Trump, America, and the Historical Past
Ever since the 2016 election, the left has screeched that Trump and his supporters have turned America into Nazi Germany. Besides the fact that it’s just standard leftist talking points, it’s really bad history. It’s okay not to like Trump, but it’s also not okay to label him and people on the right as Nazis. Their knowledge about history is really bad, and it does a disservice to the actual historical record to get it that wrong. One of the big data points that they get wrong is that frankly, the Nazis themselves weren’t really Nazis.
Yes, you read me right. The Nazis that we think of as the “ultimate evil” was the creation of World War 2, and more specifically, losing the war after 1941. Most of the destruction that the Nazis caused came after that point, and eventually the Nazis turned on the German people in 1944-1945 (which was the only time Germany was truly “Nazi”). From 1932-1939 the Nazis were not good guys, but they weren’t any more destructive than anyone else in Europe (and you can make the case that it wasn’t really until 1941 that things truly unraveled). Heck, why do you think that fascist groups sprang up throughout Europe at the time? Every major country had that political option. It was never exclusively a German political/ethnic construct.
And yet SJWs use the Nazis as a constant drum beat against the right, Trump, and anything they don’t like. In historical professional circles we call that “ahistorical,” which is devoid of historical context and ignorant about historical facts. They’ve done no research or homework on what fascism is, who the Nazis were, and what Germany’s political position was in the 1920s through to the 1940s. It’s all a lame attempt to silence their opposition by connecting them through straw man arguments and ad hominems.
Now, a disclaimer lest some SJWs out there get annoyed with me (because of course they know everything about the Nazis). I reject fascism, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the various unethical political, social, and cultural damage Hitler and Mussolini caused, and the mass murders they perpetrated. Many of my own family died in the Holocaust. I simply understand history and don’t reduce it to a bunch of lazy political talking points. In history, the first rule of thumb to understand is that Point A does not necessarily mean that everyone at that point knows what Point B will look like.
I’ll make two points in this article. First, the Nazis weren’t the Nazis that everyone thinks they are. People confuse the 1940s with the 1930s. Second, I’ll discuss the American situation in the present day and explain how it looks nothing like the 1930s.
What was Nazi Germany?
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I need to explain the state of Germany during the 1930s under Nazi rule. This will be important to explain how the Nazis and the Germans were not yet the Nazis during WW2. And it’s also important for understanding actual history, and why yelling at Trump about Nazi Germany is ahistorical.
What was Germany like in 1932, when the Nazi Party became the largest part in the Weimar Reichstag? They were faced with daunting choices during the height of the Great Depression in Germany: Continue with the Weimar Republic, support the Nazi Party, or support the Communist Party. That’s about it- there were no really good democratic and classical liberal options. Choose wisely, indeed. To many Germans, Hitler’s book Mein Kampf (My Struggle) spoke about the failures of World War 1, the national German embarrassment of the postwar peace that was imposed on them, and the rise of Communism throughout Europe. Nearly everyone in Germany agreed with Hitler’s postwar complaints. That’s actually the real value of Mein Kampf– not his rantings against Jews and his desires for a new war. Don’t get me wrong- his anti-Semitism is important, but I don’t want to overdetermine its value in the timeframe. The German people were simply looking for someone to save them from the Great Depression.
I hope you’re getting the gist of things, so far. Nazi Germany was made up of people, not SJW straw men. They made choices- had agency over their own decisions and sought what was best considering all the options on the table. The leftist SJWs like to somehow think that there were better options available to the Germans. There were only bad options to choose from. This only serves to make their rantings against Trump look really cheap.
Nazi Germany was not initially designed as a war-mongering and nigh racist country. Yes, they did arrest Jews and racial undesirables…. but in small numbers. They also banned other political parties, but also sought to merge as many parties into the Nazi banner as possible (see the Gleichschaltung Laws of 1935). Probably the worst aspects of the Nazi regime were its propaganda (Ministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda) under the leadership of Joseph Goebbels, but even then, the Nazis never had a solid majority of Germans on their side (even into WW2). That means the value of Nazi propaganda was limited at best. Oh, and the concentration camps? They were a bad element of the Nazis and were a direct reminder of their racial and political violence, but they weren’t death camps until much later in WW2. They were forced labor camps/political prisons and only a small fraction of the German population was sent there prior to the war. This is not to minimize the damage they caused but to place it in its proper historical context. They were, of course, springboards for more violence but remained entirely local and of limited social and cultural value at the time.
Nothing annoys me more than the casual flogging of the concentration camps as a political construct and meme for the left to yell at the right. It’s a lazy tactic that only serves to demonize the opposition and doesn’t bother with the historical context. Again, it’s not the straight line that they believe it is to go from concentration to death camps. You need WW2 to get there, and the way that the left shrinks time and space down to create their historical talking point, they lose sight of what actually happened. And in the process, it turns history into nothing more than a political stunt.
Hitler set out to rebuild the country, and most people in Germany actually had their lives improved by the Nazi Party’s rule before WW2. Remember, Hitler took power promising to rebuild Germany after the failures of the Weimar Republic. To be honest, he did rebuild Germany, although not how I would have wanted it to be done. The Nazis did public works projects like the Autobahn and the Volkswagen, rebuilt the German currency and provided jobs to millions of Germans (who were unemployed), and remobilized the military (the Wehrmacht). This, to many Germans who didn’t see the dark underbelly of the Nazis, was precisely what they wanted. They could live with the Nazis so long as they rebuilt Germany and improved the lives of the average German.
It wasn’t until WW2 that things unraveled for the Nazis. The war began (and was expanded) because Hitler became arrogant and thought he could not only conquer Europe, but also the world. Hitler radically expanded his political options to allow him to eradicate everyone who was a political and racial enemy. It began in Poland, where the Einsatzgrüppen (SS and Security Police special detachments) rounded up all political and racial undesirables and placed them in Ghettos and various camps throughout the Greater German Reich. This continued through the areas Germany could conquer after 1940, and in 1941 the Einsatzgrüppen was used to kill in large numbers Jews and other Slavic groups during the German invasion of Russia. The Death camps followed in 1942 when the German military and security apparatuses began to suspect that they wouldn’t win the war. The figure of 6 million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust is actually a conservative number, and the real toll is sadly much higher. Personally, I’d peg it at 7 to 8 million. And worse, that’s not even including the death toll of non-Jewish Russian civilians and the actual combat deaths against the Nazis in the war.
WW2 made the Nazis the true monsters that we consider them to be. Not the 1930s. The war warped the Nazi leadership in ways that historians still don’t really understand all that well. It changed their political and cultural options dramatically and led them on dark paths that they should have stayed away from. But, prior to WW2, Germany had rebuilt itself and the lives of the average German were made better under the Nazi regime. The direct line that the left likes to use to say “Nazis are bad” doesn’t make their arguments about Trump any smarter, because it really isn’t. It took many stages to reach the Endkampf phase of WW2, and much of that local German history is not about warfare, genocide, and destruction.
SJWs get this badly wrong because they want to refight history and intentionally seek out imaginary enemies on the left and right. Their historical understanding is limited to creating ahistorical constructs that allow them to close off political opinion and shadowbox fights against fake enemies. And they trivialize the Nazi history of Germany and Europe in the process, reducing the deaths of millions to a bloody political flag of angry indignation.
When Trump was elected many people on the left thought that he would turn America into a racist and warmongering country. They have their “Love Trumps Hate” slogans, and their #Metoo rallies and protests. It’s their right and their privilege not to like Trump and want to protest. I don’t have any issue with that (although I’d probably make a few aesthetic changes if I were them). But, regarding the left’s charge that Trump= Nazi, like the old Wendy’s advert used to say “where’s the beef?”
Seriously, what has Trump actually done to generate the Nazi Germany connections? There are no secret police in the US. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency arrests illegal immigrants, just like under Obama and Dubya. They are illegals and don’t belong in America and the law requires them to be arrested and returned to their home country.
Sure, Trump used invective during the political campaign in 2016. But I must ask, why should he say nice things about illegal immigrants if he doesn’t like them? Don’t forget, he’s married to a legal immigrant! Why should he say nice things about terrorists (especially Muslim ones)? And he tends to call all of his political enemies on the left AND right names. He’s an equal opportunity offender- and he’ll also make a deal with them when he has to. That’s the difference between politics and governance.
What racist statements or actions has Trump made? He’s touted that he wants to help African and Latino Americans improve their lives through jobs. He is probably the most pro-gay President the US has ever had. He has hired and recommended cabinet officials, government workers, and judges from a wide range of racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious groups. His only goal is to hire people he thinks have high character and will do a good job. His family has largely converted to Judaism- and he’s finally moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He castigated and celebrated both sides during the Charlottesville fiasco. Oh, and Trump pardoned the great African-American boxing champion, Jack Johnson, the Indian-American conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, and an African American mother Alice Johnson. Does this sound like someone who’s a Nazi?
The Nazis arrested many of their political enemies (on both sides of the aisle) and banned all political parties except their own. Has Trump done anything like that? Dachau was opened in 1933- where is Trump’s concentration camp? Trump is rebuilding the US military- but he’s also trying to peacefully end the violence in Syria/Iraq and he will hopefully end the Korean War and denuclearize North Korea for good. Does this sound like the military warmonger that Hitler ended up as?
The Nazis pulled their country off the global economy to create an autarkic insular economic structure (to be fair, the Great Depression made this a viable option). They suggested businesses follow the Nazi lead. And by that, I mean told them what to do. Trump wants to reform the global economy to rebuild American trade, and he wants to incentivize American companies to develop by slashing taxes and regulations. And his infrastructure plans will largely be taxpayer free. None of this follows the fascist economic model.
Are there racists out there in America? Sure, there are. But the KKK and the American Nazi Party have small numbers in their fold. At best, a few thousand. And they’re being watched like a hawk by the FBI and state police. Social media lets people think that racists are right around the corner when they really aren’t. A bunch of internet braggarts might seem like a large group, but they’re really small in overall numbers. And I should point out that racists are on all sides of the political spectrum in the United States. The left just makes the mistake of thinking only conservatives do it.
Trump is definitely a controversial President, and he’s a loudmouth who uses twitter as his bully pulpit. I happen to agree with him more than not (and I wasn’t initially a supporter during the primaries) and I think his usage of twitter is brilliant. I get it if people don’t like his policies or his temperament. But I disagree wholeheartedly with the viewpoint that Trump is a Nazi and that America is becoming Nazi Germany. And this ahistorical crap needs to stop.
I might do another blogpost in the near future on a topic close to this one, but next time focus on the left and how they make their own mistakes that, in some ways, mirror fascist ideals. However, I don’t want to get caught up in a game of Godwin’s Law and reducing the left to Reductio ad Hitlerum. Keep an eye out for it down the line.