Richard Evans: When you look at President Trump’s statements, I’m afraid you do see echoes, and they are very alarming. For example, the stigmatization of minorities. First of all, the Trump White House failed to mention the Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. And that is very worrying because the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews was not just a genocide; it had a special quality, because Hitler and the Nazis regarded the Jews as an existential threat to Germany. They used hyperbolic and exaggerated language about Jews. If the Jews were not killed, the Nazis said, they would destroy Germany completely, whereas other groups that the Nazis stigmatized, discriminated against, and indeed murdered, like the handicapped, were only to be gotten out of the way. If you look at the language the Trump team has been using about Islamic extremist jihadis, it is exactly the same: They are an existential threat to America. They will defeat, dominate, and destroy America. That is a very extreme kind of language and a very disturbing echo.
I think if you look at Hitler’s seizure of power, which happened between his appointment in January 1933 and the summer of 1933, it was achieved by two means. One is by legal, or pseudolegal, means, and there he had to rush legislation past the national parliament in order to give him supreme power to make laws. These laws included, in the end, setting up a one-party state, and also closing down oppositional newspapers, and so on. And of course Hitler’s propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, was an inveterate and incorrigible liar. He was an inventor of news. And he also was very strongly attacked in the liberal and left-wing press and threatened to shut it down, and in the end he actually did. Or he took it over.
The other one is violence on the streets. That is a particular characteristic of fascism and Nazism, after World War I had really got people used to violence and military bands roaming the street beating up their opponents. That is obviously not happening in America today. I think anyone who wanted to destroy America, American democracy, and American institutions is going to use the power of the state to do so. They won’t have their own private armies. That, I think, is a difference.
Again, if you look at the courts, that’s one of the most interesting aspects of what Trump has been doing. He clearly has a contempt for the courts and the law, which echoes that of the Nazis very, very clearly. The courts and the law enforcement agencies did stand up to Hitler. A very famous example is, later in 1933, the trial of the people who Hitler had alleged had burned down the Reichstag earlier in the year. The courts acquitted all but one of them, thus completely undermining Hitler’s claim that the communists started the fire. Hitler then bypassed the courts. He set up a parallel system of justice, the so-called special courts and the people’s courts. In the end, the courts knuckled under, but it was quite a fight.
Although I was surprised, reading your books, at how some courts kept independence longer than I would have thought.
Yes, some in the judiciary were conservative, but they did have respect for the law and institutions of the law, and for the constitution as well.
There has been a debate in the press and among progressives about whether, crudely speaking, the guy is a buffoon and crazy and has no plan, or whether he is canny and smart and has a real plan for authoritarianism. Was this debate similar to ones about Hitler, once he came to power?