Hitler had surprising support in 1932 from Jewish voters attracted by his promises to restore law and order, boost the economy and make Germany great again. Donald Trump’s campaign themes are strikingly similar. Is there a lesson to be learned here?
Trump recently appealed to African-Americans as the only candidate who can solve long-term problems of crime and chronic unemployment.
He doubled down on the effort by branding Democratic rival Hillary Clinton a “bigot.” He also accused the Democratic Party of taking minority voters for granted without delivering on promises.
“What have you got to lose?” he admonished in one of his speeches.
Clarence Henderson, one of the most prominent civil rights leaders to back the Republican candidate, recently explained Trump’s appeal.
“Politicians are a dime a dozen,” Henderson recently told CNN. “Donald Trump is a businessman, and America is a business. In order to run America, you have to understand the economics of America.”
Not surprisingly, Jews found Hitler appealing because he ran as an outsider and as an anti-politician just like Trump.
“He wasn’t portrayed as a politician, as Germany had had enough of them, instead he was seen as above politics,” says Robert Wilde, a European history expert.
But that’s not the only similarity. Both in methodology and messaging, Trump and Hitler are strikingly the same.
“My favorite aunt, who was a concentration camp survivor, told me that there had been Jews in Germany who, when Hitler was just starting his rise to power, supported him, wrote Bradley Burston in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
They were swayed by his promise “to bring stability, restore a broken country to greatness,” she told him.
Indeed, Hitler’s racism and hatred of the Jews were well known by the late 1920s. His screed “Mein Kampf,” published in 1925, detailed his thoughts on Jews and Aryan superiority.
But in the 1932 presidential election, Hitler ran as the only candidate strong enough to right the country, which by then had been hobbled by the worldwide recession. Jews, mostly bankers, industrialists and businessmen voted in favor of the Nazi party, according to historic accounts.
Hitler lost to World War I hero Paul von Hindenburg. But in a political deal that paved the way for his rise, Hindenburg appointed him Chancellor in 1933.
Hitler, of course, had a hidden agenda that not many Jews were aware of, or rationalized away, in 1932, according to historic accounts of the time.
“‘You shouldn’t pay too much heed to what he says – it’s just what politicians need to do to get elected,'” Burston’s aunt recalled people saying.
By 1935, however, Jews were banned from voting and facing growing persecution. The German people overwhelmingly voted that year to combine the offices of president and chancellor, giving Hitler unprecedented dictatorial powers.
Yet Jewish supporters still believed in him.
“Even as the Third Reich became more entrenched, many German Jews, probably a majority, continued to regard themselves, often with considerable pride, as Germans first,” according to The Institute for Historic Review, a Zionist organization.
In his rise to power, Hitler played audiences as Trump is playing them now.
“By changing his message to suit different audiences, but stressing himself as the leader at the top, [Hitler] began to bind the support of disparate groups together, building enough to rule, modify and then doom Germany,” says Wilde.
Trump’s campaign is based on the same broad precepts–nationalism, blaming minorities for the nation’s problems and promising to restore America’s greatness as a military and economic power.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie wrote recently in Haaretz:
“Trump’s nationalism is not value-based but race-based. He speaks the language of white nationalism, sometimes openly and sometimes by innuendo. He despises immigrants and the diversity that has long been both a fact and a value in America. He incites hatred. He is a nativist and a Birther, who cast doubt in an especially ugly way on the legitimacy and Americanism of our country’s first black President. He plays around the edges of fascism.”
Yet his real agenda is unknown and that’s what’s most frightening about him.
Trump has yet to outline specific policies on such issues as taxation, immigration, the economy, or how he plans to solve urban problems and increase military spending without busting the budget.
And, he’s flip-flopped on key issues like immigration a number of times.
“I never felt comfortable about equating present-day political figures to Hitler,” writes Bradley Burston in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“But this time is different. Because this time, the echoes are getting much too close.”
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