Last night was the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht. An event perpetrated by a group of people so evil, so vile, it cannot be comprehended on a rational level, and there is no fitting word for them. It was also the day after the US election that saw Donald Trump declared the 45th President-elect of the United States.
Our grandfathers and great grandfathers fought, and millions suffered greatly and died, so that we can live in the world in which we live today. It is thanks to them that we enjoy many freedoms of modern life – democracy, the freedom to practice religion, the freedom to express ourselves, the right to life, and much more.
Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler – and opportunistic attempts to make this comparison to smear the former besmirches the memory of those who fought and died to defeat the latter.
Whilst it is clear to any reasonable man or woman that Trump is a misogynistic, homophobic, racist and even vile character, he is not a Nazi. He has not implemented, or even called for, the systematic torturing and slaughtering of 6-million people simply because they were a particular race, nor has he done so for a further 5-million plus, on the sole grounds of their non-membership of an alleged “superior race”.
Nowadays, it is not uncommon – sometimes even expected – to hear right-wing politicians labelled as “Nazis” or compared with Hitler. This happened during the EU referendum and most fellow Conservative party members will share the experience of being called such a thing by protestors at party conference (they obviously didn’t recognise the sick irony of calling a Jewish Conservative Party activist such as myself a Nazi).
It isn’t a stretch to see that, if a person wants to shout an insult at somebody on the other side of the political spectrum, to reach for the worst possible comparison is natural and instinctive. But it’s actually doing a lot more harm than is first apparent.
Whenever I hear the left use such insults, the first thought that comes to my mind is always what our great grandfathers would think of it. What would they think of us comparing a man with right-wing views to the man who scarred their time with an unspeakably evil attempt to exterminate and torture people in their millions?
The problem arises in that, whenever the word Hitler or Nazi is used to describe these right-wing politicians, we elevate the Nazis to a far more human level than their crimes could ever permit. We normalise it as, an adjective – and in so doing, we come up with a generalised description of modern day terms of a Nazi that is watered down and does grave disservice to the ideology’s actual historic victims. We rationalise the irrational, and give credence to ideas that must forever be deprived of it. If Trump is so much like Hitler, a Trump supporter might muse, was Hitler so bad after all?
In the case of Trump, we have so far heard some pretty outrageous things on the campaign trail, many of which can be interpreted as inciting racial hatred or racial divide, but none of them on the comparable to the foul stench that emanated from 1930s Germany. Never has he mentioned physically assaulting another race in the street upon sight, and a distinction must be established between some inflammatory comments about Mexican people, and building an industrial operation for racial eradication. Nor has he said one race is superior to another race simply for existing. Should these rubicons be crossed, I will be the first to label him a Nazi, and will certainly join the fight against him and any who agree who give succour to such views.
The reason that Trump’s campaign – and other such movements, like Brexit – have been so successful is not down to the world subscribing to ideological Nazism, but rather to a view that the establishment is at a remove from the average man of an unforgivable magnitude. This is not the rise of Nazism, but the take-down of the political establishment.
Now, whilst it is natural for many to disagree with the methods used to do this, or the campaign slogans and posters used, one wonders how these left-wing activists would feel should the world ever really be submerged in the depths of the 1930s and 40s once more. Whether once they and their friends, families and communities are being persecuted they would only then see that Trump, Farage, the Brexiteers and the rest were, by comparison, nothing like Nazis. Maybe then they would see the true terror and capability of the Nazis, and realise how disrespectful it is to our forebears to compare the experience of living in a free world led by Donald Trump to that of living in Nazi-controlled Germany. The comparison itself is more outrageous than anything Trump has yet proposed.
This is not the rise of Nazism, but the take-down of the political establishment.
If those on the left really want to fight against modern-day Nazism, they need look no further than many countries to the East. Countries where women are considered as second-class citizens, much like Jews in 1930s Germany. Countries were people are stoned to death for being gay, disabled, or apostates. Countries where women’s autonomy is confiscated and put utterly and irrevocably in the palm of their husband. That, to me, sounds a lot more like Nazism than anything that Trump could impose on America, let alone the world.
But criticism of those countries is much less of a priority than criticism of those with right-wing views to most of the radical left, and much lower down on the list than criticising the current Conservative government, or indeed Trump.
The point here is not to support Trump against a woman whose foreign policy has endangered the existence of a country that is the only democracy in its entire region, and the only Jewish state in the world. That awful debate has happened, and ended last night – and a separate debate of how, in a country of 300-million people those two reproachable candidates were the choice given to the electorate can and will take place for many months to come. Rather, it is to point out that, whilst Trump may, to many, be the pantomime villain who has just been handed the keys to the White House, he is yet to give his first State of the Union address, and so this level of opprobrium is premature.
I do not call either for people stop disagreeing with far-right views, and to call out politicians who harbour and promote them, we can still have political ideological debates. The point I labour is the importance of finding other words to describe such views, and other figures with which to compare them. Ideas such as halting immigration of one particular race are absurd and such views need to be called out as too reprehensibly extreme to be given consideration – but for democracy to endure, we must find different, more reasonable words to facilitate the debate that underpins it.
Difficult thought it may be, we must sit tight, and wait for the first true policy agenda to emerge from Donald Trump before we judge him. We can evaluate him as a candidate – and an unprecedentedly divisive one he surely was – but he remains, until January 20th, the President-elect and it will thus be some time before we can accurately and fairly pass judgement. When that time comes, I’m sure a few will make it – but I somehow doubt that Hitler will be an adequate, common or even respectful comparison.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore