Attracting media got them national attention. Hitler was a speaker with an extraordinary power to win people over. He used airplanes to get to speaking gigs across his country, an unusual move at the time. He used radio to broadcast his speeches to huge audiences, and staged in-person rallies to excite supporters.
Trump was a pioneer of an aggressive, flamboyant style of reality television that attracted huge audiences and gained him a national following that being a real estate developer had never afforded him. He worked media outlets with outrageous promos for his own greatness, (often pretending to be someone else). As a television celebrity, he put out a steady stream of outrageous ideas, sure to attract media attention by their outrageousness. He’s continued to do this throughout his years in the White House, dropping bizarre items into every news cycle, deflecting attention from the moves he’s making to curtail democracy. His campaign rallies, revving up his base, didn’t stop when he took office; he staged them regularly, slowed only by the pandemic.
Both men published their guiding principles. Hitler set his views out in Mein Kampf, a book that became a literal blueprint for the Third Reich. Key points:
• Germany should be great again, led by a single all-powerful leader;
• the Aryan race was superior to all others and Jews were a threat to both the racial purity and well-being of true Germans;
• immigration should be stopped;
• Germany should be economically self-sufficient; and
• the government should control the press.
Read that list again, substitute “the US” for “Germany,” and “people of color” for “Jews,” and you have a page of Trump’s playbook, visible in his actions over his four years in power, and in his current campaign to hold onto power.
Hitler actually wrote Mein Kampf and Trump’s Art of the Deal was written by a paid professional writer, but Trump’s book does contain his blueprint for the amoral, transactional, self-aggrandizing approach to life that has driven him his entire career and now shapes his presidency.
Both men built large followings by stoking grievances and inciting violence. By frightening people and then claiming the role of their only possible protector, both Hitler and Trump built powerful constituencies, promising to meet perceived needs they themselves had created or exaggerated.
The grievances. Hitler gained a following by tapping into the resentment Germans still held after losing World War I. He filled the media of his time with propaganda, doing everything he could to fuel the humiliation Germans felt, telling his people—his voice coming out of their radios and from podiums—that he alone could return Germany and the Aryan race to their rightful positions of prestige and power.
Trump uses relentless propaganda to move a similar message: that this nation is beset by those who would diminish it and that it needs to be great again, as it once was, and we’ll achieve that when whites regain the power they deserve.
Trump was elected in 2016 by tapping a wellspring of anxieties, frustrations and grievances for which the mainstream political parties had no compelling answer. Many of those grievances are held by single-issue voters, whose feelings on gun control and abortion overwhelm everything else. Another factor is the losses of wages and jobs that were caused by globalization and the rising inequality that predate Trump.
But a huge source of Trump’s support—and something he relentlessly taps—is a loss of social position and esteem. Many non-college whites feel that “liberal elites” look down at them, new immigrants are superseding them, and foreigners are failing to acknowledge that the US is in every way better than their countries.
Trump expands and inflames these grievances to create a picture of an America in grave peril, degraded at home and in the world, in danger of having its core values overturned and its neighborhoods taken over by the nonwhites, the leftists and the godless. White Americans are the rightful masters of all. The throngs at Hitler’s rallies sang Deutschland uber Alles—Germany Over All Others. Trump’s rally crowds chant USA! USA!
No tactic seems too low for Trump in trying to stoke some white people’s fear of Blacks—witness his boast that he’ll keep low-income housing out of the suburbs to protect the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream.” Hitler would definitely recognize that one.
Violence. Hitler knew, as does Trump, that grievance begets fear and anger, and that the combination is the perfect formula for inciting violence. Hitler knew and Trump knows that when violence escalates, people turn to a leader who promises “LAW & ORDER!” just as Hitler kept raving and Trump keeps tweeting. It’s a simple tactic that autocrats have used successfully for millennia.
Hitler didn’t shrink from using violence to achieve his ends. Trump has sent armed Federal troops wearing unidentified uniforms and moving in unmarked vans to round up protestors in Portland. That’s how Hitler’s paramilitary arm, the SA “Brownshirts” started in Munich. Trump publicly supports armed white vigilantes who claim the right to shoot anyone they decide is a looter or arsonist. A recent report leaked by a brave whistleblower in Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security names armed white supremacists as the major domestic terrorist threat. A senior Trump lieutenant recently advised citizens to start buying ammunition now because, when the shooting starts, bullets will be hard to get.
Hitler would be proud.
Trump and members of his administration refuse to condemn the violence he incites, and they blame legitimate protesters as the source of the violence, insisting that the activists of Antifa and Black Lives Matter are existential threats to white lives and property.