I call Trump Cheeto Hitler (Chitler for short), but the first paragraph of Chapter 2 shows what a cheap imitation of Hitler he really is. The original Hitler, at least, presented himself and his vision of the German volk as something of virtue: “the epitome of selfless devotion, humble origins, and abstemious tastes.” Trump is just a crass flim-flam man appealing to base greed, xenophobia, and bigotry.
But both of them know how to work their audience. Both enjoy preaching to crowds. Hitler thought highly of his own ability to influence an audience, bragging that he could bring his naysayers around within just a few hours. He sold them Nazi ideology by figuring out what they wanted to hear. Like Trump, he was a huckster.
Hitler seized upon technological advances to get his message out. “Without the loud speaker,” he said, “we never would have conquered Germany.” I’m reminded of Trump using his reality shows and Twitter to conquer America.
Of course, neither of them win over as many people as they claim. Most listeners aren’t swayed: they hear the vitriol, and know it’s dangerous. But both men give their followers something to convince themselves they’re good, sensible people, not bigoted assholes.
Opponents of Nazism heard only hatred as Hitler ranted against the Treaty of Versailles, Communists, rival politicians, and democracy. But they overlooked the pattern of Hitler’s speeches in which he counterpointed every outburst of fury with the exalted rhetoric of a higher purpose.
I think Koonz isn’t giving hatred enough credit. Spite is a powerful motivator, as we’ve so recently seen. Many Germans, like many Americans today, felt hard done by. I don’t doubt they were all too ready to lash out. And folks looking for scapegoats are quite happy to grab the most wilted fig leaf of “higher purpose” offered to incompletely cover up the fact that hatred is driving them: hatred of the religious minorities, the people of color, the women, and the queer folk who have the audacity to demand a place at the table. They’re only too happy to blame their disappointments on those uppity others. They’re only too willing to follow a leader who promises to put those others in their place.
Next, we’ll see how Hitler and Trump diverge. For all their similarities, I do believe they differ in important ways. And we’ll see that those differences won’t prevent Trump from doing things as bad as or worse than Hitler. Whether you end up trying to exterminate an entire ethnic group because you truly believe they’re evil, or start a nuclear war because your feelings got bruised, you’re still responsible for immense suffering.
The terrifying thing is, Hitler appears to have had more self-restraint.