Over the weekend, U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called half of Donald Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables,” then apologized for being “grossly generalistic.” But I don’t think she was. After all, her GOP rival has unleashed a torrent of race hate that has grown from the few hundred thousand who would flock to fringe, white supremacy websites like Stormfront (written in “Mein Kampf” lettering) to 11 million, the number of Trump’s Twitter followers who are exposed – even in diluted or second-hand versions – to these views.
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That’s truly deplorable news for blacks, LGBTQ, Muslims, Mexicans and yes, Jews.
Just ask Erin Ross of Spokane, Washington. “Three Jewish women supporting her by setting up a booth in a red city,” she posted on a private Hillary Facebook page earlier in the week. While red used to mean Republican, in this election cycle, it also refers to white. “We live in a deeply anti-Semitic location, right near the home of the Aryan Nation, disorganized but still a threat,” she says. “So where we live, we are surrounded by Trump supporters, and I will do anything I can to stop them.”
At her booth, Erin talked with a Mexican American who told her he was undecided and, though he didn’t like Trump’s talk of the “wall,” he wasn’t afraid because he and his family were all U.S. citizens. “That’s how Jews felt in Germany in the 1930s,” she replied, adding that German Jews felt safe and never believed Hitler would make good of his racist ideology until it was too late. The man walked away, disturbed by what he heard, but a lot less undecided.
Was such a comparison over the top or warranted?
As the child of a Holocaust survivor, I would never conflate Trump’s bluster with Hitler’s evil. I don’t see the bankrupt billionaire adding concentration camp to his portfolio of towering urban monstrosities, crumbling casinos and fairways to hell. Nor would I compare today’s United States with Germany in the 1930s. We are not in economic shambles. We recovered in record time from the Bush administration’s deep recession. While 9/11 left us feeling vulnerable, our country wasn’t conquered, our borders weren’t redrawn, our people weren’t displaced and stateless, and our military wasn’t crushed. No, we are not the post-World War I Germany. Not by a long shot. And Trump, however narcissistic, xenophobic, bigoted, racist, sexist, emotionally unstable and power hungry, is no Hitler.
So why do Trump speeches increasingly remind me of Nuremberg rallies?
When Trump referred to American generals as “reduced to rubble,” spoke of removing caps on military spending to “rebuild our military infrastructure” and expand our Army and Marine Corps troops by the thousands, and threatened to renegotiate our NATO alliances as he did Wednesday night to a group of veterans, I couldn’t help but think of Hitler’s campaign to rearm Germany’s military, rip up the Treaty of Versailles and restore German might. No wonder Trump’s cry of “America First,” reminds me of Hitler’s “Deutschland Uber Alles,” Germany above everything.
When Trump pledged to deport 11 million Mexicans whom he blames for everything from unemployment to rape to murder, I thought of Hitler’s scapegoating of Jews, resulting in mass deportations like “Polenaktion,” in which 12,000 Polish-born Jews were stripped of their German citizenship and sent to languish at the border in October 1938. Within two weeks, during Kristallnacht, 200 synagogues were burned to the ground, 96 Jews killed and 100,000 more arrested for deportation. It was all part of Hitler’s plan to make Germany “Judenfrei,” or free of Jews, because Jews were “untermenschen,” subhuman, according to his elaborate system of ethnic profiling called the Nuremberg Laws.
That was then, this is now, you say. Trump targets Mexicans and Muslims. We American Jews are safe here.
At Friday’s alt-right press conference in Washington, D.C. leaders met with no real agenda other than sharing their support for Trump and their vision of an “Aryan homeland,” rid of Jews, per National Policy Institute head Richard Spencer, who spoke to The Daily Beast. According to leading hate-group watchdogs the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spencer, who first coined the term “alt right,” believes “peaceful ethnic cleansing” is the way to restore America to a purely European white demographic.
Trump may avoid terms like “ethnic cleansing,” unless of course it’s to agree with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he had a Nuremberg moment at his economic policy speech in Phoenix two weeks ago.
He brought onstage his “Angel Moms,” explaining they were mothers whose children were murdered by illegal immigrants – as if an alien killer would increase the grief of losing a child. I Googled the term and found Angelmoms.com, a site for grieving mothers united in support for each other, not in their hatred for illegal immigrants. Trump, attempting to create something analogous to Gold Star mothers, whom he alienated when he insulted Ghazala Khan, stole a name and fabricated a group that had nothing to do with courage or valor and everything to do with racist policies like Hitler’s “rassenschade” (racial pollution), which criminalized relations between Jews and Aryans.
And speaking of racial comingling, let’s not forget Trump’s entrée into politics – the birther movement, a thinly veiled attempt to oust U.S. President Barack Obama because of his mixed race background. By questioning Obama’s ethnic origin, faith and nationality, Trump recalled Hitler’s racial purity program, “Lebensborn” (Font of Life) which tried to ensure Germany would be full of Aryan babies, not “mischlinge,” a derogatory Nazi term connoting “half breeds.” On Friday, Giuliani told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that Trump is no longer a birther, but Trump himself hasn’t disavowed it.
Last week, his son Donald Jr., retweeted Hillary-bashing, neo-Nazi “academic” Kevin MacDonald, a retired professor who claims Jews are genetically driven to destroy Western society. He was also the only witness Holocaust denier David Irving didn’t have to subpoena (because he came willingly to testify) when he sued Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt for defamation, she noted on her Facebook page. Trump Jr.’s passion for neo-Nazi, Holocaust revisionists is only to be outdone by his father. Last July, Politico reported that Donald Sr. had retweeted white supremacists at least 75 times since his campaign began.
A few months back, a 1990 Vanity Fair profile on Trump resurfaced in which his first wife, Ivana, revealed how the Donald kept a collection of Hitler speeches, “My New Order,” by his bedside. And I believe her. Given the reality TV host’s trouble with the truth, Trump owes a huge debt to the Fuhrer, who famously wrote in “Mein Kampf”: “If you tell a big enough lie frequently enough, it will be believed.”
When I was a kid, Levy’s Rye Bread had a famous advertising slogan: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” No, Trump is not Hitler. We are not Germany of the 1930s, but the echoes of Nuremberg are there. And you don’t have to be Jewish to respond to this truly deplorable moment in American politics. But it sure helps.
Marisa Fox-Bevilacqua is a New York based freelance writer and editor who has written for the New York Times, Haaretz, Elle, Billboard, InStyle, Cosmo and Redbook. Follow her on Twitter: @MarisaFox