As we move closer to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, I have been keeping track of the way that Americans are talking about the similarities of Trump and Adolf Hitler. Through these observations, a couple of principles have emerged.
First, the more outrageous Donald Trump’s statements and behavior becomes, the more frequent and vigorous Trump’s supporters objections to comparisons of their leader to Hitler become.
It’s a simple, but striking thing to me that didn’t occur to me until after the new edition of Trump and Hitler: A Responsible Consideration was sent out for publication:
Why, when Donald Trump himself is so crude and rude, do the people who support him become so outraged at the comparison of Trump to Hitler?
For the sake of considering this question, let’s put aside for a moment the matter of whether Donald Trump is truly similar to Adolf Hitler. What’s interesting to me in asking this question is that Trump supporters express outrage at the rudeness of comparing Trump to Hitler when Trump himself has made the willingness to offend people the core of his political identity.
Even the most ardent fans of Trump don’t refute that their leader is prone to violating the boundaries of what is typically considered to be proper, respectful political speech. Why, then, are they so vigorous in denouncing Trump’s critics for being rude and violating the boundaries of respectful political speech when they point out that Trump and Hitler share some characteristics?
It seems clear, given the contradiction at the heart of this phenomenon, that concerns about being polite aren’t the true cause of people’s objections to comparing Trump and Hitler.
This brings me to the second principle: The inverse relationship between A) The ability to coherently respond to comparisons of Trump and Hitler, and B) the vigor of objections asserting that Trump and Hitler is rude.
As a person’s ability to coherently respond to comparisons of Trump and Hitler increases, the vigor of their objections that comparing Trump and Hitler is rude decreases. In other words, the more vigorously a person states that comparing Trump and Hitler is unacceptably rude, the lower that person’s ability to respond in a coherent way to comparisons of Trump and Hitler happens to be.
In this relationship, I propose that the ability to respond coherently to comparisons of Trump and Hitler is the independent variable, and the vigor of objections to comparing Trump and Hitler is the dependent variable.
Causally, I don’t think that vigorous objections to comparing Trump and Hitler are the reason for people’s troubles coherently responding to comparisons of Trump and Hitler. On the contrary, I suspect that when people have difficulty articulating a coherent response to comparisons of Trump and Hitler, their anxiety increases as a result, leading to the psychological defense mechanism of accusing people who compare Trump to Hitler of being rude.
On the more positive side, when people are capable of constructing coherent responses to comparisons of Trump and Hitler, they are able to recognize nuances in the comparisons, and are able to remain relatively free of anxiety. Thus, they feel no psychological compulsion to defend themselves by claiming that the comparison of these two provocative politicians is for some reason impolite.