The media have been obsessed with asking the question, “If you could travel back in time, would you kill baby Adolf Hitler?” Not coincidentally, this thought experiment is being carried out at the same time people all over the political spectrum are comparing Donald Trump’s rise to power to Hitler’s.
If I were Trump, I’d be asking for more Secret Service agents in my protective detail.
When The New York Times Magazine asked readers last October if they could travel back in time, would they kill Hitler as an infant, 42 percent said “yes.” It didn’t take long before reporters were lobbing the same question to presidential candidates.
The Huffington Post posted a video of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush saying, “Hell, yeah, I would,” in response to the baby Hitler question. Antiabortion candidate Ben Carson was asked a variation of the question: Would he “abort” a baby Hitler? “I’m not in favor of aborting anyone,” Carson said.
Questions involving theoretical time travel don’t usually surface in presidential contests. Still, each cycle produces oddities and idiosyncrasies that are uniquely its own. In that sense, the baby Hitler question is no different than bizarre queries from past elections about the mythic NAFTA Superhighway or whether President Obama is really a Muslim.
Except, it turns out a lot of people actually do think Trump is Hitler.
Former Mexican president Vicente Fox said Trump “reminds me of Hitler.” Former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, said Trump’s plan to halt Muslim immigration is “the kind of rhetoric that allowed Hitler to move forward.” Conservative pundit Glenn Beck compared Trump to a young Hitler who “said the things people were thinking.”
After Trump asked people at his rallies to raise their hands to swear to vote for him, the press compared it to the “Heil Hitler” salute from Nazi Germany.
In March, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Hillary Clinton if the assassination of foreign leaders was ever justified.
“In the vast majority of cases, the answer is no. But, you know, there’s always the historical games you can play. If somebody could have assassinated Hitler before he took over Germany, would that have been a good thing or not?” Clinton asked.
Clinton didn’t answer her own question, but just a few days later, she appeared before the pro-Israel group AIPAC and drew a straight line between Trump’s divisive rhetoric on immigration and Muslims and the persecution of Jews in pre-WWII Europe.
“We’ve had dark chapters in our history before,” Clinton warned.
It’s hard to imagine anything more disingenuous than to play “historical games” about assassinating Hitler, and then the next minute to be drawing comparisons between Trump’s policies and what happened in Hitler’s Germany.
Last weekend, The New York Times, months after asking its readers if baby Hitler should be killed, published an article that linked Trump to — you guessed it! — Hitler. Among the “authorities” the newspaper quoted about Trump’s supposedly fascistic qualities: actor George Clooney and the comedian Louis C.K.
You may not like Trump or his policies, but he is not Hitler, and America in the 21st century is not the Weimar Republic. You can believe Trump is a bad candidate without likening him to a mass murderer. Doing so makes it seem like his opponents are unhinged, not Trump.
Not too long ago, Trump was denounced for encouraging his supporters to fight back against demonstrators at his rallies. It turns out he doesn’t own a monopoly on dangerous rhetoric. Comparing Trump to Hitler, while wondering if the world would be a better place if tyrants could be strangled in the crib, is an equally dangerous incitement to violence.
Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior adviser to Governor Mitt Romney.