I recently read the excellent book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer, and as I read, I started to have some extremely disturbing sensations. There were quite a few moments when the behaviour of the Nazi party, and Adolf Hitler in particular, reminded me of the behaviour of Donald Trump since he ran, successfully, for president of the USA. There were also similarities with the new British Prime Minister (at the time of writing!), Boris Johnson.
Let’s consider the Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler ruthlessly eliminated current and old enemies, as well as supposed current allies such as Ernst Röhm.
Of course there has not been any violence, but we can compare with the vindictiveness of Johnson firing anyone from his new cabinet who’d refused to bow down to him, and excluding the so-called “rebels” from the Conservative party.
Trump has also shown he holds a grudge against Obama, whom he never forgave for humiliating him in 2011. Trump seems to have spent a large part of his term in the White House specifically trying to undo Obama’s signature achievements such as the climate agreement and the nuclear deal with Iran. There are also glaring examples of Trump’s thin skin, such as cancelling the visit to Denmark when his idea to buy Greenland was rightly ridiculed.
Fake News accusations
Part of Hitler’s strategy leading up to the war, indeed to provoke the war, was to accuse the press of printing lies about his actions in relation to Eastern Europe, and manipulating stories to present Hitler and the Nazis in the worst possible light.
How many times have we heard Trump declare a story to be “fake news” just because he doesn’t like it? He’s even encouraged physical violence towards the press at his rallies.
On the other hand, Hitler, assisted by his propaganda minister, Goebbels, was a master of manipulating or simply inventing stories to be fed to the unsuspecting German public. Stories about threats from Warsaw that the Polish would bomb Danzig, about supposed persecution of Germans in Poland, and about German houses being set alight by Polish soldiers or civilians.
Trump’s lies (5276 at time of writing) are legendary. It’s sometimes quite bizarre to hear him say things that are so easily demonstrably false. He even has his staff talking about “alternative truths”.
Meanwhile Johnson, following years of publishing misleading or downright false stories about the EU, spent the Brexit campaign repeating the famous lie on the side of the Brexit Bus about how much money could be invested in the NHS instead of sending it to Europe. He even slyly tried to remove that story from Google searches by giving a bizarre interview where he claimed that he makes model buses in his spare time to relax.
Impulsive changes of tactics
Hitler would frequently change tactics at the drop of a hat, leaving his diplomats and officials scrambling, in particular causing Italy a huge problem by ramping up war provocations when the Italians were nowhere near ready for the approaching inevitable conflict.
Trump has done very similar things with respect to foreign policy, leaving his staff flailing as they try to make sense of the latest tweets and try to contain the damage in the targeted country.
Lack of interest in detail
When Hitler invaded Poland, he did so ignoring advice that it would leave the Western front hopelessly vulnerable to an attack from the French and the British, who were duty bound to answer Poland’s call for help. Hitler’s was saved at that time by the French reluctance to get involved, and Chamberlain’s continued appeasement of Hitler. This pattern would be repeated later in the war, with disastrous consequences, on the Eastern front with Russia.
It has been widely reported that Trump does not read many (or any?) briefings, instead spending a worring amount of time watching his preferred TV net work, Fox. The dismissal, or ignoring, of the painstakingly gathered intelligence from the FBI and CIA is an affront to his own security services and a danger to the moral of the field agents who provide such information.
Johnson meanwhile appears to have based his negotiations with the EU to remove the famous backstop on nothing more than a wing and a prayer.
Hitler was fond of highlighting his own greatness, with declarations such as “no-one will ever have the confidence of the German people as I have”.
Trump seems to have a similar narcissistic obsession with everything he does being the “best ever” or the “biggest ever”, regardless of how much evidence there is to the contrary.
The German foreign minister, Ribbentrop, treated Mussolini to a 4-hour lecture in 1940, full of falsehoods and unrealistic ambitions concerning the upcoming war against the UK and France. The Nazis continually demonstrated a complete failure to understand the British mentality and intentions right up to the end of the war.
In the same way, Johnson appears to be completely underestimating the EU’s resolve to stick together and to support Ireland over the issue of the Irish border.
Trump has also shown staggering ignorance of such issues as climate change, health care systems and hurricanes, whilst his policy with respect to Israel demonstrates a complete failure (or perhaps a lack of interest) to grasp the situation from the Palestine perspective.
The annexing of Austria and Czechoslovakia, and the invasion of Poland, were justified by Hitler as reactions to deals being broken by the other side. This waya he was able to maintain the support of the public whilst leading them into a disastrous war.
Trump, for his part, has had no qualms in blaming Iran for pulling out of the nuclear deal, despite neutral observers recognising that Iran was keeping to its side of the bargain.
Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.
And so it is with Hitler. In a speech to his generals on Dec 12th 1944, ahead of what turned out to be the last German offensive of the war, he stated that Britain was “a dying empire”. Sadly, some British people, Johnson included, still haven’t realised it.
I’m actually struggling to think of a significant example for Trump or Johnson.