Before their recent meeting — and I suspect a few times after — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. He wasn’t the first to do so, even in his own country. Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, has also compared Trump to Hitler. Cher has compared Trump to Hitler. Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has compared Trump to Hitler (although in fairness, that’s kind of his whole brand). Even Glenn Beck compared Trump to Hitler. We’ll no doubt hear it again many times before this election is over, and, to be honest, it’s a comparison that bothers me for two reasons.
I am a Jew — a New York Writer Liberal Jew, the scariest Jew of all — and from a very young age, I was taught about an unimaginable horror called the Holocaust and about an evil man named Adolf Hitler. The elderly man who sat beside me every Saturday morning in synagogue was a Holocaust survivor, and his elderly wife was a Holocaust survivor, as well. And so the first reason the comparison of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler bothers me is not because it belittles the deaths of millions of innocents, but because, frankly, it belittles Adolf Hitler.
Hitler believed Jews were the cause of every problem. He believed extermination was the solution. He believed that the “Spear of Destiny,” the spear the Romans used to poke Jesus on the cross, would give him magical powers. He had an elaborately developed, hideous, deplorable theory of how things worked, and he believed in it deeply.
Hitler was a psychopath. Trump is just a con man.
Hitler had some opinions, he had some plans. They were monstrous and evil, and reason enough for even an avowed atheist to consider the existence of Satan. But I don’t recall Hitler flip-flopping. I don’t see him saying one morning, “I’m going to invade Poland,” and then “softening” his stance that afternoon after meeting with Sean Hannity. He didn’t decide to kill the Jews, then change his mind when his new campaign manager arrived. “I said the kill the Jew — singular, one Jew, not all the Jews. Just the bad ones.” Hitler was a megalomaniacal psychopath who should burn in Hell for eternity… who actually believed in something.
There’s a difference. Trump is a two-bit con man. He’s playing the fools.
Whether he’s jacking up room rates 400 percent when his campaign uses his hotels, or spending campaign money to buy his own books, or blowing racial dog whistles and then accusing his rival of being a bigot, or lying about crime rates to win African American votes, or just plain old running out on his bills — it is all, top to bottom, one long con. A scheme. A grift. To make a buck, to get out of hock, to get some fame, to get his own TV network — the ignominious ends always justify the ignoble means. Even his run for president is a con, a way to gain even more power than this millionaire’s son was already born with. It certainly isn’t to implement any deeply felt ideas. It can’t be. He hasn’t got any. It’s all about the con.
And give the man credit, by the way — he’s good at it. He is, as he says, the best. The white nationalists are eating it up, and they are a tough, tough room. The guy is a fantastic con man.
But he’s no Hitler. Not even close.
Am I praising Hitler? No. I’m saying that if you absolutely had to find just one thing to say about Hitler that was positive — if you could somehow siphon out all the festering, maggot-infested sewage that filled his soul to reveal one razor-thin sliver to point to in his favor — you could possibly say, well, at least he believed what he said.
Which you can’t say about Donald Trump.
Is Trump a megalomaniacal demagogue? Yes. Is he a sociopath? Undoubtedly. Is he dangerous? Maybe.
Which bring me to the second reason the comparison of Trump to Hitler bothers me: This isn’t the comparison that matters. It’s the easy comparison, the one that leaves us — We The People — safe from criticism.
The comparison that matters is not, “Is Donald Trump like Hitler?” but, “Are we like Hitler’s willing executioners?”
Will we look the other way, say we didn’t know, stand silently by while millions of our neighbors are rounded up, while women who get abortions are “punished,” while immigrants are given “ideology tests” and our leader heaps praise on oppressive tyrants?
Well? Will we?
Are we that terrified? Are we that hateful? Are we that frightened, that cowardly, that selfish, that helpless, that cold-hearted, that dumb, that easily manipulated, that easily provoked? Are we so bereft of answers, so pathetically hopeless, that all we can come up with is easy scapegoating and blind fealty to Our Great Leader? Are We The People really going to fall for the dumbest, oldest, easiest trick in the book?
Because if we are, then we won’t need an Adolf Hitler to embrace that darkness. Even a two-bit con man like Donald Trump will be enough.