Donald Trump was laughed at during his United Nation’s speech, an occurrence which has created the most headlines from the speech. While it is humiliating for our country that the President of the United States was laughed at during a speech to the world, these headlines do a disservice to the actual content of his speech, which was in no way funny. Rather, it was downright frightening. It was a speech about tearing up international agreements, isolating America from the rest of the world due to a completely paranoid vision of how the world is taking advantage of America, and promoting nationalism as an all-encompassing solution, the kind of nationalism that in the past has led to war.
Since World War II, a topic that has been studied and debated at length is the question of how the German people went along with the evil that was Adolf Hitler. While some of the ways in which Hitler and the Nazis consolidated power and secured acquiescence, such as the use of propaganda and secret police, have become somewhat common knowledge, and perhaps rightfully drawn comparisons to Trump’s use of Fox News and ICE, there were other means by which Hitler convinced the German people to go along with his objectives. These means were less obvious, but no less important. And these means were echoed in Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations, which was perhaps the most nationalist speech in American Presidential history.
When Hitler gained power in Germany, he did so at a time of fractured politics in Germany. No political party enjoyed majority support. There was a need for coalitions to be formed among different parties. Hitler took a political party that at the time had minority support, and, using rhetoric and ruthlessness, created a majority ruling coalition that he then used to disintegrate all competing parties, creating a one-party dictatorship, ruled by him. The means by which he did so have been well documented. Most famously, there was the Reichstag fire, which he blamed on the rival Communist Party, leading to a ruthless elimination of that rival party. There were also the Nazi Brownshirts, a paramilitary group who Hitler used to intimidate the other remaining politicians into voting to give him dictatorial powers through the Enabling Act of 1933.
Among the aims of the Enabling Act which gave dictatorial powers to Hitler are some themes that should sound familiar to those who have been paying attention to Donald Trump’s actions as President. They were the elimination of rival political parties, the elimination of the German constitution as an institution that could override the policies instituted by Hitler, and the elimination of the need for legislative consent for any actions taken with regards to foreign treaties.
Donald Trump has made it quite well known that he has the same goals. Trump has repeatedly called for more Republicans to be elected, or for the Senate filibuster to be eliminated, so that laws can be passed without needing any Democratic party support. Trump has repeatedly bristled at the constraints of the United States Constitution, whether railing against Freedom of The Press, against Freedom from Religion, against Freedom of Speech, or against Due Process. Trump has enacted billions of dollars in new tariffs without the consent of Congress, and withdrawn from international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Paris Climate Accord, and Iran Nuclear Agreement without a congressional vote.
But Hitler couldn’t accomplish all of those goals simply through propaganda and intimidation. He first had to get enough German people to legitimately support him. And he did this through extreme nationalist rhetoric.
When Hitler rose to prominence, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Germany’s economy was doing extremely poorly due to both war reparations from World War I and the Great Depression. Hitler used Germany’s economic struggle to his own advantage, relentlessly casting blame on international institutions, competing nations, and internal factions, most notably the Jews and Communists. After taking power, the German economy improved, as did most of the world’s economies as the Great Depression lifted. Hitler then used the improving economy to further gain support by repeatedly taking all of the credit for himself. If any of this is sounding familiar, it’s because Donald Trump’s rhetoric has followed a similar pattern.
The United States is not in the midst of a Great Depression, but for many people, it might as well be due to outrageous income inequality. The United States does not have to pay war reparations, but an outrageous amount of taxpayer money is going toward military spending. Where Hitler used Jews and Communists as internal scapegoats, Trump uses immigrants and Muslims. Preceding governments are to blame for economic woes. Their current government is solely credited for economic gains. Trade is seen as a means by which other countries try to take advantage of them. Most of all, internationalism is seen as the greatest evil, a system that only tries to preserve an unfair current reality, and a system that should be replaced with unabashed nationalism.
They both touted their accomplishments as being unprecedented:
Trump: “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
Hitler: “Four years have passed since the greatest national revolution and reformation that Germany has ever experienced began.”
They both touted themselves as being responsible for a jobs renaissance:
Trump: “Jobless claims are at a 50-year low. African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American unemployment have all achieved their lowest levels ever recorded. We’ve added more than 4 million new jobs, including half a million manufacturing jobs.”
Hitler: “When I took over power there were more than 6,000,000 unemployed and the farmers seemed doomed to decay. Today you-must admit that I have fulfilled my promises. The Four-Year Plan will give permanent employment to those workmen who are now being released from the armament industry. It is significant for the gigantic economic development of our people that there is today a lack of trained workmen in many industries. There will be no strikes or lockouts in Germany, because every one has to serve the interests of the entire nation.”
They both decried the ability of international organizations to make sound decisions:
Trump: “America’s policy of principled realism means we will not be held hostage to old dogmas, discredited ideologies, and so-called experts who have been proven wrong over the years, time and time again. This is true not only in matters of peace, but in matters of prosperity.”
Hitler: “If it is to be the task of the League of Nations only to guarantee the existing state of the world and to safeguard it for all time, then we might as well entrust it also with the task of guarding the high tide and the low tide, or of regulating for the future the direction of the Gulf Stream. Its continued existence depends on the extent to which it is realized that necessary reforms which concern the relations of the nations must be considered and put into practice.”
They both portrayed their countries as victims of unfair trade:
Trump: “We believe that trade must be fair and reciprocal. The United States will not be taken advantage of any longer.”
Hitler: “I do not believe that there can be durable economic cooperation except on the basis of a new mutual exchange of goods.”
Trump: “We will no longer tolerate such abuse. We will not allow our workers to be victimized, our companies to be cheated, and our wealth to be plundered and transferred. America will never apologize for protecting its citizens.”
Hitler: “Germany has an enormous number of people who do not only want to work but to eat. I cannot build the future of the German nation on the assurances of a foreign statesman or on any international help, but only on the real facts of production.”
They both tried to level charges of hypocrisy against international organizations that dared to criticize their human rights abuses:
Trump: “I spoke before this body last year and warned that the U.N. Human Rights Council had become a grave embarrassment to this institution, shielding egregious human rights abusers while bashing America and its many friends.”
Hitler: “Only a few months ago honorable British citizens felt they must make a protest to us for detaining in a concentration camp one of the most criminal subjects of Moscow. I do not know whether these honorable men have also protested against the slaying and burning of tens of thousands of men, women, and children in Spain.”
They both charged that international organizations are illegitimate:
Trump: “The United States will provide no support in recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.”
Hitler: “The League of Nations has never been a real league of peoples.”
They both stated that international organizations were a danger to sovereignty and world peace:
Trump: “Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination.”
Hitler: “It is impossible to maintain peace so long as an international, irresponsible clique continues its agitation un-checked.”
They both complained of an invasion of people to their country that was being ignored by the international community:
Trump: “Illegal immigration funds criminal networks, ruthless gangs, and the flow of deadly drugs. Illegal immigration exploits vulnerable populations, hurts hardworking citizens, and has produced a vicious cycle of crime, violence, and poverty. Only by upholding national borders, destroying criminal gangs, can we break this cycle and establish a real foundation for prosperity.”
Hitler: “If Europe does not awaken to the danger of bolshevist infection, commerce will decrease in spite of all the good will of individual statesmen. Therefore I am not in a position to judge the economic future of Europe as optimistically as Mr. Eden apparently does. I rejoice at every increase of our foreign trade, but in view of the political situation I shall not regret anything that will guarantee to the German people their existence when other nations have perhaps become the victims of bolshevist infection.”
They both bristled at mutual defense treaties:
Trump: “And we expect other countries to pay their fair share for the cost of their defense.”
Hitler: “It is impossible to make one nation responsible for armaments or another responsible for armaments limitation.”
They both then claimed that they actually wanted to “reform” the international organizations they had excoriated:
Trump: “The United States is committed to making the United Nations more effective and accountable.”
Hitler: “The League of Nations, to be effective, must be reformed.”
They both expressed their nationalist agenda as a restoration and protection of their country’s sovereignty:
Trump: “We must protect our sovereignty and our cherished independence above all.”
Hitler: “German sovereignty and equality have been restored, and that Germany will never sign a treaty which is in any way incompatible with the honor of the nation and of the Government which represents it, or which otherwise is incompatible with Germany’s vital interests and therefore in the long run cannot be kept.”
The extreme nationalism of Donald Trump that was just presented to the world was aimed at disintegrating the power and legitimacy of international organizations that have helped the world for decades avoid a repeat of World War II. This was a dangerous, dangerous speech.
Now, some may say that Trump is too stupid to be as dangerous as Hitler. Trump is indeed quite ignorant, and most likely also mentally ill. But genius is not a requirement for evil, especially if evil has help. Trump did not write his speech to the United Nations. Somebody helped him. Trump did not personally separate children of asylum seekers from their parents. Somebody helped him. Trump and his helpers have already removed the United States from international treaties and started an idiotic trade war with our allies. Trump and his helpers have already passed policies to discriminate against legal immigrants and to kick legal immigrants out of the military. What else do Trump and his helpers have planned?
It was 1937 when Hitler gave the speech that was referenced above. In the years that would follow, Hitler and his helpers started a World War that would cause the deaths of 60 million people and instituted a genocide that would kill 6 million Jews. Hopefully, Trump and his helpers have nothing that catastrophic planned. But, really, why wait to find out? Nobody dreamed of what was to come in 1937, either.