Hitler liked Mexicans

Historian: Trump-Hitler comparison distracts from real danger

Deutsche Welle: The list of those who compare Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler is getting longer. A former Mexican president, Anne Frank's stepsister and numerous election observers had already made this comparison, but earlier this week Twitter user Johan Franklin landed a viral success with a warning comparison. Is the comparison justified?

Thomas Weber: Regardless of whether it is justified, you have to consider whether it is politically helpful. The first to lead Hitler has lost the discussion because the conversation is only about the Hitler comparison and no longer about the real substance. In the Trump case, it distracts from the real danger that could exist quite independently of a Hitler comparison.

Still, I think there are similarities between Donald Trump's success now and Hitler's early success. I believe that these similarities are primarily to be found on the tactical level, because both present themselves as anti-politicians who want to bring the United States and Germany back to the front. And both show great tactical flexibility. This is even more blatant with Donald Trump than with Hitler.

Thomas Weber is a historian at the University of Aberdeen

And there's another similarity in how the two are perceived. Because both are so flexible, it is difficult to know what they really mean now. This is definitely helpful because it allows people of different political stripes to think that Hitler or Trump is actually on their side. At these levels I can already see great similarities. Still, I'd say the differences are at least as big, if not bigger.

And where are the differences?

First, Trump stands for what Hitler hated. Hitler was not only an anti-Semite and an anti-Bolshevik, but also in his early days anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism were just as important to him. Trump would be the personification of what Hitler didn't like.

What is more important, however, is that behind these tactical similarities with Trump lies a great deal of flexibility in political thought and action that Hitler simply does not have. With Hitler there is flexibility only on a tactical level, while with Trump it goes beyond the tactical. Trump is the businessman for whom deals and compromises are ultimately his business. On the other hand, for Hitler any compromise was considered a lazy compromise. Therefore, their approach to politics beyond the election campaign is ultimately a completely different one. As I said at the beginning, this does not mean that Trump is safe. The danger with Trump is just a completely different one and is that Trump, as a demagogue and populist, says and does everything that is necessary to get attention and to come to power.

At best, this means that we get a President Trump, whom we may not find particularly great, but who is also not an absolute disaster because he does make deals and compromises.

But I tend to believe that this positive scenario will not materialize and that Trump actually poses a great danger because, as a demagogue and populist, he destroys the written and unwritten rules of American politics in order to gain attention and success. Ultimately, he applies the rules of American reality TV to politics, thereby destroying the rules of American politics. And if the rules of politics and social coexistence in a country are destroyed, then it is unclear what the unintended consequences of this trade will be.

And above all, you have to imagine what effects a President Trump who does not abide by the written and unwritten rules of international politics would have. The world is brittle enough right now. If you now imagine an American president who does not care about any rules at all, then it will make the world even more unsafe and America will become even weaker. And there lies the real danger of a Donald Trump presidency.

Trump is not only compared to Hitler, but also the USA today to Nazi Germany back then. Is this comparison legitimate?

The comparison is of course legitimate, one just has to wonder how far one is taking it. The similarity is that in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s a lower middle class and lower class saw themselves as the losers of the global economic crisis, inflation and the consequences of the Versailles Treaty - just as there is a white lower middle class in the USA today, who sees itself as a loser. Who thinks for the first time in decades that the future will be no better than the past and who sees itself as the loser of globalization, Wall Street and the financial crisis. So there are certain similarities in the German-US political situation with regard to these social classes and their willingness to support someone like Trump or Hitler.

But one should be careful not to take these comparisons too far. Because in the end I would say that the differences are more important than the similarities. And not least because there are considerable problems in the USA, but the USA is a functioning state and a functioning society, while this was simply not the case in Germany in the interwar period.

Thomas Weber is Professor of History and International Politics and Founding Director of the Center of Global Security and Governance at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.