Or rather, Hitler was not as we imagined him. He was not, single-handedly, the creator of Nazism. He was not in himself a military or political genius. He was a crank with all manner of food and medical obsessions and he made foolish strategic decisions, which may have lost Nazi Germany its war of conquest.
The popular image of Hitler is false, and part of why we have this false image is that we very much don’t want to admit that Hitler wasn’t all that special. Some of this is a hangover from wartime propaganda; it was simpler to paint Hitler as a monster than say that Nazism was a complex evil. After the war, it was easier to teach people of Hitler the evil genius than to acknowledge and engage the fascism that had existed in every other Western power.
Hitler was, perhaps, the voice of the German id, and this made him persuasive. The Nazi Party was the first major user of mass electronic communications to drive a people mad and the ground had been prepared for that madness by the German conservatives who were very much afraid of losing their wealth and titles. The people who fought the war and ran Nazi Germany were the people around him.
If Hitler wasn’t Hitler – if he was, perhaps, the “screaming little defective” that H. G. Wells called him – then perhaps Trump is more like Hitler than we want to admit. The focus of a mass movement, rather than its brilliant creator, orator, and leader. And, especially, we don’t want to look at the history of the movement he has come to lead. As David Neiwert observed in his excellent book Alt-America, the movement that supports Trump came from somewhere, and the news of it was scarcely reported.
The conservative anti-Trumpers don’t want to admit that; if they admitted that they would have to face their complicity. The Democratic leadership doesn’t want to admit that; if they admitted that they would have to admit that they failed to see and respond to the danger. The major media don’t want to admit that; they would have to admit they played a part in Trump’s rise to the Presidency. Besides, their owners are enjoying their tax cut. Some of the left doesn’t want to admit that; they are afraid of the horror and afraid they might have to act.
So here we are. The gates of hell are creaking open. What will we do?