Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. We can stipulate that fact. We can acknowledge, just the same, that there are useful analogies to be drawn between Trump times and Hitler times.
In New York Magazine, Frank Rich mines the later-life stories of Hitler’s sympathizers and apologists for insights into the likely fates of their Trump equivalents. Goose-stepping Nazis are nowhere to be found in this wide-ranging article. The author takes his case studies from the more relatable ranks of French collaborationists, British appeasers, and America Firsters.
Officials of the puppet regime known as Vichy France shipped 76,000 Jews to German concentration camps. After the war they got little sympathy, Rich points out, when they pleaded that “things would have been far worse if they had not been working on the inside.” That is essentially the same argument, he adds, made by the Trump administration’s putative “adults in the room.” Former Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, for example, told the Los Angeles Times that he hoped to have his tenure judged by “what the President did not do” thanks to Kelly’s temporizing presence. “Good luck with that in the long-term court of public opinion,” Rich advises.
Like postwar France, postwar Britain was in no mood to rehabilitate the likes of Lord Londonderry, “whose entanglement with Nazi leaders and push for Anglo-German friendship in the 1930s,” according to Rich, “mirrors Trump, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and their posse’s infatuated courtship of Putin’s Russia.”
The America First movement originated in 1940 “as a campus-centric peace campaign, but was hijacked by a rancid mob of Hitler acolytes and peace-at-any-price dupes that included, most famously, Charles Lindbergh,” he continues. “Many of these Hitler enablers had elaborate rationalizations for their actions that mirror those of Trump’s highest-profile shills today. Robert Taft, the hard-right isolationist senator from Ohio, wrote the script for Better Trump than Hillary-ism nearly a century ago: America should not go to war with Germany, he argued, because ‘there is a good deal more danger of the infiltration of totalitarian ideas from the New Deal circles in Washington than there will ever be from the activities of the … Nazis.’”
By the mid-1950s, Hollywood thought America had lost enough short-term memory to be receptive to a biopic celebrating the pioneering aviator. Hollywood thought wrong. Even with Jimmy Stewart in the role, some theaters refused to book The Spirit of St. Louis, and Jack Warner later described it as “the most disastrous failure” in the history of his family business.
Lindbergh, at least, remains forever linked with the first transatlantic flight. Lacking any such lines of mitigation in their resumes, Steve Mnuchin, William Barr, Devin Nunes, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and their gang are likely to be remembered, in Rich’s view, more or less exclusively for abetting “a leader whose record in government (thus far) includes splitting up immigrant families and incarcerating their children in cages; encouraging a spike in racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic vigilantes; leveraging American power to promote ethnic cleansing abroad and punish political opponents at home; actively inciting climate change and environmental wreckage; and surrendering America’s national security to an international rogue’s gallery of despots.”
Will the whole of the Republican Party go down with the Trump ship in one of the next two presidential elections? This excellent article points to that conclusion, without exactly stating it. “All cults come to an end, often abruptly,” Rich observes, and “Trump’s Republican Party is nothing if not a cult.” That is a heartening and timely reminder.