamil Smith in the New Republic a year ago. “The internet proverb known as Godwin’s Law warns of the increasing likelihood of a Nazi or Hitler reference the longer a conversation goes. That law would seem to apply to Donald Trump in a different way: The longer he runs in (and atop) the Republican presidential primary, the probability of his sounding like a Nazi increases.” Google Trump and “fascist” and over 11 million hits come up, almost 50 million for Trump and the word “Nazi.”

On both sides—the left and the right—the comparison is reckless. Trump is not a Nazi nor is he the modern day Adolf Hitler. Any basic reading about the rise of Hitler and the Germany he grew up in shows the comparison is crude. Hitler, a veteran of the First World War, was always a political radical, and the failed beer hall putsch of 1923 revealed his penchant for violent disruption and support for a thug-like police force. Hitler’s writings in Mein Kampf, the book he subsequently authored in prison, openly displays his racist political ideology and his readiness to do anything to achieve a fascist state. Eventually, after the burning of the Reichstag, Hitler solidified power and began his years of unprecedented genocide and Holocaust. In other words, despite comparisons to Trump’s odious and often offensive statements about Muslims, Mexicans and women, to name just a few groups, he is literally nothing like Trump,

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (Evan Vucci/AP/CP)

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (Evan Vucci/AP/CP)

America in 2017 is not Germany in 1933 but that doesn’t stop the ongoing comparisons. As I have written before, there is a tendency on the right is to see every political decision through the lens of the appeasement of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain in 1938. It is not uncommon to hear Conservatives invoke that moment to justify foreign intervention and wars in places like Iraq or Syria. Interestingly, Trump’s eerie flirtation with Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not been viewed by many Republicans as a strategic act of engagement, a Nixon-going-to-China moment. Instead, it’s seen with the suspicion it deserves. It actually does smack of a certain kind of appeasement, but we must be extremely careful equating Russia in any way with fascist Germany, given their enormous sacrifice in the Second World War. Russia and the Soviet Union has a long and brutal history of horrific torture and abuse that merits real unvarnished attention, but it is deeply insulting to tens of millions of Russians who died fighting the Nazis to cheaply equate their situation to fascist Germany.

On the left, however, if it not uncommon to see every comment by Trump—it was same with George W. Bush—as one step away from the Nazification of America. Trump’s putative immigration plan, though it has attracted fellow travellers on the extreme far right, is not in the same dimension as Hitler’s loathsome 1935 Nuremburg laws, so any comparison is out of line. By the way, I use the term “extreme far-right” instead of the current euphemism, “alt-right,” which is an attempt to rebrand racists as a new, acceptable element within the movement of legitimate conservatism. They are not. You might wonder if there is a modern-day version of Conservative movement leader William F. Buckley, who pushed out the John Birch Society for its opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its paranoid view of Communist infiltration.

Still, if the Hitler comparisons on all sides are being bandied around with reckless abandon, the answer is not to demand a stop to them altogether. Godwin’s Law—and Godwin himself has said this recently in the Washington Post—is not meant to be used as an act of censorship, but as a tool of responsible debate. The world we live in today has been painstakingly built on the ashes of the Second World War and carefully designed to prevent another conflict of that magnitude. Our systems of trade globalization, security alliances like NATO, diplomatic institutions like the UN, and relationships like the European Union—though all under heavy attack right now from people like Trump and various populist and/or nativist political parties around the world–have fundamentally kept the world in peace for 70 years, with life expectancy, health outcomes and standards of living generally rising in an unprecedented fashion. The idea that we cannot invoke the greatest eruption of violence in history in order to learn from this or fight for these very structures is to blind ourselves in both eyes.

When leaders like Trump or his supporters repeatedly attack the credibility of the media, or use terms that are generally associated with Nazi Germany, like luggenpresse (“lying press”)—which became a popular hashtag in the campaign—it is fair to raise concern about where this may lead and the damage it does. When leaders start to equate political opponents to “enemies”—something Trump has also done on Twitter—it is cause for real concern. The rise of protectionism, the re-emergence of Russia’s Cold War-style aggression, China’s new muscularity in the South China Sea—where a confrontation with Japan is a very real possibility—and Trump’s own unpredictable and combustible comments on foreign policy all mean we have to reach back in history to clearly and carefully learn lessons. History is not repeating itself, but it is, as the saying goes, rhyming.

I’m as wary of invoking Godwin’s Law to stop the debate about Trump as I am about Trump’s careless use of the Hitler comparison. Freedom in any society can erode quickly and we ought to be vigilant, but in correctly chastising those who trot out cheap Hitler comparisons, let’s not let the lesson of fascism’s rise slip away either.


Why Donald Trump’s Nazi tweet is so dangerous

  1. Had Evan Solomon put a modicum thought and research into this article, he would certainly conclude that Trump’s remark about Nazi Germany in the context of the fake news story about “golden showers” etc. was a clear, unmistakable reference to Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. For it was Goebbels who famously stated or wrote: ” If you tell a lie big enough, and repeat it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
    Trump was absolutely correct in using the analogy of Nazi Germany; a reference to Joseph Goebbels.
    Whoever leaked the fake Trump story, obviously someone in the CIA, was merely following Goebbels’ dictum.

    • It’s always dangerous to comment without reading the entire article.
      while I happen to agree with you that Solomon missed the point of Trumps remarks, it could easily be argued that Trump is the Goebbels in this instance as he tries to silence his critics with his own lies. Your position on this will depend on your level of trust in Trump and his cabinet of cronies.
      that said, there are some excellent points in this article that looks at the use on both sides of the political fence of the Nazi meme.
      One thing Evan missed though was the Literally Hitler meme as explained in the New Yorker article on how jokes won the election. Comparisons to Nazi’s have virtually lost their meaning and have been morphed into an internet joke. Those who use the comparisons don’t realize that they are part of the joke and it’s on them

  2. Nowhere in Trump’s comment does the name Hitler appear.
    Evan Solomon evidently believes the words “Nazi” and “Hitler” are synonymous and no other member of the Third Reich can rightly be referred to as a “Nazi”.
    Well. Evan Solomon is once again incorrect.
    Trump’s reference to Nazi Germany in his Tweet was no doubt as reference to Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda.

    • And as Trump has been relentlessly practicing Goebbels’ tactic of repeating big lies until people believe them for the past 18 months (longer, really – but daily during this period) there is an incredible irony to his pointing his finger at others and making that accusation.

      • Trump lies, hmmm perhaps you can explain all the lies he has said because i must of missed them even though i watched most of the videos on the delegation plus all the debates and then into his run for office, seems to me the media was doing all the lying because they said over and over again he couldn’t win first his nomination and then later the presidency and now into the White House, i find his ‘style’ of lying way better then Obamas transparency. But then people have been always underestimating this man, I fully expect him to be leader of the USA for 8 years so get used to it

  3. This is just another uninformed screed by a biased, uninformed liberal. Perhaps if he is was so upset by the Nazi comparison being used, he should have excoriated the Democratic Party, the entertainment industry, and anyone else who hated Trump. Now these same liberals, in their unceasing attempt to use any means necessary, even undemocratic means, to discredit Trump have decided to try to discredit Trump by claiming that the Russians influenced US elections ( and they did not) and most recently tried to push a false leaked story about Trump and prostitutes. Who leaked it? Most likely someone in the CIA. The head of the CIA, Brennan is a political hack. The head of the NSA, Clapper, perjured himself in front of Congress. Obama politicized virtually every department of the government including the Justice Department, the IRS and the CIA. The leaking of a false statement about the future President of the CIA, in order to de-legitimize him, does smack of Goebels and Germany. This author is part of the liberal press that dutifully follows the liberal talking points espoused by the liberals in the US. Wikileaks has shown us that there is liberal bias in the press of the US and this applies to Canada as well. They do not care about truth. They are merely propagandists for liberals

  4. Americans KNEW darn well he was a snake before they elected him president.

  5. Given some of the historical behaviour of the FBI, CIA, NSA and others, his comment was on point. Ruby Ridge, Waco, Castro’s cigar and spying on American citizens are certainly nazi-like!

  6. I suggest that people should read Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here”.
    Because it can. I suspect it is.
    The novel was written in the 30’s- and is eerily prescient.
    I hope that Hollywood does an updated mini-series- before the media gets shut down.

  7. The greatest danger of the Trump administration is its ongoing ability to divide society. Civil society is a privilege, not a right, and it is worth fighting for.

    I believe that the debate needs to be reframed before further action. Till now, due to the party system, it has been Democrats versus Republicans, or Liberals versus Conservatives. The debate, or defining lines, should be progressive versus regressive beliefs. As a progressive, I give notice that my gloves are coming off, I will fight this trend towards regression any way necessary. Trump came to power abusing civilized behavior and rules, so those against him will be forced to do the same.

    • Trump is a populist which means the people are for him even though the media keeps on fudging this truth, hence our media in Canada just picks up the same biased reporting they do south of the border, no wonder there ratings and subscriber base is way down.
      Hes not the one dividing society but hes driving the change, witness france, greece and britain to name a few, there will be others when they wake up.
      what you consider progressive, could very well be regressive to many others, so to have a debate would be excellent, only problem is we are at the table, but the rest are out rioting and marching, often not even knowing why, instead of talking and as of right now have no idea or wish to talk, but some got a walk up call when they realized rioting has consqences, so until that time comes we are waiting patiently.