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Monday, 17 April 2017 11:17

History Lessons with Spicer's flub and comparing Trump, others to Hitler

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hitler spicerSean Spicer is not the only one who has gotten toasted for making a reference to Hitler with another historical figure.

Last week, the Donald Trump press secretary, foolishly stepped into an "embarrassment slop" by claiming that even the former German dictator did not use gas on its own people.  After entering the “oh, no zone”, he suddenly tried to correct himself by claiming that Adolph Hitler and Assad did not use poisonous gas "in the same way" against his own people.  He stepped into the mud even deeper by remarkably and nervously calling the infamous concentration camps, “Holocaust Centers”.

Thankfully, while he later apologized profusely for his absurd comments, perhaps the biggest mistake for him was his failure to follow history.

After all, one of the most virulent discussions coming out of this year’s elections was the debates over the parallels, if any, between the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of Adolph Hitler and Nazism.

In fact, I’m guilty of so engaging in such deliberations.

During the early months of the US presidential election, I began to note frightening similarities between the Weimer Republican of 1933 and America of 2016. Likewise, I saw interesting parallels between Hitler’s and Trump’s personalities and their respective advances to power.

When I first made references to the possible association, a staunch Trump supporter reminded me on Facebook the corollary to Godwin’s Law Internet adage, that goes, “ that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned Hitler has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress”.

Spicer’s mistake was not that he forgot Godwin but that his statement was so insensitive and comical due to the comparisons and his descriptions, that any lesson to be learned was obscured by the awkwardness involved. 

Still, outright shelving any and all connections between the past presidential election and the rise of the ascendance of the worst villain in history is froth with failures.  My overall references then--were and are still now--to compare the environments of the two nations as both men rose up the ranks of power. Of course, there are striking and obvious differences, but it is hard to deny some similarities too.   

Apparently, I was not alone in expressing concerns.  Throughout the election, it was difficult to spend any time on social media without colliding into one of the Trump-Hitler debates.  

We can argue whether any of the associations between the current world leader to the past world dictator deserves merit.  However, there is an underlying warning that should not be lost or clouded by the analogies--that is, the familiar George Santayana siren cry, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

One of those who is in the business of teaching the lessons of history is Yale Professor and author Timothy Snyder, who has written a book called  On Tyranny”-Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. 

An overview of the book, as presented on his website, notes:

“The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism.  Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

Earlier today, I learned about historian Dr. Snyder in viewing a short Youtube video that caught my eye due to the title Yale professor: Why it's useful to compare Trump to Hitler.  In the video promo, Snyder touches upon the recent tug-of-war contest surrounding Trump to Hitler (which presumably could equally apply to attempts to tie President Obama to the German dictator or the likes of Stalin or Mao, as some have tried to do).  That message is important. In the video, he notes  

“…One of the reasons we are lazy about history is, as soon as anyone suggests that the past might be useful then we say but “wait it's not exactly the same--and therefore i'm just going to discard it” and that way in two or three seconds we give ourselves an excuse not to think about history.  The premise of the book on tyranny is not that Hitler is just like Trump or that Trump is just like Hitler.  The premise is that Democratic Republic's usually fail and it's useful for us to see how they fail.  One of the ways that Democratic Republic's can fail is Germany in 1933.  There are plenty of other examples in the book also from the left wing by Czechoslovakia in 1948 becoming communist.  The point of the book is that these things really happened over and over again and that intelligent people no less intelligent than us experienced them and left a record for us to learn from.

So what I'm trying to do in the book is to help us to learn from that record so we don't have events like Germany 1933 or Czechoslovakia in 1948.  Just saying Hitler's not like Trump or Trump is not like Hitler isn't going to save us.  Learning from the past, though, could.”

I believe, it is hard to disagree.

I do understand that many Trump supporters might believe when others put Hitler and Trump in the same paragraph, the intent is to fearmonger and Trump-bash.  in today's political environment, it is hard not to accept ill-motives for making such a case. Yet, placing the two side by side also can be of great value, not only in observing likeliness but the finding the many obvious differences.

History, of any type, whether personal or global, offers us a front row seat to our collective successes and mistakes.  It would be a mistake for any of us to turn our eyes simply because we might not like to be blinded by any insights or outcomes that could come to light.

It would equally be of error to tag two historical men, facts or events for the primary purpose of being hurtful or for partisan purposes

The lesson for all of us to learn just might be deciphering the accuracies in comparisons as well as the intent of those drawing upon historical assessments. 

Last modified on Monday, 17 April 2017 12:01
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