Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Is Trump intuitive or has he learned from Hitler?

By Wayne Getz

In The Death of Democracy, Benjamin Carter Hett (Henry Holt, First Edition, 2018, pages 38 and 39) writes:

ADOLF HITLER LIED all the time. Yet he also said clearly what he was doing and what he planned to do. This is the essential paradox of Adolf Hitler.

We can see this paradox at work in the memories of people who were close to Hitler. Hans Frank, later Hitler's lawyer and governor of occupied Poland, remembered that when he first heard Hitler speak in 1920, he felt that "here was someone who meant what he said, who didn't want to convince you of anything he didn't believe entirely himself." While working as a reporter in Munich, Konrad Heiden, a Social Democratic journalist and Hitler's first important biographer, witnessed Hitler speaking many times. "At the highpoints of his speeches, "Heiden wrote, "he is seduced by himself, and whether he is speaking the purest truth or the fattest lies, what he says is, in that moment, so completely the expression of his being ... that even from the lie an aura of authenticity floods over the listener." On the other hand, Hitler's finance minister, Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk, observed, "He wasn't even honest towards his most intimate confidants .... In my opinion, he was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth."

In Mein Kampf, Hitler addresses his lack of candor with remarkable candor. The less honest a political message, Hitler wrote, the better. Politicians went wrong when they told small and insignificant lies. The small lie could easily be discovered, and then the politician's credibility would be ruined. Better by far to tell "the big lie." Why? In "the greatness of the lie there is always a certain element of credibility," Hitler explains, "because the broad masses of a people can be more easily corrupted in the deeper reaches of their hearts" than consciously or deliberately. "In the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves sometimes lie about small things but would be too ashamed of lies that were too big."

These primitive and simple people would never think to make up "colossal untruths," and they could not imagine that other people might do so. Facts didn't matter at all. "Even when presented with the true facts (ja selbst bei Aufklaerung), "these ordinary people"  will still doubt and waver and will continue to take at least some of [the lie] to be true. For the most impudent lie always leaves something lingering behind it, a fact which is known only too well to all great expert liars in this world."

Hitler's argument then took a curious turn. Having just advocated the telling of huge lies for political gain, he blamed the people he imagined to be his main enemies for being the real liars. "From time immemorial," he wrote, "the greatest experts on the possibilities for the application of untruths and slanders were the Jews." The great philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, said Hitler, had called "the Jew" "the Great Master of Lies." If you did not realize the "truth" of Schopenhauer's insight, or if you did "not wish to believe it," you would "never be able to lend a hand in helping Truth to prevail." What truth it was you might be helping to prevail, which you would presumably do by telling lies yourself, remained unclear.

In Trump, do we have an eerie convergence of Hitler's crowd manipulation strategies, or has Trump studied Mein Kampf?

I can only say from what I have heard of Trump's reading habits that it is likely the former.

(I was motivated to post this blog as a response to Trump's proto-facist behavior over the past two years, and I dedicate it to the memory of those members of my family who died in the Holocaust.)