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Hitler’s Visage in Trump’s Shadow

IT SHOULD COME AS NO SURPRISE that Donald Trump, fearful of defeat in the upcoming November election, would seek to emulate Adolf Hitler’s strong-arm tactics which swept over Germany during the 1930s.

While considerable differences pertain between Hitler’s campaign of national socialism and Trump’s present Republican rule, at their core the two personalities bear an essential likeness — as pathological authoritarians.

Trump is the sociopathic bully who having been bullied in childhood by a sociopathic father now bullies his way across America, taking his cues from “strongmen” like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and the long shadow of Hitler who bullied his way across the Rhineland and Europe.

The late Austrian-American psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut wrote of Hitler’s pathology: “The core of the self, except for one nucleus of infantile grandiosity, is lost. . . It never acquires the capacity for modulated empathy with others. Such a personality is characterized by a near-total absence of compassion, except where total identification is concerned, when the ‘other’ is totally experienced as part of the self.”¹

Kohut continued: “Narcissistic leader figures of this type experience the social surroundings as a part of themselves. The mere fact that other groups, nationalities, or races are different from themselves and do not react as they expect them to react is a deep personal afront, a frightening, inimical disturbance of their solipsistic universe. The situation can only be remedied by wiping out those who dare to be different.”²

Hitler’s attempt at a core cure for his severely diseased and hollow inner self was to turn his infantile grandiosity outwardly into that of a predator who bolstered his tormented, fragmented, and fragile ego by inflicting pain, suffering, and destruction upon the world. This is what dangerous sociopaths do when exercising undeterred power that becomes the face of evil. They take delight in declaring, as Trump repeatedly did in his own notorious words, “You’re fired!”

It is apparent that Trump’s currently militarized political strategy represents more of the same pathology, yet to a greater degree. To further empower his decrepit ego, he is now saying, in effect: You’re fired upon!

Literally so. Witness the recent onslaught of his version of Hitler’s storm troops in DC’s Lafayette Square, and once again their surreptitious appearance on the streets of Portland, Oregon, firing upon, rounding up, and secretly whisking people away.

The archetypal sociopath, being incapable of empathic up-building of the social order, tears down and destroys it under the pretense of quelling violence by begetting violence. He projects his own internal weakness upon the body politic by ramping up his paranoid culture war into a hot war foisted upon his perceived enemies, which makes him feel strong.

Trump’s enemies are immigrants, people of color, ethnic minorities, Democratic governors and mayors, administrative officials standing up to him by testifying to his malfeasance in office, and those he can self-servingly, even fictitiously classify as “anarchists.” To the latter he can assign blame for civil protest as the occasion to justify imposing draconian measures upon citizen and politician alike who dare to oppose him.

Beneath Trump’s conscious surface, the slogan “make America great again” is really about Trump’s lifelong escapade to make an enfeebled Trump feel great again. It is about his vaunted “Trump Tower” persona and his grandiose struggle against the inner demons of nothingness that for decades have possessed his soul.

Under the banner of law and order, he takes aim at his foes as “criminals” while flagrantly flaunting the powers of the presidency as one who himself deigns to act lawlessly. This fits Hitler’s ploy “to a T.”

In the Führer’s malicious mind, the downward spiral commenced with the branding of Jews as unfit for Germany. In Trump’s demented thinking, the perilous descent began with targeting refugees and asylum-seekers as “illegals”, many of whom now languish in detention camps. The consequence is that citizens and non-citizens of diverse stripe and color have already paid a steep price for Trump’s perfidy.

As Trump unleashes his dark forces upon people gathered in the streets of American cities, exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly, he singles out the relative few who turn to violence and looting as his ruse for taking aim at all who raise their voices in protest.

Parenthetically, as reported, his campaign ads now employ neo-Nazi symbols, including the red triangle with which Hitler stigmatized communists, socialists, trade unionists, and various political prisoners for extinction in Hitler’s concentration camps. As William Faulkner correctly said in “Requiem for a Nun,” “The past is never dead. It is not even past.”

The “surge of federal law enforcement” into cities like Portland, Chicago, and Albuquerque reveals a silhouette. It is the visage of Hitler’s “Sturm and Drang” appearing in the shadow of Trump’s strike forces. Whenever uninvited secret agents and storm troops swarm the landscape of a democracy, they spell not its preservation but its desecration and destruction. Such is the initial phase of Trump’s undeclared declaration of his civil war, with which he seeks to save his presidency.

Not to be overlooked is the pathetic feebleness of the obsequious Republican Party mirroring Trump’s diseased self and ennobling his sociopathology. Dictators cannot dictate apart from the dictator’s willing accomplices. Their complicity, voiced or silent, grants permission.

The consequence? America has reached a tipping point that calls, throughout all segments of society, for non-violent resistance to the strong-arm antics that Trump instinctually crafts from Hitler’s playbook. The nation’s houses of worship, alongside the general populace, must summon the prophetic courage to take their stand as the vanguard of an unflinching resolve to resist the wiles of this devil in our midst, lest the impenetrable night come when it is too late.

The German journalist Sebastian Haffner, who lived through Hitler’s reign of terror and escaped in the nick of time to write about it, put it succinctly: “The devil has many nets, crude ones for crude souls, finer ones for finer souls.”³ Those who cling to the denial that something so terrible cannot happen in America have one foot already ensnared in the webbing while others willingly carry the nets.

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¹Heinz Kohut, Self Psychology and the Humanities (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985), 90–2.
²Ibid., 54.
³Sebastian Haffner, Defying Hitler: A Memoir (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 200.

This essay was published in Vox Populi on August 2, 2020.

COPYRIGHT © 2020 – CHARLES DAVIDSON – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Charles Davidson is a retired Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling. He is the editor of George Buttrick’s Guide to Preaching the Gospel (Abingdon Press) and the author of Bone, Dead and Rising: Vincent van Gogh and the Self Before God (Cascade Books).