There is a rich tradition of dumb comparisons to Adolf Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. This leads some to set aside these comparisons entirely. But there are certain circumstances where such comparisons are quite clearly useful for illustrating the gravity of the situation at hand: when mass atrocities are occurring, genocide or ethnic cleansing is being carried out, or vicious anti-Semitic tropes are being recycled, for instance. Republican presidential candidate (and frontrunner) Donald Trump is now toying with and openly embracing policies that naturally conjure up comparisons with the Nazis:
In an interview with Yahoo News, the Republican presidential candidate said the U.S. would have to “do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago,” and refused to rule out warrantless searches, registering Muslims in a national database, or even requiring them to carry a special form of identification.
In that interview, Trump didn’t explicitly say he favored such policies, but later in the day he doubled down, clarifying to NBC News that he would “certainly implement” a database system to track Muslims in the U.S., and more. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases,” he said.
When NBC repeatedly asked him to explain the difference between his proposal and the registration of Jews in Nazi Germany, Trump’s only answer was: “You tell me.”
The general prevalence of anti-refugee sentiment (specifically in regards to Syrian Muslims) has, in fact, led the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to release a statement:
Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis. While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.
The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group. It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.
That this has increasingly become a partisan issue speaks to the dysfunction of our political system. It may also reflect a growing Islamophobic ugliness in our society. Donald Trump has been immune from the normal laws of political gravity, rising higher in polls when seasoned analysts projected him to slide. We can only hope that Trump has finally miscalculated—that Republican voters will believe that he has crossed a serious line and punish him accordingly in the polls. This should be a wake-up call. Let us hope that the voters show that they still wish to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.