Trump Has Taken A Page Straight From The Hitler Playbook

28 January 2017. Author: Social Justice – Bruce Emmerling. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

by Steven Reisner

And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” ― Exodus 22:20

As a child, I lived in two worlds: the world that I shared with other kids on the streets of Brooklyn, and the world inside my house – a place of tension, strange stories, uncomfortable silences and sudden outbursts; a place where you never knew what would evoke rage and fear or what would trigger a horrific memory or what would turn light, empty talk into the subject of a dire warning. My parents were refugees who had escaped from Poland during the Second World War – and my family kitchen was, in a way, an outpost of the Holocaust.

 So, although I lived the privileged life of lower middle-class white America in the 60’s, I didn’t know it as a child. Because simultaneously, I lived in a world where friendship was determined by who I believed would hide me when the Nazis came to take us away; and where naiveté was represented by those who wouldn’t take these threats seriously or wouldn’t recognize when it was time to flee.

 This is why, when reading about what Donald Trump and his appointees are doing to our current immigrant population and to those seeking refuge, I can’t help but identify with the “aliens,” intuitively replacing the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Syrian refugee’ with ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish refugee.’ I instinctively transpose the language, for example, of Trump’s new Federal program, Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement, to Victims of Jewish Crime Engagement, just to feel what it would be like to be Trump’s target, and wondering, if it were written that way in newspaper headlines, whether it would change anyone’s consciousness of what is happening.

 This is not to say that Trump is preparing concentration camps or the mass extermination of Muslims. But it is to say that that I read Trump’s policy-making as borrowing a page from Hitler’s playbook, galvanizing populist support by mobilizing his followers’ sense of special suffering at the hands of a specific population of alien usurpers. And, by ‘Hitler’s playbook,’ I am not speaking in generalizations or euphemisms; I am referring to Hitler’s actual playbook, the 1920 25-point program of the Nationalist Socialist Party. Like Trump’s playbook, this plan identified aliens as a threat to national unity, responsible for the usurping of jobs and the weakening of “positive Christianity.” Here are excerpts from Hitler’s 25-points:

Only members of the nation may be citizens of the State. Only those of German blood… may be members of the nation. Accordingly, no Jew may be a member of the nation… Non-citizens may live in Germany only as guests and must be subject to laws for aliens… We demand that the State shall make it its primary duty to provide a livelihood for its citizens. If it should prove impossible to feed the entire population, foreign nationals (non-citizens) must be deported from the Reich…

My friends tell me that, as a child of Holocaust survivors, I am too sensitive to these issues, and I, too, have always been skeptical of the overuse of the Hitler card to criticize political hate-speech. But the vitriol of the language of used by the current administration, coupled with the skill with which Trump mobilizes this hatred, has changed this reticence, not only for me, but for other historians of the Holocaust.  

One of the stories that was frequently told in my house was the story of my mother’s father, a tailor who delayed my family’s deportation to Auschwitz from the Lodz ghetto, because he spoke German and made uniforms and other garments for the German elite. One day, a neighbor, who had escaped to the Soviet Union, returned to the ghetto to try and help his family escape and warn the Jews of what was happening. He told terrible stories of mass shootings of Jews at the hands of the Germans. My grandfather, who learned German as a young soldier in the German army during the First World War, refused to believe his stories. He told my mother that he had been treated very well in the military and that the Germans were a civilized people.

 For my mother, this was not simply a cautionary tale, but simultaneously a story about how her father, even in the ghetto, had not given up hope in others’ humanity. For me, it is a reminder that, sometimes, holding on to long is the greater threat. My grandfather, my grandmother, my aunt and two uncles died in Auschwitz as a direct result of the hatred of the foreigner, stoked by Hitler’s playbook.

 So when Trump stokes ethnic hatred by painting an immigrant ethnic group as criminals, rapists, and drug dealers (in much the same way that Nazi propaganda highlighted Jewish crimes); creates a special Office on Victims of Immigrant Crimes; and calls for a weekly report to “make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens,” it does not feel like a leap to harken back to Hitler’s creation of a special Office of Racial Policy, and the order from Hitler’s Minister of Justice that called on prosecutors to “forward a copy of every [criminal] indictment against a Jew to the ministry’s press division.”

 I play my language game very seriously because, as a Jew, I know that when one group is targeted, we must see all groups as targeted. As a Jew, I know that when bystanders ignore one outrage and then another and another, they become complicit and less likely to protest as time goes on. As a Jew, I know better than to confuse my current privilege with safety. And as a Jew, I know that when they come for the aliens, the Muslims, the Mexicans, when they come for the [fill in the blank], they come for me.

  Originally published on the Huffington Post, 04/09/2017 06:16 pm ET.

Steven Reisner is a psychoanalyst and founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and adviser on ethics and psychology for Physicians for Human Rights.

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7 Responses to Trump Has Taken A Page Straight From The Hitler Playbook

  1. Nancy Arvold says:

    I deeply appreciate Dr. Reisner’s personal story and read it as a very relevant cautionary tale. He is not being overly sensitive at all, as other friends who are survivors of the Holocaust also have sensitized me, a non-Jew.
    But I also believe that Trump, who is a dangerous fool, is only an icon, a terrible symbol and expression of the racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sensibility that has developed (or been retained under the surface) in the US.
    How the Germans became enamored of Hitler and became Nazis is an even more relevant story – disgruntled people who were discouraged and shamed by the results of WWI, and turned to the despot who promised to solve their problems. And a country that had been nationalistic for centuries and fearful of the “other” as so many Anglo-Europeans and white Europeans have been. It is a deep, spiritual, political, and socio-psychological collective pathology that drives us. The disconnected, individualistic, Capitalist, addictive, consuming, violent society we represent has deep historical roots – Gabor Mate calls it “the Hungry Ghost”. How we can heal it, I have no idea, except through deep re-connection, which I have no idea how to effect, except individually and in small groups and organizations that are open to opening their hearts and doing deep restorative work. And I do take actions such as joining my community in providing havens for people at risk of being deported, and standing up against racism and homophobia and transphobia in the well-meaning organizations I’m part of.
    In the meantime, I, as a relatively safe, older, white woman with sufficient means, but radical political beliefs and voice, need to recognize that they come for me, at least metaphorically, now, it is likely they will come for me actually if we don’t take radical actions at all levels to restore what has always been a spurious democracy in this country, based on fundamental systemically hypocrisy. Hopefully we will wake up to the larger danger.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thank you so much, Nancy, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comment on Steven’s emotionally, psychologically, and historically significant essay. Thank you also for reminding us of the deep roots of today’s deadly racism, not just in American soil but in European soil as well. Many political scientists argue that the European nations and the white settler nations that sprang from them will never enter another homicidal and suicidal war among themselves; however, their ancient imperialistic thirsts continue to nurture violence both within themselves (against minorities, immigrants, refugees, and others) and against other nations that they glibly and hypocritically label the “third world” or “developing world”–a part of the world with a legacy fostering their own destructive and self-destructive agendas. And while we are at it, we might well ask: Who made that part of the world “third” and kept it underdeveloped?
      Thank you also, Nancy, for sharing your personal efforts to resist the ominous threats to humanity in today’s world. I think joining with others who are sick of racism and violence and who recognize the dangers inherent in unbridled capitalism and its Siamese twin greed is one of the crucial steps toward righting the wrongs. Lead on.

  2. Tris says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful essay. It really touches me as Reisner writes that his grandfather still believes in the humanity in others. This reminds of the lecture I attended recently by Professor Jim Waller on how ordinary people commit genocide. I was impressed by his lecture that it is just people who are like me could have the potential to commit a massacre due to authority in the society, self-conception “it is wrong to not to kill”, and social construction of others. He talked about it is always “us” versus “them” and always the idea of “-ism” which categorize a group of people by their certain same feature and discriminate against this “-ism” group. The current atmosphere where it is “right” to discriminate against other groups under Trump’s authority is repeating the history. Just as Reisner’s last sentence, as an Asian, I also want to stand against any discrimination against any other groups.

  3. Barbara Malley says:

    Reading Nancy’s heart-rending essay made me literally sick to my stomach. Thank Heavens for the awareness she arouses of the evil and injustice that still exist in so-called civilized countries. Books have been written, movies have been filmed, but clearly we can’t let our guard down for a minute. Lead on, I say, echoing Kathie in her reply to Nancy’s comment, and join forces with right-minded citizens to fend off any attempts to carry out wicked agendas by the enemies of humanity.

  4. Dot Walsh says:

    This article was timely as many of the Jewish faith are honoring Passover. Steven Reisner’ and Nancy’s comments resonate with me. Interesting today that the White House Press Secretary became so confused about relating Hitler and Assad’s actions that he backed himself into a corner. It was hard to believe that he could have reported information so inaccurately unless he is totally overwhelmed. The other news that I learned today was that the man pulled off the United airline was not caucasian and thus could easily have become a target for the bullies that threw him off. And as if this was not enough I saw the footage of the young man who was beaten up for jaywalking. This is enough for one day. Time to reflect on all the people I know who are advocating for change in this regime in many different aspects. Thanks Kathie for doing what you do..I keep asking people to sign up for the newsletter. Hope it helps.

  5. Roberta F. Sprague, Founder & Director, A New Day, Inc. says:

    As I read Steven’s article I had a lot of flashbacks to my childhood during that period before, during and after WWII. My family was Christian but I could not understand why so many people condemned/hated Jews. I took on helping a Jewish girl in the second grade when the teacher made her cry every day. Since then I have known lots of Jews here in America, several who were survivors of the Holocaust. Many have become long time friends. I’ve been amazed at how so many other people have treated them just because they were of the Jewish religion. I’ve also had some excellent Muslim friends who lived by the original Koran and could not understand those who have become terrorists.
    I’ve seen so much hate for different populations of this country through my 84 years here and for no good reason. I believe there are only two kinds of people in the world — “Good” and “Bad.” It has nothing to do with race, country of origin, religion (unless their religion is Satanism), or sexual orientation. I also believe that the “Good” should help the “Bad” to change to “Good” if possible.

  6. AS says:

    As a woman of color and daughter of immigrants who grew up in a predominantly Jewish town, I can safely say that the Jewish community’s concerns spread to others of different faiths. My parents came to this country with little in their pockets, hoping to immerse themselves in the welcoming melting pot and live the American dream. My sister and I grew up balancing our South Asian customs and American habits seamlessly, switching between Hindi and English, and Christmas caroling with our school choir after attending a Hindu prayer service. As a 6-year-old, it was simple: my actions defined who I was — not my background. The fact that educated adults can’t understand that bewilders me. I’m sure Muslims, Jews, people of all color, creeds, and races reading this can relate in some way, and it saddens me to read things like this article:

    https://thinkprogress.org/the-trump-teams-history-of-flirting-with-holocaust-deniers-3660cfa1c1eb

    When my parents came to this country, they made friends with people of all colors knowing that this is America’s strength: its diversity. They knew that by the time their kids would grow up, America would be even more progressive than when they arrived in 1983. But are we moving backwards? Did we not learn from the Nazis? Where did exclusionary actions land us last time? Why am I reading about the White House’s “flirting” with Holocaust deniers, and more importantly, why is vocabulary like “flirting” even used, thereby framing it in a borderline-positive light?

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