Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Donald Trump and ‘Trumpism’ in relation to the rise of Hitler and Nazism

Joss Titcomb

When the importance of the study of history is questioned, perhaps the response most often turned to is that it is crucial to learn from the past in order to prevent a repetition of it. Central to this idea is using the past to examine more recent or ongoing events. With this in mind, this essay will consider the political success of Donald Trum p and the growing movement of ‘Trumpism’ following the 2016 presidential election in relation to rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany during the inter- war period. This is not a comparison of the two men, or their respective movements; the despicable actions of the Nazis, most notably the Holocaust, remain incomparable today. It is also not suggesting that continued growth of Trump’s movement will result in anything like what occurred in Germany under Nazi rule. Despite this, a number of similarities can be drawn from the two movements and their surrounding political situations, such as a growing lack of trust in democracy and its institutions as well as some of the tactics used by both men to gain and galvanize support. If, as this essay will suggest, there are some similarities in how Hitler and Trump rose to prominence and power, as well as other commonalities in terms of their leadership, then this raises further questions regarding the nature and security of democracy itself in America. The situation, both economic and cultural, of a country is a crucial component that must be examined when considering why a particular leader came to power. The rise of Hitler occurred during a period of major turbulence in German history: the inter-war period, in which Germany, as a newly formed democracy following the end of the First World War, was officially called the Weimar Republic. This was a period of political instability and violence as well as severe economic problems. Attempted coups, such as the P utsch led by Dr Wolfgang Kapp and even Hitler’s own Munich Beer Hall Putsch , may have failed in the early 1920s, but they contributed to a sense that the fledgling democracy was in constant danger; political violence was commonplace, with ‘gun battles, ass assinations, massacres and civil unrest [denying] Germans the stability in which a new democratic order could flourish’ – the war had both legitimized violence and desensitized the ordinary German to it (Evans, 2004). Meanwhile, economic disaster deepened, first with the crisis of hyperinflation in 1923, with increasingly high inflation exacerbated by the French occupation of the Ruhr – as Germany could no longer afford their reparations payments given the monetary depreciation (falling behind on deliveries of coal to the French) – and the subsequent German policy of passive resistance. The cost of a dollar in November 1921 was 263 marks, in January 1923 it was 17,000 marks, in July 1923 it was 353,000 marks, in September 1923 it was 98,860,000 marks, and by December of 1923 1 US Dollar cost 4,200,000,000,000 marks. While this terrifying period was followed by some (perceived) economic stability, the Great Depression of the early 1930s led to another economic collapse in Germany with huge unemployment (Evans, 2004). All this unfolded in a society which did not trust its democracy, as highlighted by the fact that ‘from 1920 onwards, [the three political parties associated with the new political system: the Social Democrats, the Centre Party and the German Democratic Party] were in a permanent minority in the Reichstag, outnumbered by deputies whose allegiances lay with the Republic’s enemies to the left and right’ (Evans, 2004). It is clear that political and economic turbulence hindered the newly formed


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