OPINION | Media’s casual ‘Hitler’ slander of Trump harms struggle against hate


In the decades after V-E Day in 1945, there was no greater symbol of ultimate evil than the Swastika, no greater personification of the ultimate genocider than Adolf Hitler.

For the following seven decades on both sides of the Atlantic, Nazis — and now neo-Nazis — toiled to keep Hitler’s vision of The Final Solution alive. They were largely unsuccessful because most Europeans remembered the disaster of WWII brought on by Hitler — the conflagration that took the lives of tens of millions of people, including 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. And because Germany led the world by putting in place strict anti-Nazi laws against Hitler veneration as well as Holocaust Denial.

Yet for decades, anti-Semites in the Middle East have simultaneously denied that the Nazi Holocaust ever took place, while labeling Israelis as latter-day Nazis.

{mosads}Until recently, in the U.S. and other western democracies, neo-Nazis have had difficulty entering “respectable society” in politics and on campus, largely because the mainstream media blocked their unfiltered messages of hate.

Still in recent years, there has been wholesale co-opting of Nazi imagery — by both the left and the right — seeking to denigrate political opponents.  

Today, in the new age of global cyberspace, new generations of social media-savvy bigots bypass traditional media to recruit followers — especially the young — and denigrate minorities and scorn democratic values. And the images of Americans at war with each other and neo-Nazis marching on the streets of Charlottesville streamed live online and filled the 24/7 cable news networks.  

In wake of those violent clashes, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has been outspoken in criticizing President Trump for failing to make a laser-like distinction between white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and KKK marchers and those who opposed them on the streets of Charlottesville. The fact that there were violent Antifa activists also present in Charlottesville is no excuse for morally equating all sides or “many sides.”

Now, the cover of Germany’s Der Stern magazine likens President Trump to Hitler. The optics, and the message are wrong, offensive, and dangerous.

The Stern cover depicts a democratically elected American president doing a “Sieg Heil” salute while wrapped in an American flag. This cover is the culmination of an increasingly alarming trend using the Swastika and other Nazi symbols for partisan and ideological purposes that violate the boundaries of civilized, tolerant discourse.

There is no comparing the genocidal ideology of Nazism, which would complete Hitler’s vision for a Jew-free world — or the ideology of the white supremacist KKK that would marginalize or even eliminate all African Americans and Latinos in the U.S. — with those who oppose these anti-Semites and racists.

The Trump White House is fair game for serious criticism by the public and media at home and abroad. Most recently, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn has added his voice to the critical chorus. However, the depiction of the president as a latter-day Hitler whether by an aspiring American artist or a major German publication is untrue and beyond the pale.

The reason is this: Donald Trump is no Adolf Hitler, and no one knows that truth better than the German people do.

They know the Third Reich stands alone in the annals of human barbarity. By diminishing that truth for an emotionally-satisfying, cartoonish magazine cover arguing, in effect, “See, the Americans elected their own Hitler!” some of today’s Germans are demeaning and eroding the memory of the victims of the Nazis, and degrading the moral and historic message about evil that Swastika is supposed to impart to new generations.

Worst of all: The diminution and beclouding of the unspeakable crimes of the Nazi past actually help today’s extremists repackage sanitized versions of Nazism for clueless younger generations and ease the way for 21st century neo-Nazis seeking to reinvigorate the Hitler mystique that was on full display  during a torchlight parade at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The troubling truth is that the inappropriate depiction of a “seig-ing” President Trump failed to move the needle on the 24 hour news cycle. No editorials from leading American or German papers; nothing from Democrats or Republicans on Capitol Hill, nor from members of the German Bundestag. And precious little from pundits and social media activists who are never for a loss for words whenever Donald Trump tweets.  

Such silence only insures that card will be played again and again. And sure enough it has already happened. Patrice Cullors, Black Lives Matter co-founder told the Los Angeles Times“We wouldn’t as a movement take a seat at the table with Trump, because we wouldn’t have done that with Hitler. Trump is literally the epitome of evil, all the evils of this country.” 

The continuing roiling of our society by extremists who have co-opted our national stage presents a challenge that only Americans can address and hopefully resolve. Instead of painting the president of the U.S. as a ”seiging” fanatic, it would be better for today’s Germans to focus on the myriad of their own social challenges while continuing to reflect on the crushing weight of their own nation’s history. 

Rabbi Marvin Hier is dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of Social Action of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Adolf Hitler Adolf Hitler in popular culture Antisemitism Donald Trump Identity politics Nazi symbolism Neo-Nazism Simon Wiesenthal Swastika The Holocaust
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