On many occasions in recent years, the Anti-Defamation League I lead has spoken out as politicians, celebrities and other public figures tried making a point about a controversial subject by invoking the Holocaust. The analogy has shown up inappropriately in countless discussions of public policy because it is the most available historical event illustrating right versus wrong.
Abortion? It was said to be an “ongoing Holocaust.” Iran’s nuclear program? A Holocaust in the making. Gun control? The Holocaust could have been prevented if Jews had had guns. Muslim extremists? They are Nazis. In each and every case, we argued that whatever the justice of the cause, it was wrong to appropriate the Holocaust.
Misplaced comparisons trivialize this unique tragedy in human history — particularly when public figures invoke the Holocaust in an effort to score political points.
Now, in the high political season, the analogy to Adolf Hitler is again in the air. It is appearing from sources both on the left and the right who seek to criticize Donald Trump. The United States circa 2016 is Germany in the 1930s, they say.
Those exercising the impulse to equate Trump with Hitler have ranged from liberal comedian Bill Maher to right-wing commentator Glenn Beck to comedian Louis C.K. All are likening Trump to the Führer .
When Trump asked supporters at a rally to raise their hands, some saw shades of Nazis heiling Hitler. Most recently, comedian Sarah Silverman appeared on Conan O’Brien’s late-night show dressed as the Führer himself.
As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, I’m sorry that this needs to be said, but: Although the candidate has said a number of disgusting things, the comparison to Hitler is far too facile — so facile that it is dangerous.
It is important to remember that by 1924, Adolf Hitler was the author of “Mein Kampf,” a maniacal blueprint for seizing power in Germany. Regardless of the debates over whether Hitler foreshadowed the Final Solution in his manifesto, Hitler laid out a scathing case against the Jews. He blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I and accused them of poisoning the German body politic. It was all there.
Hitler proceeded to create paramilitary forces that attacked Jews even before he gained power. And, of course, once he gained power, he quickly closed down all opposition, allowing him to implement his brutal, all-encompassing anti-Jewish policy, culminating in the near extermination of Europe’s Jewish population.
That our society is legitimately asking ourselves the question, “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” is in itself a troubling sign. But the best approach is not flip comparisons, but fact-based investigations.
One does not have to be Hitler — or even Benito Mussolini — to be a very troubling American political figure. Trump has made a series of truly disturbing comments and behaviors during his campaign: His demonization of illegal immigrants, his call to bar all Muslims from entering the country, his reticence to denounce America’s most prominent white supremacist and his encouragement of violence against peaceful opposition voices.
We have called out all these statements because the ideas behind the words are so troubling.
But while Trump’s stereotyping and bullying are truly troubling, he is not Hitler. He lacks an all-encompassing ideology like Hitler; he commands no paramilitary force like Hitler. He has no organizing principle like Hitler’s anti-Semitism. He has no genocidal ambitions.
The candidate’s ideas need to be called what they are: bigoted, revolting and simply un-American. It is this behavior that we hope candidates and all people regardless of their political affiliation call out at every instance. It is time that this campaign shift from reckless name-calling toward a responsible discussion of the issues and the future of our country.