Germany in 1920 had many similarities to the United States in 2020:
- Both times were/are extraordinary. Voters were/are polarized between the left and the right, and centrist leaders struggled to stay in office. Germany in 1920 was far more polarized than the United States in 2020. Several German provinces had Soviet revolutions. A right-wing private army, the Freikorps, killed thousands of Reds. Street brawling between the left and right occurred nightly in cities across Germany. The recent unrest in Portland and Kenosha has been far less violent than the world Hitler lived in.
- Both times were/are extraordinary for the same reason: conservatives were discredited and lost control of the right, enabling the rise of right-wing populists. In 1914 Prussian conservatives, led by Kaiser Wilhelm II, started World War One (WWI). In 1918 Germany lost WWI. About two million German soldiers were killed and four million wounded. The German economy was destroyed and millions of Germans were unemployed, hungry, and cold. The conservatives, who were generally well-educated, affluent, and had been in positions of influence for generations, were discredited. Their place was taken on the right by populists, who were not educated or affluent. The 2007?2008 Great Recession was followed by a realization that the wealthy ?1%?, who are associated with conservative politics, had both caused the recession and benefited from it. Since 2008 economic disparity has increased in the United States, i.e., the rich are getting richer and the poor are becoming poorer. This discrediting of conservatism led to the 2016 conservative loss of control of the Republican Party, with conservative leaders being replaced by populists. While the pattern is similar, there is difference in degree: WWI was far more destructive than the Great Recession.
- The German right-wing populists, including Adolf Hitler, were dedicated to restoring Germany to its pre-WWI status as one of the leading nations of Europe, economically and culturally. Current American right-wing populists, including Donald Trump, promise to ?make America great again.?
- In 1920s Germany conservatives supported the right-wing populists on the belief that the conservatives could control business and industrial policies while the populists focused on popular conspiracy theories, such as international cabals of Jewish bankers and Freemasons, secret Catholic societies, and Russian control of German Communists. Since the 2016 election conservatives have made a similar deal with right-wing populists, who enthrall voters with wild theories about Mexican immigrants, Muslim terrorists, and Democratic pizzerias.
- Democracy was a new concept in Germany in the 1920s. The Nazis believed, correctly, that a small minority of fanatics could gain power over larger numbers of more or less indifferent voters. American democracy is far more firmly established, but the Republicans were able to gain the Presidency after losing the popular vote in 2000 and 2016. Republican-controlled state legislatures have used gerrymandering and changing voting laws to maintain control.
- A key step in the rise of the Nazis was the 1920 purchase of Munich?s Vlkischer Beobachter newspaper. The newspaper?s editor, Dietrich Eckart, a talented poet and playwright, used the newspaper to shape the ?Hitler Myth.? At first the newspaper was semi-weekly, with its subscribers reading other newspapers on other days. In 1923 the newspaper moved to daily editions, with Nazi supporters reading only the Vlkischer Beobachter, enabling the Nazis to shape their followers into fanatics. Donald Trump doesn?t own Fox News but their relationship is symbiotic. Cable news and social media algorithms enable Trump?s followers to live in a news bubble, shaping their views.
On a personal level, Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump have several similarities.
Hitler intentionally destroyed any inherent bureaucratic rationality in favour of an instrument devoted solely to propaganda, to upholding the ?idea? of National Socialism as embodied in the Leader. The intrinsic contradiction between ?leadership of people? (Menschenfhrung) and ?administration? (Verwaltung), which would be laid bare during the Third Reich, was, his memorandum plainly shows, inherent to Hitler?s conception of the party and approach to power. The untrammelled personalized form of power that he represented could not dispense with bureaucratic organization, but was nevertheless inimical to it. As long as the party existed only to attain power, the contradiction could be sustained. In government, it was a recipe for chaos. (Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1889?1936 Hubris (p. 404). W. W. Norton & Company.)
Adolf Hitler was not good at administration. His management style was to put off decisions, letting his subordinates fight among themselves, before finally making decisions. Donald Trump is also not good at administration and his management style is to foster a chaotic environment where he can make decisions without planning.
Both Hitler and Trump were masters of mass communication. Hitler mastered beer hall oration, then newspapers, and then the new medium of radio. Donald Trump mastered television and then was one of the first leaders to master Twitter and other social media.
In the 1920s poor Jews flooded into German cities from eastern Europe. Adolf Hitler rallied his followers with claims that these immigrants were taking jobs from Germans and that many of these immigrants were criminals and rapists. Donald Trump campaigned successfully with similar allegations about Mexican immigrants.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazi leadership were not religious and rallied their followers with hatred of Jews and Catholics. Donald Trump isn?t religious and rallies his followers with hatred of Muslims.
Adolf Hitler was obsessed with architecture. His paintings of buildings showed talent (but he couldn?t paint people). Donald Trump was a real estate developer before his careers in television and politics.
Adolf Hitler had Asperger?s, with poor social skills, singular obsessions with conspiracy theories, and an intolerance of anyone who disagreed with him. His deepest need was to be seen as a genius. Donald Trump has narcissism, with odd social skills, belief in conspiracy theories, and an intolerance of people who disagree with him. His deepest need is for admiration and support of his grandiose sense of self-importance.
The love of Donald Trump?s life is his daughter Ivanka. The love of Adolf Hitler?s life was his niece Geli Raubal.
And there are many differences.
Adolf Hitler had no interest in luxuries. From 1920 to 1929 he rented a small bedroom in an apartment. He loved cars but never learned to drive. He had no interest in golf or any other sport. His relationships with women, until he was 40, were from a distance and extremely immature. When he was 40 he met 17-year-old Eva Braun, and he kept their relationship secret until their deaths sixteen years later. He had no children, but loved dogs. He never had a job or worked a day in his life, and had no skill or interest in business. He was a vegetarian and maintained his weight.
Donald Trump is obsessed with luxuries. He was a hard-working businessman and actor before going into politics. He loves his children and enjoys golf. When he was in a relationship with Marla Maples he enjoyed their relationship being discussed in stories in the tabloids. He enjoys McDonald?s hamburgers and is overweight.
There may be one more similarity between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler: their intelligence, or lack thereof. Hitler?s mentor Dietrich Eckart created a myth that Hitler was a genius. In reality, Hitler had Asperger?s and was highly intelligent at some things and not intelligent about other things. Asperger?s is believed to be an inability for different areas of the brain to communicate with each other. Without the distractions or dampening effects of other brain areas, each brain area can be super smart. But people with Asperger?s tend to fail at everyday tasks because their brain areas fail to connect.
Donald Trump doesn?t have Asperger?s but he also seems to be very smart in some ways and not at all smart in other ways. Half the country sees him as highly intelligent, perhaps a genius, when the other half of the country thinks he?s the stupidest President we?ve ever had.
I?m not going to draw any conclusions about the intelligence of these two men. I?m just observing that both have unusual types of intelligence, and their followers and opponents disagree strongly about their intelligence levels.