The image that comes to mind at the mention of the Nazi party of Germany is usually connected to the atrocities they committed, or maybe the huge rallies featuring a screaming Adolf Hitler. It’s easy to forget that the movement spearheaded by Hitler didn’t just pop up out of nowhere in 1939, immediately prior to the invasion of Poland that kickstarted World War II.
Since Donald Trump’s political rise, many have compared him to Hitler, or his supporters to Nazis, connecting his rallies to the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg. When it was announced yesterday that Trump is reportedly planning a military parade and display of strength, lots of people hinted at the Nazi/dictator comparisons:
It's so fucking Nazi! America is so much more than military. (BTW, your caps-lock key is stuck)
Here's a pic of Putin's military parade 6 months before he took the American election for Trump in 2016. pic.twitter.com/NfgzaVhVK3
— Puesto Loco™ (@PuestoLoco) February 7, 2018
Ok this ? is getting scary! This smacks of a German Nazi style parade for Hitler. Oh the insanity!
Trump’s ‘marching orders’ to the Pentagon: Plan a grand military parade – The Washington Post https://t.co/h9IpwPpwmu
— Cat (@yeahunoeme) February 7, 2018
To be fair, the similarities are striking. But lots of dictators have had a flair for parades and gold-plated surroundings. So is the Nazi comparison as shallow as that?
The truth of the matter is that the extreme nationalism, racism, and eventual genocide in Nazi Germany was only possible because of the extensive groundwork laid by Nazi officials before the party was even completely in power.
The most troubling similarities between Trump and Hitler aren’t their mutual penchants for large and dramatic gatherings. To focus solely on that is to miss something much more insidious.
Before Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he created a well-oiled political machine. Much like other parties or factions of the era, they had meetings and planned strategy. They had guidelines and consistency. One of the most famous “successes” of the Nazi party was their ability to shape public opinion through various media.
If the Nazi party’s first slogan had been reflective of their actual goals (blaming Jews for the failures of Germany and then eliminating their presence in Europe), many German citizens would have been skeptical. The Nazi party would have been viewed as a dismissible extremist movement with no future.
Instead of being forthright, the propaganda arm of the Nazi party (let by Joseph Goebbels) had a much more intricate plan. Their methods of propaganda were integral to their success. In his poorly written 1925 manifesto, Hitler spoke about propaganda:
‘Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side.’
In fact, when Hitler joined the German Workers Party (which eventually changed its name to become the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi party), he was in charge of the propaganda apparatus.
In the time before his elevation to Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hitler and Goebbels were carefully creating the framework for the German people’s acceptance of the Third Reich.
To further their party, Nazi propagandists used two main methods: Talk about making Germany awesome again, and talk about the dangers sure to befall Germany should their opponents gain power.
“If we get tough and make the hard choices, we can make America a rich nation—and respected—once again.” – Time to Get Tough
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2013
Politicians are all talk and no action. Washington can only be fixed by an outsider. Let’s make America great again! http://t.co/jEgR6jSQ5J
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2015
A strong America creates opportunity and growth. We just need to change Washington. Let’s Make America Great Again! https://t.co/u25yI5T7E8
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 22, 2015
Mobilizing the German people into wanting to return their nation to its former glory was only half of the battle. Proclaiming the dream of a successful German state could be met with many responses. A German voter in the 1920s or 1930s may have thought that any number of the other political factions could create this German utopia.
This is why the second prong of propaganda was incredibly important. Demonizing opponents left the Nazis as the only solution. Goebbels expands on this idea in a 1931 article:
‘National Socialist propagandist is the teacher of the people. National Socialist propaganda is the art of teaching the people. Today we are in the opposition. The propaganda we carry out today will become practically organized and wide-ranging national education after we take power.’
The devolution into an authoritarian state was preceded by Hitler rooting out the disloyal, the “un-German”, the un-patriotic: Marxists, Jews, and the Social Democrats.
And it is this attack on the other legitimate political parties (such as Social Democrats) that is so eerily similar to the messages that Trump’s never-ending campaign for president:
‘The government’s parties say that we could join them, we could form a coalition. If we want to squeeze in, they can make room for us.
‘That is out of the question! We National Socialists have no desire to sit next to you, we want to get rid of you. You must make way for young Germany.’
This propaganda doesn’t just state that the oppositional parties are against the National Socialists (Nazis). No. To the Nazis, any other parties are the enemies of the German people:
‘They have spread the pestilential stench of their coalitions across Germany, and that is why these parties must vanish.
‘They have lost their right to exist over the past fourteen years. They were born to help the people, but they have become the people’s greatest enemy.’
Within this context, the new video that Trump’s campaign (you read that correctly, his campaign never ceased operations after his election) released to attack opposing parties is more frightening than the idea of Trump wanting to throw himself a parade party:
What is truly disgraceful is the outright propaganda contained in this ad.
Democrats not clapping for Trump’s misrepresentations and distortions of truth are not unprecedented:
Which makes the new Trump ad not only distasteful propaganda, but dishonest propaganda at that.
Featured image: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty