BU Today


POV: Comparing Trump to Hitler Misses the Point

In his fear-mongering, he’s more like Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, and David Duke


Is Donald Trump Hitler?

It’s a relevant question now that the real estate tycoon turned presidential candidate has won the New Hampshire primary and become a top contender for the nomination. Fellow Republican hopeful John Kasich aired an anti-Trump ad last fall that alluded to a similarity between the Donald and the Führer by paraphrasing First They Came…, the cautionary poem about Nazism.

But I believe there are several reasons why Trump is not Hitler.

  • Trump’s brand includes men’s crystal cufflinks, silk ties, Celebrity Apprentice, golf resorts, perfume, and a black T-shirt that reads, “I’m very rich.”

Hitler’s “brand” included the swastika, the Gestapo, the Panzer tank, and bombers that blitzed London. It was all about death and domination.

  • Trump had a cameo in Zoolander, the Ben Stiller spoof of male models.

Hitler was the subject of perhaps the most impressive propaganda film of all time, Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.

  • Hitler assembled a group of psychopaths who conceived and executed history’s greatest mass murder machine.

Trump hangs out with beauty contestants, old white rich guys, and faded movie stars. One could imagine this group putting together reality shows and casino deals, but not Auschwitz.

  • The Führer is a much more impressive moniker than The Donald.

Who could chant “Heil The Donald!” without chuckling?

  • Hitler invaded Poland.

Trump hired 200 undocumented workers from Poland to demolish one of his buildings. They were called “the Polish Brigade” and sued him for wage theft.

But is Trump dangerous? Yes, although I don’t think about Hitler. I think Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, and David Duke.

McCarthy, a US senator from Wisconsin, preyed on Americans’ fears of communism in the Cold War era of the 1950s and created a virtual reign of terror. Many people who were guilty of nothing more than attending a few leftist meetings wound up going to prison, losing their jobs, and being driven out of their professions.

McCarthy was almost as much of a media hound as Trump, endlessly appearing on TV or in newsreels claiming he had found Commies everywhere, from the State Department to your local library. McCarthy inspired Arthur Miller to write his searing drama of the Salem witch trials, The Crucible.

George Wallace is famous for standing in the courthouse door when he was governor of Alabama, declaiming, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Dukea former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, twice ran for president, first as a Democrat in 1988, and then as a Republican in 1992.

Trump is much more entertaining than Joe McCarthy, who was a dark, menacing presence, and certainly more cheerful than the bombastic George Wallace. As for Duke, being the KKK Grand Wizard does not get you invited to a lot of nice dinner parties—or a lot of votes.

The Donald has been honing his media skills for years, through his TV shows and his movie cameos. He has created his own outlandish persona, which, before he went all nativist on us, could be rather fun, if silly. In that regard, the historical figure he most resembles is P. T. Barnum, the circus impresario, who reportedly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

But then Trump discovered that fear-mongering could raise his poll numbers. The circus lights on his campaign turned dark and the carousel music even darker. Trump is tapping into a deep vein of fear of “the other” in the American psyche. When that vein gets exposed, bad things happen. In the early 20th century, draconian immigration laws severely limited the numbers of Asians and people from Eastern Europe (Slavs and Jews) who could enter the United States. We put Japanese restaurant owners, doctors, and farmers into internment camps during World War II because we were afraid of spies and saboteurs. Jim Crow lasted for many years in the South after slavery ended.

The black critic and TV talk show host Tavis Smiley called Trump a “racial arsonist” and slammed the media for not focusing more on the way that Trump’s poll numbers jump each time he utters a slur about people who are not white men (Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, women).

Tavis Smiley is right. The sound of Trump’s voice, for the media, is Kachinggg! Kachingggg! Kachingggg! as the cash registers churn, the TV ratings soar, and the internet clicks skyrocket.

But is Trump at heart a supporter of some kind of master race theory? Probably not. He’d sell a luxury hotel to a Muslim or a casino to a Mexican in a minute. But he is a narcissist and an opportunist. It has dawned on him that he in fact might be the Republican nominee, but only if he can stir up enough anger and fear.

The sad truth, however, is that what might be called “the nativism of convenience” can be as harmful as the real thing. Attacks on Muslims in the United States are rapidly accelerating. Salon reports, “Since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks—for which ISIS claimed credit—and the Dec. 2 San Bernardino shooting—which was blamed on Islamic extremism, about which the FBI investigation has raised doubts—the incidence of anti-Muslim attacks has rapidly spiked, to off-the-chart levels.”

The Boston Globe reported this past August that “a 58-year-old Mexican immigrant sleeping outside the JFK/UMass MBTA station was attacked by two South Boston brothers who were on their way home from a Red Sox game. State police say Steven and Scott Leader both urinated on the man and beat him with a metal pole. “After they were arrested, one of them admiringly quoted his political hero. ‘Donald Trump was right; all these illegals need to be deported.’”

You don’t have to be Hitler to communicate the idea that some people aren’t “like us” and need to be punished and/or harmed, whether they are innocent or guilty.

How do we deal with this? Maybe voters have to borrow a classic line from Trump himself on Celebrity Apprentice.

“You’re fired!”

Caryl Rivers, a College of Communication professor of journalism, can be reached at caryl@bu.edu.

“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.


27 Comments on POV: Comparing Trump to Hitler Misses the Point

  • Joel on 02.16.2016 at 5:57 am

    Especially since Hitler was a Socialist. That falls inline with what our Democrat candidates are touting.

    • Nathan on 02.16.2016 at 9:38 am

      Did you learn this in a Political Science class?

      If so, please name the instructor and institution so other students can avoid them.

      • Joel on 02.16.2016 at 2:00 pm

        What part? The fact that Hitler was a Socialist, or the fact that Bernie is a Socialist and pulling Hillary further left in the debates?

        • Nathan on 02.16.2016 at 4:50 pm

          The incorrect belief that Hitler was a socialist .
          I’m surprised you doubled down on that without a simple fact check.

          • Joel on 02.16.2016 at 7:16 pm

            Yep, history hasn’t changed. I looked, and it’s all still there. Take from the successful Jews and redistribute it to the Arians while nationalizing certain industries. You’re probably champing at the bit to explain why Democratic Socialism is so much different and better than National Socialism. Can’t help but fall hook, line, and sinker for free education, huh?

          • peter on 02.16.2016 at 11:27 pm

            Hitler was not a Socialist! Hitler was a National Socialist. A typical left leaner, more in common with the Ideals of Marx and Engels than his neighbors to the east. So don’t give pure Socialism a bad name, just because it didn’t work out sometimes. I can think of many instances where it could have worked better, if only people gave up on things like their individuality. Long live the collective!

          • Joel on 02.17.2016 at 6:45 am

            Peter, it’s obvious I’m not a Bernie supporter, so you’re trolling me, right? You can’t honestly believe sacrificing individualism (aka freedom) for collectivism. The whole theory of socialism was (I’ll admit) a great idea, but human nature prevents it from working. That’s why capitalism has prevailed and is being taught in your econ class right now.

          • Jose Artigas on 02.19.2016 at 7:43 pm

            Peter, next time, please, help out poor Joel by including the phrase Sarcasm Alert.

  • Craig on 02.16.2016 at 6:40 am

    I appreciated this commentary, and the powerful message that it spreads forward. In the year 2016, it is NOT acceptable to hold hate and discrimination as one’s guiding light. Donald Trump is an embarrassment of the United States on the world’s political stage, and should not be seen as representative of the modern American’s views. I hope and dream that he is crushed by the democratic system, and receives fewer votes than literally any alternative – because I fear the state of our country, should he be elected its leader.

  • Joe on 02.16.2016 at 8:59 am

    This is brilliant! Finally, some excellent writing at BU!

    • peter on 02.16.2016 at 10:55 pm

      Please. Tell me where to find it.

  • Ben on 02.16.2016 at 9:54 am

    I get that it’s satire, but this article is seriously in poor taste.

    As someone’s who’s close family was subjected to the nazis, I cannot believe BU would allow something like this to be published. I know a lot of people’s dislike what he has said recently, but to compare him to one of the most evil people ever to walk the earth just goes to show how far Americans are from reality.

    Shame on you Caryl, and shame on this staff.

    • Seriously? on 02.16.2016 at 10:42 am

      Did you even read the article? Because that was the entire point of the article. The article was saying that comparing trump to hitler was exaggeration, and that he only really benefits off of fear. He’s using it to get media time, not as a platform. Read the article before you get mad.

    • Sam O. on 02.16.2016 at 10:43 am

      Thank you Ben!

    • nwlg on 02.16.2016 at 11:09 am

      The article is responding to the fact that some people have said Donald Trump is Hitler. Caryl is proving that that statement is ridiculous. The two of you agree and there is no “shame on you” for Caryl.

      • peter on 02.16.2016 at 11:03 pm

        “But is Trump dangerous? Yes, although I don’t think about Hitler. I think Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, and David Duke.”

        To some, maybe the National Socialist was slightly less of a threat than those mentioned above..

  • Nathan on 02.16.2016 at 10:07 am

    Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds. -Henry Adams

  • Alexander on 02.16.2016 at 10:19 am

    You really can’t be serious with this commentary. The Klan only wishes they had somebody like Trump as their Grand Dragon. Trump is following the Hitler playbook and the press is dropping the ball being blinded by bright lights and numbers. Hitler was a disgruntled artist. Trump was publicly humiliated by President Obama at a Press Dinner after Trumps “Detectives” failed to dispel any proof of Obama’s Birth Certificate. Hitler hired some of the best German Movie producers to sell his brand, Trump’s brand is “Trump” and he sells it every time he breathes. Hitler gained the trust of the German people using Jews as their scapegoats. Trump has done this with the Mexicans (as you correctly represented) and like Hitler, Trump made incredible plans like: removing ALL illegals ($$$$) building a wall ($$$$$$) and making Mexico pay for it (????) without going any further of his plans, There are no details on how to accomplish these multi- Trillion plans. Bu Trump is also just a Billionaire looking for nothing but power. He has his followers believing that he’s going to kick the crap out of Mexico and China while most of his product line is made ,,,, in China and Mexico.
    p.s. The Press has failed us on pressing Donal Trump. If they become a little intrusive, he will threaten not to give them an interview. (Which is what he actually needs to get his message across) this is a strange vicious circle.

  • Yeb on 02.16.2016 at 10:24 am

    Trump: said something you consider to be mean
    Hitler: killed millions of people

    Yeah you guys he’s totaly hitler.
    Crybullies on the offensive once again.

    • Sam on 02.16.2016 at 10:48 am

      Thank you Yeb!

  • bruce jordan on 02.16.2016 at 10:38 am

    Trump is a fearmongerer, and frequently xenophobic. Encouraging fear and xenophobia are the first steps in building hate. Hitler knew this, and used it to build Naziism. Our responsibility as Americans is to say, “I reject these messages. I respect and support Mexicans and American Muslims. I wish them well and I refuse to vote for a candidate who spreads fear or hate.”

  • peter on 02.16.2016 at 10:40 pm

    Trump said some things which were hurtful, even though maybe true.

    He wants to build a wall, but I think that’s to keep American workers from going to Mexico to work, that’s why Mexico must pay for it. Why he even questions the overstayed visitors motives. Sure they’re are some depressing wages, running drugs, raping, murdering and our prisons are full, but I think that’s only because we want to be punished for past offenses. Can’t remember what those were it was so long ago.

    Also, He believes in silly old notions , like rewarding hard work,. Get over it! Merit is such a retired concept!
    Just give everyone the same equal amount of cash regardless, they’ll do what work they can in return. It’ll work. I hope.

    And the terror attacks he was recently ranting on. Well, you’d get violent if people said unkind words about your peaceful religion. Duh!

    So you can see why we must vote against Trump: He won’t end the war, He’ll cause the economy to tank, double the deficit. Race relations will sour…

    Trump has a full head of hair. Hitler had all of his too. I’m onto something….

  • Geoff on 02.17.2016 at 1:12 am

    I’m not a fan of Trump–at all. But this is just a hit piece for a leftist academic publication. I think a more interesting comparison of contemporary American politicians to infamous counterparts would be Obama’s similarities to Hugo Chavez, but you’ll never hear that from BU Today.

    “Is Donald Trump Hitler? It’s a relevant question now…” No, it isn’t. And, if you’re looking for psychopaths in the 2016 presidential race you need look no farther than Hillary. Ignorance and demagoguery? Bernie has Trump beat by light years.

  • Michael Zank on 07.18.2016 at 8:16 am

    This discussion is beside the point. It’s not the question whether Donald Trump is Hitler. He is not. But the question is whether a turn to fascism is possible in the United States. It is. See the most recent New Yorker piece by Adam Gopnik at http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/being-honest-about-trump.

  • JOHN VANDERHOEK on 07.20.2016 at 5:20 am

    Well first every one wants to blame Obama, look at mess he inherited from a former president that wanted to fight his daddy’s war? Now we have Trump, wants to cut social security and health care claims global warming does not exsist and wants to escalate war with Isis that could make things worse, maybe nuclear or a dirty bomb As country in November we should tell Trump ” YOUR FIRED”

  • Rob J on 11.03.2016 at 10:45 am

    A fine article.
    Trump is a crude opportunist with utterly no class.

    The reality is that he will NOT be POTUS this time next week, but will be viewed as
    a deeper problem within US politics, that such a ghastly man was ever given the chance
    to hold such a powerful position.

    It is time for the GOP to look at whether they want to be out of power for years, by
    electing people who clearly cannot do the job of POTUS.

Post Your Comment

(never shown)