Former Mexican Presidents Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) say Donald Trump reminds them of Hitler.
So does former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman and Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister.
The comparison is an over-reach. Hitler had the self-discipline to complete his sentences. Trump is a rhetorical slob. His speeches resemble an explosion in a pizza factory. And Hitler didn’t make a habit of cursing in public. Hitler was a great historical asshole. Trump just plays one on TV.
The critics point to racism in Trump’s speeches. (It’s actually xenophobia, which also comes with its own set of personal and political pathologies, but save that discussion for some other time.)
But even if Trump isn’t another Hitler, how does he stack up against other fascist icons?
Mussolini is probably a closer fit, if for no other reason than genocide wasn’t his thing. Nor was he into conquering the world, but he did want to, uh, Make Italy Great Again — by making it the center of a new Roman Empire, kicking the British off Gibraltar and rebranding the Mediterranean as Mare Nostrum (Our Sea).
He also promised major public works (roads, not walls in his case) and a major re-armament program (which would make Italy so strong nobody would mess with it).
Oh, I almost forgot. He also turned Italy into a police state. Like Trump, he didn’t have much patience with back talk.
Trump also merits comparison with Hugo Chavez, something Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer did concisely last summer. He characterized both Chavez and Trump not as fascists but as populists, and then pointed to three characteristics of populism that they both share — notwithstanding the fact that Trump epitomizes capitalism and Chavez socialism:
First, populists need to create an enemy, so that they can become leaders of a national cause. And if the enemy is foreign, so much the better.
Chavez’s enemy numero uno was the United States. Trump chose Mexico to head the enemies list.
Second, populists constantly play the victimization game, claiming they are about to be killed or harmed by the enemy at any time.
Writing last summer, Oppenheimer pointed to Trump’s claim that he was putting himself in “great danger” by going to Laredo, Texas to see the border firsthand. Before the visit he told Fox News, “I may never see you again.” A more recent example, less lethal but just as ludicrous, would be Trump’s claim that the IRS may be auditing him every year because of his “Christian faith.”
Third, most populists are ego-maniacs.
Oppenheimer says he used to describe Chavez as a “narcissist-Leninist” president because his favorite word was “I.” In a speech on Jan. 15, 2011, he used the word “I” 489 times. Trump managed to use the “I” word 220 times in the course of the 42-minute speech announcing his candidacy on June 16, 2015. Obama is a junior varsity solipsist by comparison.
Probably the populist whom Trump most resembles is Huey Long (aka The Kingfish), the populist governor of Louisiana in the 1930s who declared “every man a king” and wanted to “redistribute the wealth” — kind of a mash-up of Trump and Obama. Before he was assassinated in 1935, he announced he was going to run for the presidency. Here’s how he looked at Franklin Roosevelt:
“I can take him. He’s a phony. He’s scared of me. I can outpromise him, and he knows it. People will believe me and they won’t believe him. His mother’s watchin’ him, and she won’t let him go too far, but I got no mother left and, if I had, she’d think anything I said was all right.”
Kind of sounds like something Trump would say about Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, doesn’t it?
Still, as I’ve said before in a different context, I think it’s possible to over-think Trump. There is another, simpler explanation for what makes Donald run, that doesn’t require you to go looking for a lot of sinister comparisons with dead fascists and populists.
Trump is acting like a lush.
The insulting late-night tweets are the give-away. Most of the serious alcoholics I’ve known were given to calling you sometime between midnight and dawn and wanting to, uh, opine. Trump’s tweets are just a way of politicizing that behavior.
Then there’s the bragging, the bluster, the self-aggrandizement, the personal insults, the bullying, the boorish exhibitionism, the constant demand for reassurance, the brazen, self-serving lies — they all fit the drunkard’s profile.
Just the sort of guy you want in the White House with his finger on the nuclear trigger taking the 3 a.m. phone call, huh?
Trump swears he’s a teetotaler, says he’s never touched alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, and cites his alcoholic older brother’s death at 42 as the reason. Yet that didn’t stop him in 2006 from launching his own brand of Vodka: Trump Vodka, with the slogan “Success distilled.” Hey, business is business.
For all I know Trump may in fact be a teetotaler. But if he is, he’s the kind of guy who gives a drug and alcohol free lifestyle a bad name.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.