03.15.2017
  • United States

The Real Parallel Between Hitler and Trump

  • Corey Robin

Trump rose to financial and political power thanks to the systemic rot of the country's political economy.

Leo Prieto / Flickr

I’ve been reading David Cay Johnston’s excellent book The Making of Donald Trump. And without mentioning or even alluding to Hitler or fascism, the book raises an interesting — if unexpected — parallel about Trump’s and Hitler’s rise to power.

One of the themes in a lot of the historical scholarship about Germany in the 1920s and 1930s is how Hitler and the Nazis were able to take advantage of the systemic weaknesses of Weimar: the cracks in the political structure, the division among elites, the fissures in the parties, the holes in the Constitution, and so on. What Johnston narrates, in almost nauseating detail, is how Trump’s ascension to wealth and fame and power — long before he makes his 2016 run for the presidency — is dependent not on the weaknesses of the political system but on the systemic corruption of a rentier economy.

At every step, Trump benefits, almost haplessly (it seems to require very little art), from the built-in advantages to wealth and the wealthy in our society: whether those advantages are in the tax system, the regulatory system, or the courts. (Trump actually spoke of this quite often during his campaign.) And in the same way that Hitler preyed upon his opponents’ cluelessness in the face of his political rise, so does Trump profit from his opponents’ cluelessness in the face of his economic rise.

At every moment when Trump might have been stopped, when he might have been forced into bankruptcy, had his credit denied, had his loans called in, his licenses revoked, at every juncture where he might have been convicted of a crime or sent to jail — and, again, this is well before he makes his successful bid for the White House — some unplanned and unintended conspiracy of economic reason and political lowlifery mobilizes to protect him. (And it really is unplanned and unintended. The genius of the American system is how the Invisible Hand works to produce systemic vice rather than incidental virtue.)

Whether it’s gaming regulators who don’t want to take him on because hotel values in Atlantic City might suffer, or an investigation-happy attorney general who suddenly gets a well-timed campaign contribution, or judges upon judges who preside over settlements where records are permanently sealed and vital public information concealed, or bank officials and industry magnates who decide he’s too big to fail — and Johnston makes a fascinating comparison between the way the banks were treated in 2008 and the way that Trump has been treated for decades — this man’s rise to power has been predicated on all the most basic institutions and features of our economy.