Hot Air: Godwin’s Law, 1994-2016

I thought I’d try a little experiment. Play along with me.

Here are a few snippets from a newspaper article that ran this week, almost verbatim,

  1. How did Donald J. Trump — described by one eminent magazine editor in 2013 as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” — rise to power in the land of Harper Lee and Bob Dylan? What persuaded millions of ordinary Americans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred?
  2. Some have focused on the social and political conditions in 21st Century America, which Trump expertly exploited — bitterness over the wealth gap and Wall Street excesses and a yearning for a return to American greatness; unemployment and economic distress amid the worldwide Great Recession; and longstanding ethnic prejudices and fears of immigration.
  3. Trump is often described as an egomaniac who “only loves himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what one commentator calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raises questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity.

Got it? Okay, here’s the big reveal: The above paragraphs are taken from Michiko Kakutani’s review of Volker Ullrich’s new biography, just released this month as a first volume of what is expected to be a two-volume set. The review ran in this week’s New York Times Book Review. Its title, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939.

All I’ve done is substitute D. Trump’s name for Hitler’s and tweaked a few references to make the things sound contemporary.

If I still had hair, it’d be standing on end.

Now, don’t get me wrong. D. Trump is not Hitler. Nobody ever was, is or will be. The man locked in a virtual first-place tie with Joseph Stalin as the vilest member of our species to breathe air in the 20th Century was, and for the foreseeable future will be, the sine qua non of human malignancy.

Countless historians — and Ullrich’s effort is, by one estimation, merely the 23rd full-length, respected literary treatment of the life of the leader of the Third Reich — have delved into the mind of both Hitler and the German people in a thus-far unrequited effort to grasp how such a loon could become, arguably, the most important person in modern history. Another two dozen learned books on Hitler’s sundry medical conditions, three books on his diet (he was a vegetarian), 45 books about Germany and Europe in mid-century that are primarily dependent upon him as a focus, another 34 books that without his existence never would have needed to be written, and countless histories, recaps and recounts of World War II whose subject matter arose directly out of his actions and agency grace our world’s libraries.

And I’m only counting respectable, historically valid treatises written in English.

Pretty much all of them have come to the same conclusion about Hitler as the above paragraphs indicate Ullrich has. And yet, those grafs perfectly describe the man running for United States president on the Republican Party ticket in the year 2016.

Will Trump round up undesirables in concentration camps? No. Will he send Americans armies into Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America so as to expand our lebensraum? No.

But will he sanction the burning of books? Perhaps. Will he turn Americans against each other? He already has. Will he employ clever and sophisticated propagandists to desecrate facts? Sure — he’s tapped into the Fox News bushwa machine and hired the likes of Roger Ailes, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone to help him craft a message of mendacity.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-8-56-45-am

Roger Stone, Trump’s Goebbels

[Image: Platon/The New Yorker]

I hereby declare Godwin’s Law dead. It’s as useful to us in these days of demagoguery and charlatanism as an Emily Post etiquette manual. Calling George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton Hitler — or even making the slightest reference to any similarities between contemporary figures and history’s greatest villain — usually is silliness of the highest order. Identifying the glaring psychological similarities between the Fuhrer and D. Trump is simply iterating the obvious.

One thought on “Hot Air: Godwin’s Law, 1994-2016

  1. John Bergman says:

    It’s not a good comparison. Hitler had a monomania about gaining power solely vested in himself. Trump flits from project to project, each one “bigger and better” than the last.
    If anything, Hitler was smarter, or at least craftier than Trump. He started from nothing, kept himself in charge despite all the scummy cutthroats he built his organization with, and quietly radically reordered his agenda when when real power — the backing of the Army and industry — was offered him. Along the way, and taking some cues from Russian propaganda, he created an arguably brilliant propaganda apparatus. And his temper tantrums, and even his inconsolable “rug-chewing,” were noted by associates as done for effect. And during the thirties he was unarguably the most brilliant politician in Europe, if not the world.
    Trump displays none of the discipline necessary to achieve so much. He’s a populist, closer to a Mussolini or Duterte of the Phillipines. All mouth, no show, all blame. He doesn’t have the constancy of purpose that a Hitler, Mao or Stalin had. All he can do is totally eff things up then blame someone else.

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