“He is credibly credited with being actuated by lofty, unselfish patriotism. He probably does not know himself what he wants to accomplish,” wrote The New York Times. In 1922.
The quote described Adolf Hitler’s increasing power in what was then Germany’s fractious interwar politics.
The same line describes Donald Trump in 2016.
In fact, the parallels between the first mention of Hitler in the Times and contemporary discussion surrounding Trump are pretty astounding. The main difference is the target of their rhetoric: “He is ‘against Jews, Communists, Bolshevism, Marxian Socialism, Separatists, the high cost of living, existing conditions, the weak Berlin Government and the Versailles Treaty,” the Times wrote.
And Trump: “We have losers. We have people that are morally corrupt. We have people that are selling this country down the drain,” he said late last year. Trump has positioned himself against Mexicans, Muslims, protesters, disabled reporters, other Republicans, Chinese workers, women, and countless others.
Comparing Trump to Hitler may seem excessive, but recall that the future Führer was seen as troubling, yes, but not a threat to the democratic institutions of the Weimar Republic. “But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded,” wrote Cyril Brown, the Times reporter. Hitler did not moderate his rhetoric towards Jews and other minorities once in power, and ultimately millions perished as a result of his race supremacist ideology, the same ideology many Trump supporters espouse.
The same mistaken claims are being made today: A similar notion, that Trump is softer on immigration than his rhetoric has suggested, recently came out of a closed-door meeting between the venerable paper and Trump. Both parties have refused to reveal the contents of the meeting. The Times’ editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, said that the comments were off the record, and that Trump would have to ask the paper to release the comments, at which point the paper will then decide whether to do so.
Perhaps the most troubling part of the 94-year old report is Hitler’s pandering. An unidentified German politician is quoted praising Hitler for his use of anti-Semitism as a vehicle of political mobilization — an ominous foreshadowing of the life it would take on in future years: “You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism,” he told the Times in 1922. “It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you are really leading them.”
It is not 1922. It is 2016. Society has the privilege and misfortune of knowing what happens when politicians run on xenophobic platforms that whip up nativist and racial supremacist forces. That mistake cannot be repeated, no matter how alluring the false promise is of a returning to a “glorious” past — or, Making America Great Again.
Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally where his former rival for the Republican presidential nomination, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, announced his endorsement for Trump’s candidacy for president, in Fort Worth, Texas February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Stone