Historian Ron Rosenbaum spoke out this week about how President Donald Trump is using Adolf Hitler’s “playbook” from Mein Kampf for undermining democracy.
In a recent column for Los Angeles Review of Books, the author of Explaining Hitler breaks his silence about the recent U.S. election, and about how the “normalization” of Trump is strikingly similar to the Nazi Party’s march to power.
“What I want to suggest is an actual comparison with Hitler that deserves thought,” he writes. “It’s what you might call the secret technique, a kind of rhetorical control that both Hitler and Trump used on their opponents, especially the media.”
According to Rosenbaum, Trump is using the Mien Kampf “playbook” to throw the media off balance and to normalize actions and statements that would have been unthinkable just months ago.
“It looked like the right-wing parties had been savvy in bringing [Hitler] in and ‘normalizing’ him, making him a figurehead for their own advancement,” Rosenbaum notes. “Instead, it was truly the stupidest move made in world politics within the memory of mankind. It took only a few months for the hopes of normalization to be crushed.”
“Hitler’s method was to lie until he got what he wanted, by which point it was too late,” the column continues. “There is, of course, no comparison with Trump in terms of scale. His biggest policy decisions so far have been to name reprehensible figures to various cabinet posts and to enact dreadful executive orders. But this, too, is a form of destruction. While marchers and the courts have put up a fight after the Muslim ban, each new act, each new lie, accepted by default, seems less outrageous. Let’s call it what it is: defining mendacity down.”
Rosenbaum suggests that the signs were there before Trump took office: “The way Trump’s outrageous conduct and shamelessly lying mouth seemed so ridiculous we wouldn’t have to take him seriously. Until we did.”
We had heard allegations that Trump kept Hitler’s speeches by his bedside, but somehow we normalized that. We didn’t take him seriously because of all the outrageous, clownish acts and gaffes we thought would cause him to drop out of the race. Except these gaffes were designed to distract. This was his secret strategy, the essence of his success — you can’t take a stand against Trump because you don’t know where Trump is standing. You can’t find him guilty of evil, you can’t find him at all. And the tactics worked. Trump was not taken seriously, which allowed him to slip by the normal standards for an American candidate. The mountebank won. Again.
Suddenly, after the inconceivable (and, we are now beginning to realize, suspicious) Trump victory, the nation was forced to contend with what it would mean, whether the “alt-right” was a true threat or a joke to be tolerated. Did it matter that Trump had opened up a sewer pipe of racial hatred? Once again, normalization was the buzzword.
The historian concludes by recalling the final months of the Munich Post — before it was shut down by Hitler.
“The era of normalization had begun everywhere else, but the Munich Post resisted,” he writes. “Soon their office was closed. Some of the journalists ended up in Dachau, some ‘disappeared.’ But they’d won a victory for truth. A victory over normalization.”
“They never stopped fighting the lies, big and small, and left a record of defiance that was heroic and inspirational,” Rosenbaum states. “They discovered the truth about ‘endlösung’ [the Nazi plan for the extermination of the Jews] before most could have even imagined it. The truth is always worth knowing. Support your local journalist.”