Wesley Koswara | Staff Writer
I will confess, writing an opinion piece on the ideals behind President Trump’s proposed border wall was not high on my to-do list. Writing an opinion piece on politics in general these days seems like the journalistic equivalent of dousing myself in kerosene and handing matches out to a group of belligerent, politically-motivated arsonists. At the same time, being the meme-savvy internet survivalist that I am, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle spreading of several ideas about the current administration: namely, the comparisons between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler, and Trump’s border wall and the Berlin Wall.
At the urging of my lash-brandishing editors I have taken up the pen in an attempt to give an account of what to make of these unsettling accusations. I would say, firstly, that I am in no way a Trump supporter or against immigration—I simply dislike the idea of founding political thought on misconception.
Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, which would by Senator Mitch McConnell’s estimate cost somewhere between $12 billion and $15 billion, has been slated to run roughly half the border between the U.S. and Mexico— a little more than 1,000 miles. Trump has iterated and reiterated that Mexico itself would pay for the wall, the cost of which could run as high as $15 billion to $40 billion, according to articles from Politifact and NPR.
Alongside the countless internet memes, several prominent people have recalled the infamous Berlin Wall when mentioning Trump’s plans for the southern border. Senator Bob Menendez, MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid and Michael Müller, the mayor of Berlin himself, have all made passing comparisons.
“I appeal to the President of the United States not to go along this tortuous path of isolation and exclusion. Wherever such borders still exist today in Korea, in Cyprus, they create a lack of freedom and suffering,” Muller said in a press release.
After World War II, Berlin was divided into blocs controlled by different members of the Allied Powers. As time and distrust grew between the USSR and the West, and as defectors continued to flow from East to West due to Soviet-
induced conditions in East Berlin, a wall was constructed by the Soviets to assert the border between the two powers.
Superficially, these two walls share many similarities. Both attempt to control the movement of people over borders. Both separate two very different societies. Both groups of people are looking for a better life.
On the other hand, the differences are more pronounced. Walls already exist across different parts of the border. Mexico is not Soviet Germany. Legal immigration to the U.S. is a constant, ongoing process. The Berlin Wall artificially divided citizens of both the same nation and city, whereas Trump’s wall simply enforces the borders between two nations that have existed for around 150 years.
Journalists, writers, pundits and protesters have also loved the oft-illustrated comparison of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, one that is in my opinion not completely unfounded.
Ron Rosenbaum, author of a biography about Adolf Hitler, said that Trump’s playbook was “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s own autobiography. At the Emmy’s awards ceremony, “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway said that Trump was “otherizing” people to gain political power, just like Hitler did before the war. During the Women’s March on Washington, actor and activist Ashley Judd recited a 19-year-old’s poem that drew similar conclusions.
“…I didn’t know devils could be resurrected, but I feel Hitler in these streets. A mustache traded for a toupee. Nazis renamed the Cabinet. Electro-conversion therapy, the new gas chamber shaming the gay out of America, turning rainbows into suicide notes,” Judd said.
On one hand, the differences are obvious, as they should be. Hitler attempted a Jewish extermination—Trump claims to be fervently pro-Israel. Hitler made use of directed street violence both before and after his election, whereas Trump has done nothing more than allude to doing so. Whereas Trump is a capitalist, Hitler was a national socialist.
The similarities, on the other hand, are much more subtle. Because of this, I cannot help but feel they are that much more insidious, and speak towards the American people who elected him as much as to the man himself.
Both men share a certain rhetorical flavor. Hitler and Trump have pandered to a group of people feeling disenfranchised by the previous administration, an administration said to be thoroughly corrupt, self-absorbed and incompetent. Only their personal character, a character forged by years of struggle (caring only for the interests of the nation and never for themselves, mind you) could be the solution to the country’s problems.
Trump’s grand statements of building a big, beautiful wall, about him being the best, most and greatest at whatever he does and about his unique vision being the only solution speaks more to emotion and nationalism than reason, and reminds me of another leader whose speeches preyed on the exact same things.
In the humble opinion of a writer only mildly abreast of current politics, Donald Trump is not a catastrophe: he is a warning. He is a single step down a slippery slope that I fear most people fail to see. He is a demonstration of democracy’s fatal flaw: demagoguery.
While some things change, others stay the same. Whether America chooses to build walls or not, whether our president is republican or democrat, black, white or orange, the best defense democracy has against the self-serving leader is an intelligent, well-informed populace.