I learned the other day about something called Godwin’s Law: if an online discussion goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or the Nazis. Without knowing that this rule is a “law,” I’ve consistently tried all my life not to compare anything to Hitler. But I guess that the pull of Godwin’s Law is too strong. Here goes:
Last Saturday, Donald Trump told a crowd of students at Dordt College in Sioux City, Iowa (yet another Christian college where I see strange things going on) that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue [in New York City] and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s like, incredible.” As he spoke, he put his fingers into the shape of a gun and acted out pulling the trigger. How did the crowd react? Some Dordt students protested. But others laughed, and applauded. Someone in the audience shouted out love for Trump, and Trump responded, “We love you too, man.”
ABC News’ headline for Trump’s speech was “Donald Trump Jokes He Could ‘Shoot Somebody’ Without Losing Support.” Was this a joke? Well … some Dordt students did laugh. Right? What if Trump had proclaimed that he could perform an abortion in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing any support? Would any students at a Christian college have found that funny? Probably not. Would Trump’s audience find it funny if he’d talked about shooting children at an elementary school? Or shooting someone in his audience? Probably not. It’s hard to account for what some people find funny.
I do imagine that Trump must have been kidding the folks at Dordt, at least on some level. I understand that Trump owns a gun, and I know he built a tower more than 30 years ago on Fifth Avenue in New York City, so I guess he’s had plenty of opportunity to shoot someone there. To my knowledge, he’s never done so.
But I don’t think Trump is exactly kidding when he says that he could kill someone and still be elected President. Granted, I’m sure that some Trump supporters would be turned off if he actually murdered someone. But I think Trump imagines that he could say and do almost anything he wants to say and do, and his supporters would still vote for him. You can read below and elsewhere (and in an upcoming follow-up post here) about many of the things Trump has already said and done. I would have thought that just about any of these things would kill the candidacy of an ordinary person running for the Presidency, but Trump continues to lead all national polls for the Republican Presidential nomination, by a wide margin. Trump is not wrong to pause and marvel at this. He’s not exactly crazy to ask his supporters if there’s anything else he might try that would discourage them.
So if Trump is not exactly joking, I’m persuaded to take him seriously. At Dordt (a Christian college), Trump said in so many words that he could get away with murder. Could we imagine any of the widely acknowledged “great leaders” of the past 100 years saying such a thing? Churchill? FDR? Gandhi? Mandela? Fill in the name of any leader you admire, and ask whether he or she would claim the ability to do whatever they pleased without political consequences. Then make the list of those leaders who did get away with murder, at least for a while. Stalin. Mussolini. Franco. Mao. Pol Pot. And, naturally, Hitler.
There, Godwin. I said it. And I’m by far not the first to do so. Thomas Sowell (noted conservative and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution) has compared the crowds at a Trump rally to the “fervent emotions” of Germans at a Hitler rally. Glenn Beck worries that Trump’s combination of nationalism and populism contains the “makings of Adolf Hitler.” The Philadelphia Daily News has compared Trump to Hitler, on its front page. The Daily Telegraph has created an online quiz “to see if you can tell who said what: Donald Trump or Adolf Hitler.” For Trump’s part, he’s said that he doesn’t mind being compared to Hitler. Trump himself follows the tweets of Nazi sympathizer @WhiteGenocideTM, retweeting some of them. And rumors circulate that Trump once kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside.
But look. Donald Trump is not Hitler. OK? I took the Daily Telegraph quiz, and I was mostly able to distinguish Trump from Hitler, getting 8 of 10 questions right, which is a lot better than the 5 questions I should have gotten right (on average) if Trump and Hitler could not be told apart. Even the Daily Telegraph points out that Trump hasn’t killed anyone, not yet anyway. Yes, Trump did talk at Dordt about killing someone, only he said there that he could kill someone. He didn’t say he’d actually do it. This is just like in an earlier speech, when Trump talked about killing journalists, in that he said that he would “never kill” journalists, then pretended to reconsider. And OK, yes, he did once promise to drop a man out of an airplane without a parachute, but he’s never actually done such a thing, even though (unlike most of us) he has an airplane with his name on it. (Heck, the man once bankrupted an entire airline!) Moreover, while Trump has promised to “bomb the shit” out of select areas of the world and then seize the oil there, he’s never indicated that he wants to conquer Poland or Czechoslovakia or anything like that. Moreover, while he’s threatened to round up and deport all immigrants illegally present in the United States (see more on this below), he hasn’t threatened to kill any of them. Yes, he’s compared his deportation plan to the so-called “Operation Wetback” implemented during the Eisenhower Administration, and the deportations during “Operation Wetback” took place under deplorable conditions that led to the death of many deportees. But no one compares “Operation Wetback” to the Shoah, and in any event, Trump promises to carry out his deportations in a humane way. So, please don’t get me wrong. Trump is not the second coming of Hitler.
It’s just that it’s possible to compare Trump to Hitler, and I think this makes Trump unique in terms of historic and popular candidates for the Presidency (none of whom, to my knowledge, ever mentioned shooting anyone or pushing anyone out of an airplane in flight). Trump’s Republican opponent, John Kasich, has already compared Trump to Hitler. Political commentator Roger Simon refers to Trump as “Der Donald.” Conservative David Boaz describes Trump as an “American Mussolini,” which is not the same thing as an “American Hitler,” though it’s uncomfortably close. Jeb Bush advisor John Noonan calls some of Trump’s policy proposals “fascism. Period. Nothing else to call it.” Max Boot, a conservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted that “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it.” Conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace wrote that “If Obama proposed the same religion registry as Trump every conservative in the country would call it what it is — creeping fascism.” And Hitler was a fascist.
Granted, not every fascist is Hitler. But like Hitler, Trump vilifies my neighbors on the basis of ethnicity (he’s called Mexican immigrants “rapists”) and religion (he’s said that a substantial minority of American Muslims advocate violence against other Americans as part of “global jihad”). Not to mention that a fringe political party founded by “racist Southern California skinheads that aims to deport immigrants and return the United States to white rule” is currently robocalling Iowa voters for Trump. Or to mention that Trump’s supporters have been heard shouting “Sieg heil” at Trump rallies. Or to mention that Trump has received the endorsement of many of America’s most prominent neo-Nazis.
Notwithstanding all of that … Trump is not Hitler. For one thing, Hitler set up concentration camps where millions were murdered, whereas Trump has said that he does not propose to set up internment camps for Muslims in the United States. It may blow your mind that a “serious” candidate for the Presidency of the United States actually has to take a stand against the establishment of internment camps, but the Trump Presidential campaign is breaking new ground. Trump has said that if he’d been alive during World War II, he might have supported the establishment of the camps used to imprison Japanese-Americans, but then again, maybe he wouldn’t have supported them, and I doubt that Hitler would have had any doubts on this point.
Then again, Trump wants to deport an approximate 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States, and it’s hard to imagine how he’d achieve such a goal without placing captives into camps. Worse: Trump has proposed the creation of a “deportation force” to handle these deportations. Such a force would require the establishment of a police state, according to both liberal and conservative Trump critics, and this sounds “horrifically similar to Nazi Germany” to some observers, me included. Timothy Egan wrote in the New York Times that Trump’s deportation proposal “would prompt a million Hispanic Anne Franks—people hiding in the attics and basements of Donald Trump’s America.” But many observers think that Trump’s deportation proposal is impossible, that it can’t be done, so maybe we should view Trump’s deportation proposal as a to-be-broken campaign promise. In which case, perhaps we should not think of Trump as seriously intending to Nazify America. He’s just threatening to do so.
All of this means that Trump is not Hitler. OK? I’ll say it again for the record. Trump is deplorable, he has no business being seriously considered for the Presidency, and I think all decent and right-minded people should denounce him in the strongest possible terms. But is he the second coming of Hitler? No. Of course not. Hitler was a monster, a mass murderer that can and should be equated only with a handful of other like mass murderers.
So, I’ll say it one last time. Trump? Not Hitler. Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to remind you that I’m Jewish, and Jews can be wrong about such things.
But … this is not a blog about politics. This is a blog about religion, and inter-religious communication. So, let’s focus on Trump, religion and power … which brings up back to his speech at Dordt, where he spoke about this very subject. You can see it here (begins at 38:15):
We’re Christians … the power of our group of people together, I mean, if you add it up … how many Christians do you think? It could be 240, 250 million. And yet we don’t exert the power that we should have … the fact is that there is nothing the politicians can do to you if you band together. You have too much power. But the Christians don’t use their power [applause] … we don’t hear about strength, and we have to strengthen, because it’s death by a million cuts. We are getting less and less and less powerful in terms of a religion, and in terms of a force.
Trump then complained that big department stores do not say “merry Christmas” during the holidays.
When they don’t want to say “merry Christmas” in department stores anymore. I won’t shop at places that don’t say “merry Christmas.” Guess what? I don’t too much shopping. [applause] … I’ll tell you one thing: I get elected President, we’re going to be saying “merry Christmas” again, just remember that. [loud applause] And by the way, Christianity will have power, without having to form. Because if I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power. You don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that. [applause]
I have more to say about Trump, and Christianity, and religion. But I’ve already said a lot. I’ll save the rest for an upcoming post. In the meantime, please read Anthony Le Donne’s thoughtful piece. And please, leave your comments below.