By Clay Waters ~
How much does Donald Trump’s presidential administration resemble Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich? It’s “Too Close for Comfort,” concludes Slate staff writer Isaac Chotiner. He conducts an occasional series of politicized interviews with various figures, and he took up that disturbing parallel in his latest.
The subhead: “How much do the early days of the Trump administration look like the Third Reich? Historian Richard Evans weighs in.”
Chotiner opened with a half-hearted shrug toward reality before getting to the “But…” pivot: “America is not Germany, and this is not 1938, let alone 1933. But as an expert on fascism and as a historian who has written about how authoritarian regimes accumulate power, Evans has particular insight into the early days of the Trump administration….I spoke by phone with Evans, who is based in England and whose latest book is The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914, this week. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed the differences and similarities between the 1930s and today, why fascists need to undermine the legal system, and the danger of calling seemingly unbalanced leaders ‘crazy.’”
Chotiner: “What do you make of Trump as a leader in these early days, and how would you compare it to the way other authoritarians have started their time in power?”
Richard Evans: “When you look at President Trump’s statements, I’m afraid you do see echoes, and they are very alarming. For example, the stigmatization of minorities. First of all, the Trump White House failed to mention the Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. And that is very worrying because the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews was not just a genocide; it had a special quality, because Hitler and the Nazis regarded the Jews as an existential threat to Germany. They used hyperbolic and exaggerated language about Jews. If the Jews were not killed, the Nazis said, they would destroy Germany completely, whereas other groups that the Nazis stigmatized, discriminated against, and indeed murdered, like the handicapped, were only to be gotten out of the way. If you look at the language the Trump team has been using about Islamic extremist jihadis, it is exactly the same: They are an existential threat to America. They will defeat, dominate, and destroy America. That is a very extreme kind of language and a very disturbing echo.”
Chotiner then painted as sinister something every president has done: “Trump has also been attacking the judiciary. What is the importance of that, and what echoes do you see there?”
If Hitler had been on Twitter, the similarities would have been a slam dunk.
Chotiner pondered whether Trump was an actual dictator or just insane: “There has been a debate in the press and among progressives about whether, crudely speaking, the guy is a buffoon and crazy and has no plan, or whether he is canny and smart and has a real plan for authoritarianism. Was this debate similar to ones about Hitler, once he came to power?”
A few days earlier, Chotiner had conducted a rather less friendly interview with that rarest of birds, a conservative English professor, Mark Bauerlein.
When Bauerlein pointed out left-wing intolerance and speech-squelching on college campuses, Chotiner indignantly changed the subject: “There are people going to bed tonight because they are afraid not of protests on campus against them but because they are afraid of getting deported, or afraid their president hates them, or they are caught in Yemen when their kid is already here. That just bothers me more.”
He then had this combative exchange on racism with the conservative professor, making it clear precisely why he thinks Trump won:
Bauerlein turned the tables: “Let me ask you, Isaac: Why has identity become such a fixation?”
Chotiner predictably replied: “I would tend to blame racism.”
Bauerlein: “OK, why at a time when we have turned racism into the great behavioral sin in our time…”
Chotiner: “You know who just got elected, right?”
Amazingly, almost exactly a year ago, Chotiner penned a piece titled “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” after Trump won the New Hampshire primary. For that one he interviewed Robert Paxton, yet another historian willing to call Trump a fascist. Chotiner’s repetition kind of gives the game away: If Trump really was a fascist, wouldn’t Chotiner be feeling at least a bit intimidated by now? Which suggests Chotiner isn’t intellectually serious about his name-calling.