Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Trump and Trumpism

democr acy and, as will be highlighted later, was therefore critical to Hitler’s success. The United States in 2016 was clearly not anywhere close to the dire straits Germany found itself in roughly 85 years earlier. However, Umbach (2016) argues that there was, and arguably remains, a sense that many Americans feel they have not been ‘winning’ for a long time, in a similar, but much less dramatic, way to Germans who faced drastic economic turbulence during the 1920s and 30s. This assertion is convincing, given the increasing wealth inequality that plagues the United States, with income inequality at its ‘highest level since the Census Bureau started tracking it more than five decades ago’ (Telford, 2018). In this way, the US – and its democratic structures – have failed to deliver. Umbach (2016) suggests this idea was one reason for Trump’s success, as it is democracy appearing to fail that leads to growing support for charismatic leaders, which Trump responded to – in a similar way to Hitler. But how did Trump do this, given dissatisfaction among the masses was not in itself enough to lead directly to his success in 2016? He had to position himself as someone who could solve what many Americans felt were the issues troubling them. Colasacco (2018) argues, referencing Roger Griffin, that while Trump is not a fascist, as to be so he would have to acquire power democratically before ‘perverting or dismantling the institutions of liberal democracy entirely’ (written before Trump’s denial of Biden’s victory and the subse quent invasion of the Capitol on January 6 th 2021, it should be noted), he does share certain commonalities with fascism – and with Hitler – , notably palingenetic ultranationalism: the idea of renewal or rebirth. This immediately provokes connotations with Trump’s infamous slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. Similarly, Hitler offered an end to the democracy – and those he referred to as the ‘November Criminals’ – who had ‘betrayed’ the country (Evans, 2004); in a way, he offered Germans an image or idea: a Germany made great again. To the analytical eye, however, this idea actually means very little, particularly in the case of Trump. What does it really mean to ‘Make America Great Again’? When was it at its greatest, and how was Trump going to transform the United States back to this state? These were questions that were arguably never really answered, which highlights how Trump favoured slogans over detailed policy. One example of this was his policy regarding the building of a wall on the US-Mexico border to stem the flow of migrants travelling to the US. Trump did not offer detailed plans on how the construction would be paid for and many questions were raised regarding its effectiveness (Benen, 2017). Umbach (2016) notes this, arguing that both Trump and Hitler use slogans over detailed policies. An example is the Nazi ‘Blood and Soil’ slogan, which drew together two key tenets of Nazi policy: a national body defined by race, and living space ( lebensraum ) (Wikipedia, 2022), without laying out how they intended to achieve these policy goals. Arguably, this combination of harking back to a time of greatness alongside populist slogans (admittedly a mainstay of wider politics) supported these men in their portrayal of themselves as strong leaders in tune with the people. This is supported by Umbach’s (201 6) argument that both men present their personal character and biographies as crucial to how they would govern. For example, Trump often referred to his supposed success as a businessman in order to present himself as a strong candidate for the Oval Office. Both Hitler and Trump are charismatic figures, offering ordinary citizens a sense that they are understood. This charisma was perhaps most clearly through the two men’s speeches: Hitler, at first in crowded beer halls, and then later at great rallies, railing against those he felt were to blame for Germany’s ills, and Trump, at his infamous campaign rallies. Another aspect of Trump often examined is his ‘cult of personality’, seen perhaps more clearly today, despite his loss in the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden, than when he first rose to political prominence and success. Following that election loss, Trump refused to admit defeat, claiming that the


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