A fascinating aspect of the rise of Donald Trump in American politics has been a rebirth in discussions about fascism, racism, authoritarian politics, enfeebled democracy, propaganda, and similar themes. While much of the conversation is rather thin on substance, the need to explore these possibilities is, in my view, both relevant and highly significant.
Within Internet blog posts and discussion threads the warning offered in “Godwin’s Law,” penned by attorney and writer Mike Goodwin, suggests that “"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.” The strong implication is that “if you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.”
Be that as it may, the two ugly characters now under consideration exhibit some notable features in common. At present I’m reading Ian Kershaw’s excellent book Hitler: A Biography. Some of the parallels are striking. Here is a preliminary list of features that caught my eye.
1. Preferred the big picture and its vivid, propagandistic aspects;
2. Relished speaking to large gatherings of enthusiastic admirers;
3. Emphasized ruthless, hard-nosed strategies and tactics that could lead to "winning;"
4. Had few if any close friends;
5. Disliked detailed meetings, briefings and matters of day-to-day governance (which they left to subordinates);
6 Tended to form alliances with people (mainly men) who were, if anything just as emotionally fringy as they themselves;
7. Usually regarded women as beguiling ornaments;
8. Often saw conflict -- including international conflict – as first and foremost a matter of settling scores;
9. Quickly eliminated anyone who stood in their way;
10. Emphasized the urgent need to recover the lost glory of a nation's earlier times;
11. Showed little if any empathy for the suffering of everyday people;
12. Relied upon a particular, favored right wing propagandist even for the most crucial matters of policy making;
13. Always had a virulent race card, xenophobic rhetoric and ideas of fear, terror and hatred ready at hand;
14. Were basically narcissistic autocrats in their relationships with others, seeking to foster a culture of great “leader" around them to stoke a voracious but insecure ego;
15. Were doggedly persistent, pressing onward, never relenting, toward imagined victories even as calamitous outcomes seemed increasingly likely for themselves and their followers.
- Langdon Winner