For a long time, perhaps since shortly after World War II, it has become relatively common to label ones ideological or political opponents as “Hitler.” In U.S. political discourse in the 21st century, such a tactic has become particularly pronounced. All U.S. Presidents during this period, for example, have been called or compared to Hitler.
George W. Bush
Consider the case of George W. Bush (2001-2009), who was commonly referred to as Hitler by many prominent leftists and in leftist publications. The well-known liberal advocacy group Moveon.org, for example, compared Bush to Hitler. Even Keith Ellison, recently a frontrunner to become the chair of the DNC, had compared Bush with Hitler in 2007. As recently as 2014, a Washington D.C. middle school teacher got into hot water for assigning her class a paper that required them to compare Bush to Hitler, stating that both men abused their powers. One can even find a website run by a progressive activist titled “Bush is Hitler.” In addition, there are numerous websites or articles online that compare Bush to Hitler, insuring one need not go far on any search engine to find such a comparison. One can also simply go to google.com images and type in “bush hitler” to get some sense of the kinds of memes that have been shared online regarding this comparison.
Barack H. Obama
When Barack Obama followed Bush into the presidency, many on the right then responded the same way, comparing Obama to Hitler, with those on the left expressing the same outrage as those on the right had at comparisons of Bush to Hitler. A Republican women’s group in Anne Arundel County, Maryland soon compared Obama to Hitler not long after his election. In 2010 an Iowa Tea Party group purchased a billboard add comparing Obama to Hitler (and Lenin). In 2011 conservative country music star Hank Williams Jr. compared Obama with Hitler. In 2012 Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky from Illinois compared Obama to Hitler for his perceived assault on Catholic values and institutions.
In 2013 Arizona Republican state representative Brenda Barton referred to Obama as Hitler in a widely shared Facebook post. In 2014, Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and major GOP donor, also compared Obama’s populist appeals to Hitler. More recently, in 2015, Texas congressman Randy Weber compared Obama to Hitler.
Hillary Clinton, who has had a long public and political life, has also often been compared to Hitler, but such comparisons picked up quite a bit in her recent unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2016. Conservative comedian Stephen Crowder put out a video comparing Hillary to Hitler on youtube in 2016 that was shared over half a million times on social media. Liberty News Now offers a quiz where you can decide if Hillary or Hitler made certain statements with the implication that Hillary is just like Hitler. And Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, has compared Hillary to Hitler in one of his sermons and Christian theologian Dr. Norman Geisler has argued that Hillary is “worse than Hitler.” A New Mexico priest, as well, caused a controversy when he compared Hillary to Hitler.
Donald J. Trump
But of course, as anyone engaged on social media will know, nobody has recently been compared to Hitler so much as Donald Trump, who in November was elected to the U.S. presidency. To provide some examples: Revolutionary Communist Party spokesperson Carl Dix compared Trump to Hitler in a Fox News interview. A Wayne State University President has made similar comparisons of Trump to Hitler. A California high school teacher was removed for comparing Trump to Hitler. Huffington Post writers have compared Trump to Hitler and political commentator Keith Olbermann has also compared Trump to Hitler.
And the list of Trump comparisons could go on and on…and on.
There are many, many, many, additional examples of such rhetoric for all of the politicians listed above, as any google search will demonstrate. Although I sometimes hope/realize that some of these comparisons are a bit tongue in cheek (e.g. the Crowder video on Hillary above), often that is not the case. One searching Google on the topic will also find a number of essays or postings by political partisans defending calling one of the above named politicians Hitler, thus seemingly recognizing that such comparisons are problematic. Nevertheless, they assure us, in their case, the comparison is really valid.
The Real Hitler
Concerning Hitler and his legacy, I asked Dr. Geoff Megaree, Senior Applied Research Scholar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum if he might share his views on Hitler. Geoff, who happens to be my Facebook friend, is a major historian of World War II military history and the history of the Holocaust, and the author of several books or articles on Nazi Germany. Perhaps most notably, he serves as the project director and general editor for the seven-volume United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945. I should also note that in 2001 he won the Distinguished Book Award from the Society for Military History for his work Inside Hitler’s High Command.
Geoff (pictured above), in response to my request, briefly noted:
Adolf Hitler looms so large in our historical memory that he has become almost mythical, and the full scope of his destructive impact can get lost. Hitler was the driving, organizing force behind Nazism, which first imposed on Germany, then one of the most advanced nations on earth, a totalitarian regime of racism, hatred, and violence. He then went on to unleash and direct a war of aggression that was the most destructive in modern history. Cities, towns, and villages from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caucasus, from the North Cape to North Africa, were laid ruin, while the effects on people covered the entire western hemisphere. Tens of millions died: in direct combat, through aerial bombardment, from starvation and disease, and through deliberate abuse and mass murder. Hundreds of millions more suffered injuries, hardship, persecution, displacement, and the loss of loved ones. In all of this, Hitler was the central figure. He did not act alone – no leader can – but his was the key role in events that are almost without parallel.
I suggest you reread the above paragraph once more, to let it sink in. Then consider, is Hillary really the new Hitler? Or Donald Trump?
Image above: Both images taken from Wikipedia, which notes: (L) “Jewish mass grave near Zolochiv, west Ukraine (Nazi occupied USSR). Photo was found by Soviets at former Gestapo headquarters in Zolochiv.” (R) “12 April 1945: Lager Nordhausen, where 20,000 inmates are believed to have died.”
Some partisans, on each side, even after considering Hitler’s record in comparison to Hillary and Trump’s records, will assure me that their fears are not unfounded. This is particularly so in the case of Trump, as his sometimes insulting comments (e.g. he claimed many of the illegal immigrants from Mexico were rapists and criminals) and boorish behavior (e.g. Trump telling a television host that, concerning women, he liked to “grab them by the pussy”) have stirred up a lot of resentment with some Americans who see him as racist and sexist. In terms of Trump’s policies, for example, his stated goal of building a border wall to cut down illegal immigration and the flow of illegal drugs into the United States led Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to compare Trump with Hitler. Yet this comparison does not seem to work, as dozens of countries around the world have built the equivalent of “walls” to secure their borders. This includes the nations of France, Spain, Greece, N. Ireland, Norway, Austria, Israel, Egypt, India, China, etc… Are all their leaders to be compared with Hitler as well? Comparing other examples of Trump’s proposed policies with Hitler are similarly problematic.
One may certainly see Trump’s comments as racist and/or sexist, and view his policy proposals in the worst possible light, but to carelessly compare Hillary or Trump to Hitler, as has often been the case with political partisans on both sides over the last year, only really demonstrates one’s ignorance of Hitler and his unmatched record for causing human misery and destruction. Indeed, when such comparisons begin to be made while dialoging with someone, my level of interest in the discussion fades quickly and I tune out as I realize they likely have nothing really substantive to offer on the subject.
Moreover, such comparisons are often seen as offensive beyond only the political supporters of those targeted by such comparisons. As Ron Meier, Anti-Defamation League New York Regional Director, once noted:
Hitler and Stalin are names associated with some of the most barbaric human atrocities in the 20th Century, and one should never minimize or trivialize their actions….Analogies to the Nazis and the Holocaust are becoming far too commonplace in our society, and decent people must speak out and condemn these statements as irresponsible and morally offensive.