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The Hitler analogy has become a symbol of political ignorance

13 April 2017

11:41 AM

13 April 2017

11:41 AM

Man, the brass neck of Trump’s media critics. They’ve spent the past 24 hours tearing into Trump’s media man Sean Spicer after he made a stupid, crude Hitler analogy. Which is a bit like Shane MacGowan telling people off for drinking too much. These people have been yelling ‘Hitler!’ for months. From the minute Trump was elected they’ve been having Hitler histrionics, drawing daft comparisons between Trump’s oafish politics and the Nazis’ murderous tyranny, and shouting ‘fascism!’ and ‘1930s!’ like Tourette’s sufferers who’ve watched too much History Channel. It takes a lot of front, all of the front, for them now to finger-wag at others for their inappropriate Hitler talk.

Spicer’s remarks were certainly awful. The idiot was trying to underline how terrible is the Assad regime when he said that even ‘someone as despicable as Hitler’ didn’t ‘sink to using chemical weapons’. Let’s leave to one side that in the space of four or five days the Trump administration has switched from viewing the Assad regime as okay-ish to treating it as literally worse than the worst man who ever lived, rather speaking to a White House that’s morally and mentally out of control. More worryingly, more horribly, is Spicer’s seeming ignorance of history and his unwitting (I’m going to be generous) diminishing of Nazi crimes. Hitler didn’t use poisons and other wicked things? You mean apart from the tonnes and tonnes of the stuff that he turned into gas with which to kill and vaporise six million Jew? You dangerous dimwit.

He was then given an opportunity to dig himself out of his Hitler-shaped hole and he only went and made things worse. He said he meant to say that, unlike Assad, Hitler wasn’t ‘using the gas on his own people’. Around 130,000 German Jews were killed in the Holocaust. That was 55 percent of Germany’s Jewish population. Were these not Hitler’s ‘own people’? Here, Spicer skates lethally close to the Nazis’ own view that Jews are not proper citizens, not part of ‘the people’, that they’re foreign somehow. Dig up, you fool. Better still, shut up.

Yet while Spicer’s cynical marshalling of the Holocaust to justify Trump’s firing of missiles at an Assad airbase was nauseating, the outrage of his critics is simply unconvincing. And spectacularly hypocritical. Who is primarily responsible for infecting political debate in 2017 with warped Hitler comparisons and mad talk of New Holocausts? It’s the anti-Trump set, and the anti-Brexit set too. It’s the columnists and activists and piners for the old establishment who spy in Britons’ rejection of the EU and Americans’ rejection of Hillary a kneejerk Nazi sentiment, or at least something neo-fascistic. Trump’s critics, those now mocking Spicer, have done far more than Trump’s staff to cheapen the Holocaust by using it to score political points.

Trump haters have told us Trump is working from the ‘Mein Kampf playbook’. They’ve said ‘It’s the 1930s’, as if America in 2017 is indistinguishable from central Europe in 1939. They’ve called Trump ‘Hitler-esque’. During the parliament debate on whether Trump should be afforded a state visit, MPs mentioned his name in the same breath as Hitler’s and Mussolini’s. Trump’s travel ban was talked about alongside the Holocaust, as if temporarily rescinding American visa rights for the citizens of seven countries is akin to drawing up an industrial plan to exterminate every Jew on Earth. Time and again, they’ve engaged in shrill Hitler blather. In the process they’ve reduced the Holocaust to a meme, to an exclamation mark to their own feeing of fury at what is happening in politics in 2017, which is unforgivable if you ask me.

If anything, their Hitler histrionics are worse, more infantile and more irresponsible, than Spicer’s. I think it’s ridiculous to compare Assad to Hitler, as Spicer did. Assad, like other tinpot tyrants, is a nasty, callous ruler, but he isn’t Hitler. However, he has killed very large numbers of people in a despicable fashion, which Trump hasn’t. Trump is a blunderer, a blowhard, an isolated, ideologically unanchored president incapable even of striking down Obamacare never mind conquering Europe and plotting epoch-defining levels of mass murder. Calling Trump Hitler is more idiotic than calling Assad Hitler.

The Spicer thing is striking because it confirms that, beneath all the name-calling and mean tweeting, both Trump and his haters share in common a penchant for historically illiterate moralistic posturing. Both use the dark past to underline their rather vapid policies and beliefs. Both do that very 21st-century thing of marshalling the zombie of Hitler as an argument-stopper, as a way of saying: ‘You are Hitler, which means I am good, and I win the argument.’ It’s cheap and childish and censorious and irritating. Worse, it dilutes the unique, historic horror of the Holocaust through suggesting that that kind of thing happens all the time and can be glimpsed in everything from Assad’s nasty war to Trump’s illiberal travel ban. It is its own kind of Holocaust denial. Stop it, everyone. Stop turning to Hitler to make your case.

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