MSNBC host Joe Scarborough published an op-ed in the Washington Post on Monday evening in which he drew lessons from Hitler’s rise in Nazi Germany to urge voters not to re-elect the “illiberal” President Donald Trump.
Aware of the absurdity of the Nazi comparison, Scarborough said that it should not be made “directly,” and noted that the United States does not have death camps like Auschwitz. But he warned that the horrors of the Nazis were not immediately apparent to Germans, either. He described Trump as an “illiberal” president — such as those who govern in Russia, China, or Turkey — though he provided no evidence except familiar complaints about rhetoric.
One should never compare Trump’s rise directly to that of German fascism, and still thereare lessons that can be drawnfrom every era. Sebastian Haffner’s 1939 memoir “Defying Hitler” spoke of influencers who initially dismissed the Nazi party for its “violent stupidity,” much like Trump’s critics mocked the reality star’s candidacy with a chuckle. The “Saturday Night Live” skit with Hillary Clinton laughing at her good fortunefor drawing Trump as apolitical opponent comes to mind.
“I was inclined not to take them very seriously,” Haffner wrote in 1939, “a common attitude among their inexperienced opponents, which helped them a lot.” The German journalist and lawyer observed that while the “vilest abuse” could be directed toward Jews, “the process of the law was not changed at all.”
Acursory review of Auschwitz or Dachau’s history reveals how the evil of Hitler’s reign does not remotely compare to the current state of U.S. politics. The cost of illiberalism’s spread in the age of Trump may bebetter understood by studying the erosion of democratic norms in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or the further strengthening of China and Russia’s autocratic regimes. But we should still remain mindful that the failure of Germany’spolitical, financial and media elites to serve as a bulwark against the illiberal impulses that seized that countrythen mirrors the failure of American leaders initially to grasp the consequences of Donald J. Trump. Three years later, the question remains of how best to respond to that threat.
Scarborough cited, approvingly, a New York Times op-ed by retired Admiral William McRaven in October in which he urged that Trump be removed from office “the sooner, the better.” Notably, Scarborough did not mention Trump’s impeachment, which still hangs in the air after the House refused to deliver articles of impeachment to the Senate.
Scarborough’s article came in the wake of a string of violent antisemitic attacks in New York and New Jersey.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.