Adolf Hitler carved out such a uniquely evil place for himself in history, it’s generally considered going overboard if you try to compare any modern political figure to him. After all, he illegally seized power, brought democracy to its knees, scapegoated groups of people, put them in concentration camps, and then began murdering them. It’s not as if any 21st century figure, no matter how corrupt or immoral, could ever get away with pulling that off – right?
In fact, in the seven decades since World War II, the United States has taken out the leaders of various smaller nations, under the premise that they had too much in common with Hitler. It’s set up a scenario in which no world leader could ever really get away with going “full Hitler” unless that leader was in charge of the United States to begin with. And of course that could never happen, because, well, we would never stand for it. Or so we thought.
Donald Trump entered politics by telling white people, in exact words, that all their problems and flaws were the fault of various groups of nonwhite people. From day one he scapegoated Mexicans and immigrants in the same way Hitler scapegoated the Jews. Then Trump illegally seized control of a democracy by secretly conspiring with the dictator of Russia, just as Hitler illegally seized control by burning down the Reichstag and blaming his enemies. Now we’ve learned that Trump has been rounding up Hispanic immigrants, separating the parents from their kids, and placing the kids in concentration camps.
Yes, concentration camps. Get used to saying those words as often and loudly as possible. Some will argue that these can’t be “concentration camps” because the kids are simply being housed, and not killed. But Hitler’s concentration camps didn’t start off as death camps either. First he rounded up the Jews and put them in the camps, then he gradually made the conditions so bad that they began dying, and then he began actively slaughtering them. Trump is following Hitler’s playbook in precise fashion, and he’s already reached the concentration camp phase.
The big difference here is that Adolf Hitler’s power and control were on the rise as he was putting his scapegoats in concentration camps. Donald Trump is weaker and more vulnerable than ever. His own top people are being arrested, and many of them have already testified against him. His own kids are facing criminal prosecution. Trump has shown that he has absolutely no idea how to stop the forces that are in the process of taking him down. He’s an overmatched weakling of a monster who can, and will, be ousted and imprisoned for the rest of his life.
But two things stand out here. First, how could we have let this happen in America, the land of the free? More than a century and a half after the Civil War, those same white supremacist antigovernment sentiments are clearly alive and well within the most deranged of American circles. Donald Trump figured out how to tap into that, and with a lot of help from Russia, he managed to seize power – even though his Hitler-like ambitions were on full display from day one. Millions of people still support him because they don’t see it, they don’t want to, or they don’t care. Even after Trump is ousted, we can never safely allow his supporters to play any meaningful role in society. What do we even do with these dangerous and inhuman monsters?
Second, we’re being painfully reminded that our Constitution is an overly simplistic centuries-old document, most of whose fundamental flaws never were fixed. Its framers didn’t foresee the rise of political parties, and thus couldn’t have predicted that the congressional majority would allow a criminal psychopath to remain in the White House for partisan reasons. Donald Trump will go down. But because our democracy isn’t built right, ousting him is a slow process. How much further will Trump take his Hitler-like ambitions before it all catches up to him and he’s ousted? And how will we explain to future generations that we allowed child concentration camps on our soil?
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report