By Alan Siporin
Growing up Jewish in the 1950s, the long shadow of the Holocaust still loomed. My mother, in her wisdom, told me the German people were good, like anyone else, and that all nationalities had good and bad people.
But I remained troubled. How could millions follow Adolf Hitler, the most evil person in history? Decades later, I thought I was on the verge of an answer.
Now, however, the followers of Donald Trump have made it clear. Comparing Trump to Hitler may be a bridge too far. But my comparison is not between Hitler and Trump. It’s about their followers.
Polls consistently show Trump unable to top 42% popular support. Hitler peaked at 37%, but his followers were rabid in their devotion. And Hitler’s propaganda machine convinced the German people to blame the Jews for their woes. It wasn’t difficult. Jews had been blamed for centuries.
Likewise, most Trump supporters are devoted to him. And they are convinced immigrants, Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Jews are getting all the breaks while they, mostly white, are losing out. And this, too, plays on centuries of fears. Today, too many white Americans see non-whites as threats that must be stopped.
Hitler vowed to return Germany to its place in the world. Make America great again is Trump’s mantra.
Hitler believed the bigger the lie the more people would embrace it. Trump took his playbook from Hitler and continues to spread the most far-fetched lie in history. Just as millions in Germany bought Hitler’s lies, millions in America swallow Trump’s con.
Even though Hitler lost the German election, the opposition was so afraid of him the Parliament’s president named Hitler to the position of chancellor, in essence giving him the power he failed to win at the ballot. Trump, too, was defeated at the voting booth, and he still wields tremendous power as the unquestioned leader of one of America’s two major political parties.
How does this happen? Because people blindly support Trump, resulting in Republican politicians fearing him, just as second-level power brokers in Germany, fearing what Hitler might do to them, acquiesced to his demands. Both men derived their power from the support of their followers. The way to curb Trump’s transgressions is for his poll numbers to drop. We may correctly point fingers at enabling Republican leaders, like Sen. Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, but Trump followers must shoulder much of the blame, too.
Most Trump supporters may not advocate violence. But if they don’t see what happened on Jan. 6 as a Trump-led insurrection, they are fooling themselves. And anybody who thinks the attack on the Capitol was an aberration is in for a rude awakening. Imagine the reaction if Trump is convicted for any of his crimes.
Even without a major trigger, violence spurred by racist hate continues to spread.
What eventually became the seeds of the SS were gangs of thugs who beat up people for Hitler. For Trump, think Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Hate directed at Jews is nothing new to these neo-Nazis. Imagine them in official uniforms. Some of them are.
Hitler’s supporters grew more violent as they became more emboldened, until all of Germany was in a grip of fear. And by the time word of the death camps seeped into German consciousness, individuals of conscience were powerless to stop the trains from rolling. Those who embrace Trump’s lies, even by remaining silent, acquiesce to evil. Once it takes off they won’t have the power to stop it.
It was good Germans who allowed Hitler to unleash his evil. It is good, God-fearing Americans who support Trump. Most of those who follow Trump … they can’t see it, but they would have followed Hitler, too … and they will keep following Trump, until it’s too late.
Alan Siporin is a former reporter and commentator for NPR and is the author of “Fire’s Edge,” an award-winning novel about hate crimes in Oregon.