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Alex Beam

Stop comparing Trump to Stalin

Protesters hold an image depicting (from left) Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and President Trump during a protest near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.Damon Higgins/Palm Beach Post/AP

I LOVED ARMANDO IANNUCCI’S movie, “The Death of Stalin,” perhaps the most improbable film comedy I’ve ever seen.

A brilliant mash-up of Dean Swift and the Three Stooges, “Stalin” — based on a graphic novel — cleaves to the depressing historical record of 1953. For instance, there were no able doctors left in Moscow to treat the failing Soviet dictator because he had imprisoned them all for participating in an imagined “Doctors’ Plot.”

Iannucci, who also created the darkly hilarious HBO series “Veep,” is a comic genius. Like any author or director, he has to market his movie, and what better way to score with the art house crowd than to invoke the “parallels” between Josef Stalin and Donald Trump.


“In the film, they talk about a false narrative, just as Trump was talking about false news,” Iannucci told Variety. “It’s just bizarre, this strange parallel.” Speaking to Vox, he added: “It’s a reminder that it’s not about the Constitution or some piece of paper; it’s about people and what they do or don’t do.”

He’s hardly alone. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright has climbed aboard the Timothy Snyder Trump-is-paving-the-way-to-fascism train with a new book, “Fascism: A Warning.” (Snyder is a Yale historian and best-selling author who is quite free and easy with Trump-as-Hitler “parallels.”)

People say crazy things about Donald Trump, some of them factual, some not. To start with the obvious, Josef Stalin murdered his political adversaries, murdered the Soviet officer corps during the lead-up to a world war, and is “credited” with the annihilation of millions of Soviet citizens — “bourgeois” farmers; fictional “oppositionists” of every stripe — more or less because he felt like it.

Donald Trump is many things: a liar, a bloviator, a golf cheater. But he is not a mass murderer.


It is true, as Iannucci, a British citizen, has said, that Trump “questions judges, defies democratic norms and attacks the press and any person or institution that challenges him.” But here’s where that piece of paper called the Constitution comes into play. It is possible to impeach a federal judge, but that is the job of the Senate, which confirms judges, not of the president, who is left to whine about their rulings.

Trump famously fulminated against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, he “of Mexican heritage,” but it turns out that “ticking off a man/child politician” is not an impeachable offense. Curiel remains active on the bench.

On another front, Trump loves to make wild claims about ballot irregularities, stating that “millions of people . . . voted illegally” in the 2016 presidential election. He briefly convened an Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity, which disbanded after nine months.

Trump thinks he can sway elections, campaigning in vain for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and more recently against Democrat Conor Lamb, who was running in a pro-Trump congressional district in Pennsylvania. Trump failed to relegate Lamb to the dustbin of history, and Pennsylvania certified Lamb’s victory last week, without a peep about voter fraud.

Stalin would have had Lamb shot.

You want to know what tyranny looks like? Starting this fall, Chinese high school students will be required to study “Xi Jinping thought,” the nominal philosophizing of China’s Communist Party leader-for-life. In a similar manner, institutes of Marxism-Leninism have masticated the profound thoughts of such intellectual giants as Mao Zedong, the Albanian strongman Enver Hoxha, and Josef Stalin.


Luckily we don’t have a nationalized school curriculum, so it will be a moment or two before “The Art of the Deal,” Trump’s ghostwritten 1987 song of himself, becomes required reading in schools.

Let’s despise Trump for his despicable qualities, not for grandly imagined “parallels” with the brutes of the past and present.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.