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Responding to news reports raising suspicions that his presidential campaign colluded with Russia to help him win the White House, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted:
Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
He doubled down on this irresponsible and deeply inaccurate comparison in his subsequent news conference.
Trump’s evocation of Nazi Germany suggests that he is the victim of truly monstrous forces – among the worst evils the world has ever seen. It suggests that he is fighting against dark, mysterious forces working secretly against him. This allows Trump to change the subject and avoid answering the serious questions being raised. But worst of all, it cheapens and devalues the memory of what Nazism really represented and of the millions of people who were its victims – Jews, gays, blacks, Roma, political opponents, the physically and mentally disabled – the list goes on and on.
Trump’s evocation of Nazi Germany is particularly ill-chosen in view of the fact that his presidential campaign repeatedly used classic anti-Semitic images and tropes to promote his candidacy. Back in July, Trump angrily defended the use of a six-pointed star, which resembled the Star of David, mounted over a pile of $100 bills as part of an attack against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The same image previously appeared on a website popular with white supremacists.
Trump has also raised alarm by appointing Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist. The Anti-Defamation League said: “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the Alt Right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists – is slated to be one of the most senior staff members in the ‘people’s house (the White House).”
Lastly we come to the case of David Friedman, nominated by Trump to be the US ambassador to Israel. Friedman has repeatedly compared fellow members of the Jewish community whose views on Israel differ from his own to “kapos” – Jews who were enlisted by the SS during the Holocaust to serve them in the concentration and extermination camps. He has called members of J Street “worse than kapos.”
Using this term to describe one’s political opponents actually aids the work of Holocaust deniers because it suggests that kapos were not a tragic group of people caught in a uniquely awful dilemma. It is disgraceful to reduce this historically complex and weighty term to mean “anyone with whom one disagrees.”
Trump and his acolytes Bannon and Friedman are all part of the same sickness. They are not averse to using some of the tactics of totalitarians, notably the big lie, to put their critics on the defensive and stir up popular anger against them. At the same time, they preen as so-called victims of Nazism.
Both tactics are illegitimate, despicable and deeply worrying.