Menlo Park: History professors discuss Trump and Hitler comparison


About 35 people came to Kepler's Books in Menlo Park on March 23 for an hour of conversation with radio veteran Angie Coiro and two history professors on comparing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to the German despot Adolph Hitler.

Critics of this discussion are "afraid we are diminishing the importance of one of the greatest horrors of modern times," Ms. Coiro said. "What we're doing here today is (a) serious and respectful (look) at the parallels between the rise of Hitler and the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the forefront of the American Republican Party."

Ms. Coiro's program, "In Deep," is recorded live at Kepler's and airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on radio station KALW (at 91.7 FM).

Go to for information on how to hear programs online.

Her guests were Edith Sheffer, assistant professor of modern European history and German studies at Stanford University, and Charles Postel, associate professor of history at San Francisco State University, where he focuses on political thought and social movements, and teaches a course on American exceptionalism.

The economically dispossessed were part of Hitler's audience, as they are of Mr. Trump's, but Hitler's popularity was a "big tent" movement, as is Mr. Trump's, Ms. Sheffer said. Nazism succeeded, she said, because it cut across social cleavages such as religion, gender, class, and urban versus rural.

"To listen to (Mr. Trump's) speeches, you would think that we are on the verge of calamity," she said. "The sense of national demise is really there." His remedies – xenophobia and deportation – and his habit of citing his poll numbers and the size of his rallies, feed into his myth-making enterprise, she said.

"If you read his speeches, you get a sense of magical thinking: anything is possible," Ms. Sheffer said. "We can make America great again. It is possible to deport 11 million, 12 million Mexicans; it is possible to ban Muslims."

A candidate who projects a mythical image without specific policies can create a blank slate onto which people will project what they agree with and dismiss what they disagree with, she said. Hitler did that with anti-Semitism, winning over people who thought he would discard those views once in office, she said.

Political violence at rallies is also something the two men have in common, Ms. Sheffer said. The violence at Hitler's rallies "was very much a dramatization, as we're beginning to see at Trump rallies," she said. "I definitely see parallels with the climate of political violence that then escalated in Weimar Germany, and how, ironically, this fed ... Hitler's image of law and order, and how, ironically, these protests are feeding into a Trump image of law and order. The strong man."

Racial coding

"We have, in this country, a long history of racially charged and xenophobic politics," Mr. Postel said. "It didn't start with Trump, and it's been concentrated in the Republican Party over the last 20 or 30 years (and the party) is giving voice to this in ways that it has never done before, in more brutal forms than it's ever done before."

"There's this notion that every opponent is a traitor, someone trying to destroy the country," Mr. Postel said. "And if you really believe that a supporter of Barack Obama is an enemy of the United States, trying to hand the country over to Muslims, why shouldn't you beat them up? You should beat them up."

An important difference: Mr. Trump is using rhetoric, whereas Hitler used thugs, Mr. Postel said.

Hitler arose after a devastating war and national humiliation, with millions out of work. That's not the case today, Mr. Postel said, not with 72 months of job growth. "Yes, incomes have been flat for a long time (but) that's not what's going on here," he said. "This is a tapping of racial and other resentments."

Ms. Coiro asked about the ability of a politician to "speak to two sides of the street at the same time."

"In terms of racial politics, I think a good example would be Ronald Reagan, who was an expert at racially coding things," Mr. Postel said. "He knew how to signal racism, but always with a smile and always with complete deniability."

Mr. Reagan was also an expert at ridiculing the media, saying it was biased and not to be believed, Mr. Postel said. "But he did it in sort of a kind and joking way. Trump actually does the same, but uses violent language against the media and makes jokes about actually murdering journalists," he said. "It has the same deniability."

Among Trump's supporters, "the only thing that's not diverse about them is their skin color. It's white people, it's mainly white people," Mr. Postel said. "Trump is relatively adept at appealing to people who are upset with the trade deals," he added. "His basic appeal, though, is race. ... He puts deporting the Mexicans and building the wall at the center of every campaign speech, and I think there's a reason for that. That is the basis of the appeal. People are voting for him on that basis."

If Trump's supporters think the life of the country is at stake, they may well think they have to take out black protesters and Mexicans and Muslims, Ms. Coiro said, then asked whether we can learn from history and get people to question their views.

"Political combat has always been tough, it's always been ugly, it's always been hard fought," Mr. Postel said. "There's no reason to think that's going to end. (But) we cannot have one of our major political parties be a party of white resentment and white power and xenophobia. We have a majority of these people controlling state legislatures across this country, and I don't consider Trump an outlier. ... Trump may not win, but we are going to have this banging on our door until this is solved."


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8 people like this
Posted by Hopenchange
a resident of Laurel School
on Mar 30, 2016 at 12:36 pm

"A candidate who projects a mythical image without specific policies can create a blank slate onto which people will project what they agree with and dismiss what they disagree with, she said."

This can work! This was pretty much the same strategy employed by Barack Obama — known back then as the "Light Worker" to some of his supporters — during his successful run for the presidency in 2008.

31 people like this
Posted by Trumpnchange
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 30, 2016 at 4:14 pm

poor Hopenchange

Still can't get over a moderate Democrat twice laying waste to Republican candidates in an electoral landslide, the first by 10 million votes, the 2nd by 5 million votes. And it's about to happen again. Poor fella. This will be worse, though - a woman!

Trump pens up the media in one section in his appearances, mostly so their cameras won't show his profile (oh, the vanity!) Seriously though, the fear that Trump sells, the racial dogwhistles, etc.. make a valid comparison.

And when Trump mentions specifics, they are horrid! He has said three times that Saudi Arabia should have nukes. Going to be interesting when even Netanyahu comes out for a Democrat, just to protect the state of Israel!

A madman. Web Link

Also: Trump - the very definition of a ChickenHawk.

33 people like this
Posted by InDerFuerhersFace
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2016 at 4:48 pm

One thing I recall seeing over and over when reading about how
Hitler came to power, which was not all at once, is that it was said
at the time that the animal natures of men were encouraged.

I see this parallel for a long time in the US. People are more rude,
very unkind. Helping anyone but yourself is ridicules. Success
by cheating or crime is tolerated. Inequality abounds.

The comparison of how Trump either is taking advantage of these
social forces or just being supported by them seems very
appropriate to me.

The conversation is very important as a matter of fact. But I do have
a question ... which is, what are we supposed to do if we find ourselves
convinced that we are following in the same path or history repeating

Like this comment
Posted by Insulting Hitler
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Evidently: Hitler never bankrupted shell corporations to steal from creditors. Hitler actually knew the issues facing his country. Hitler did not really think he was part of a superior race. Hitler did not change parties and political positions to con the masses. Hitler was a deranged mass murderer but not nearly as devious and dangerous as the Donald.

10 people like this
Posted by Hopenchange
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 31, 2016 at 8:03 am

Every Republican Presidential nominee since 1960 has been compared to Hitler by the press and/or academics. It goes with the territory.

If Ohio governor John Kasich (who is to the left of Mrs Clinton on some issues) should get the nomination, he will certainly be compared to Hitler in the fall campaign.

4 people like this
Posted by Trumpnchange
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 31, 2016 at 9:29 am

"Every Republican Presidential nominee since 1960 has been compared"

Perhaps. I don't recall GWB (pre-election) being called that, only afterwards when he condoned torture, invaded countries under false pretenses, etc..

Yes, those dastardly Libruls are awful. Look what those Libs did to Obama, drawing Hitler mustaches on his photo, calling him Stalin, a radical Christian AND a confirmed communist radical muslim.

Oh, wait...

Yes, better to attack Libruls than try to defend the leader of the GOP, Donald Trump, who now wants to use nukes, and jail women who require their constitutionally protected right to abortion.

Wow, that has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?

-> the leader of the GOP, Donald Trump

Let me be the first to thank our poster above, and The Donald, for gift wrapping the Senate. We appreciate it! And now let's talk about the House....

Like this comment
Posted by Crowded Table
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 1, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Cruz is the worst candidate ever - even GOP senators joke about murdering him. A truly reprehensible PERSON. He cheats at every chance. Using that nude photo of Trump wive 4 was despicable. Typical Cruz. Cruz fits the subject of every lawyer joke created.

Trump is the joke candidate that caught lighting in a bottle because GOP voters are revolting. against the politician elites.

1 person likes this
Posted by green pimpernel
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 1, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Couldn't one prof have disagreed? Not only did the story take up half a page, it was plugged on the front page. Among other things, Trump is admonished for saying the media "is biased." While I don't agree with Trump on anything else, I think he might be right on this. This story is more proof. Can I expect a similar Kepler's panel on Bernie Sanders? After all, Hitler was a National Socialist.

2 people like this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2016 at 4:15 pm

green pimpernel -- "Can I expect a similar Kepler's panel on Bernie Sanders? After all, Hitler was a National Socialist."

1) A MASSIVE violation of Godwin's Law.

2) There is a huge difference between socialism and National Socialism. I strongly suggest that you read Sir Ian Kershaw's work on Hitler, so that you can get the difference.

1 person likes this
Posted by Backbar
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 1, 2016 at 7:32 pm

Couldn't believe that when I read it. National socilism and democratic socialism. Our schools have failed.

1 person likes this
Posted by just curious,
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 11:48 pm

Just curious if Hitler doubled the National Debt in 8 years...

Really folks 20 Trillion dollars as Oboma waves good bye

5 people like this
Posted by Katy
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 2, 2016 at 11:16 am

Obama inherited Bush's trillion dollar deficit and has cut it in half. More deficit reduction than any Republican.


Bush gave Obama monthly job losses of 800,000. Obama has given us 70 months of positive job growth.

All while being obstructed by the GOP.

What is the GOPs job plan, that doesn't include tax cuts for billionaires?

Obama is a great president. Especially compared to any Republican. Recall that REAGAN tripled our debt.

Reagan TRIPLED the DEBT.


Sorry for making your head hurt.

Like this comment
Posted by green pimpernel
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 2, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Troll: Re Godwin: the profs broke it first. Just finished "Rise and Fall" again. Suggest you try it. My remark was in jest, but I do see similarities, particularly the strong backing by youth and the going after capitalists. I thought anyone with a sense of humor would have realized I was being flip. I concede I was insensitive, forgetting that Sanders is Jewish. Besides, my target was the media. Read the post again.

Like this comment
Posted by InDerFuerhersFace
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2016 at 7:29 pm

Uh, just because someone mentions Hitler or Nazi Germany is no reason
to say they lost a debate. Somehow we Americans love to charge towards
a Twilight Zone direction where logic and rationality have no influence and
say and point to things that have more emotional associations than facts.
I really hope we learn to do better than this.

It depends totally on what is being argued, and the idea to call what was
put out there as a joke, ie Godwin's Law, a law, and further, the idea to
invoke it like it really is a law or it really makes sense ... is simply beyond foolish.
No wonder we are hearing grumbling that schools want to get rid of algebra.
We desperately need to learn abstract rational thinking, but we get very
few examples of it in our lives or our media any longer.

1 person likes this
Posted by InDerFuerhersFace
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2016 at 7:35 pm

... and by the way, anyone who is serious described Bernie Sanders as an FDR New Deal Democrat.

Bernie's interpretation of socialism has no, nothing, zero elements of state ownership of industry.

Actually even that has worked for many CAPITALIST countries including Singapore and South Korea
and even Japan when the state wants to support an industry that is facing impossible competition
from abroad, uh ... like most of our manufacturing in the US is at this point.

The point is, Bernie is for the American people and giving them as much support as we do corporations
and billionaires, maybe more considering the past 30 years.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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