Trump is Not Hitler, But That Doesn't Mean We Have to Like Him

Obama Hitler political sign

Donald Trump has been in the news lately for his plan to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the U.S. While this idea is not new and has even been implemented at various times in our history, it is certainly appalling to encounter it from a leading presidential candidate in 2015. It might be even worse to realize that someone can express this sentiment today and not lose most of their support overnight.

Trump's comments have understandably sparked widespread outrage. What is a bit more difficult to understand is how many atheists in my Twitter timeline I have observed making hyperbolic comparisons between Trump and Hitler.

I hope it is fairly obvious to most rational people that Trump is not Hitler. It isn't like he's calling for us the extermination of Muslims or even suggesting that we put people he doesn't like behind an electrified fence and let them "die out." And there is at least one distinction that seems to be getting lost amidst the outrage: Hitler was a dictator; the U.S. is not a dictatorship, and a President Trump would not have the power of a dictator. This raises an important question surprisingly few seem to be asking.

Suppose that Trump is our next president. Does this office give him the power to unilaterally bar Muslims (or any other group of people) from entering the U.S.?

Given that he would be a president and not a dictator, would he have the power to do this on his own without Congress and the courts? It seems unlikely. President Obama couldn't even manage to bring about single-payer health care (or take away our guns). Are we really supposed to think that President Trump could implement a religious test for entering the country all by himself? You know, just because he says he will do something does not necessarily mean he has any chance of actually accomplishing it. Or do you really think that he's going to get Mexico to pay for a wall along their border with us?

Is it possible that most people know that a President Trump would not be anywhere near as bad as Hitler was? I think so. Is it possible that most recognize that a President Trump would not have the power to implement this or many of his other hair-brained ideas? It seems likely. Then why do so many continue to demonize Trump in such exaggerated ways? Perhaps some on the political left are playing the same game of which they often accuse the political right: stoking fear among their base to increase voter turnout.

It seems to me that both the political left and the political right have been using this strategy for some time. It certainly isn't new. In the high-stakes game of politics, we are rarely content to rationally consider our opponent's ideas; we prefer to demonize them by turning them into an unrealistically threatening caricature. By doing so, we hope to scare people who don't especially care for our preferred candidate into voting for him or her to avoid the "evil" on the other side.

How about we field political candidates worth supporting, candidates who have good ideas to offer and who would make fine leaders? Wouldn't that be preferable to having to rely on demonizing the other side? Are appeals to fear really how we want to motivate voter turnout? Is this approach even working?

We have been hearing some bad ideas coming from Donald Trump. I'm not convinced that calling him Hitler is the best way to deal with these bad ideas. Fortunately, it is not our only option. I'd rather that we keep encouraging him to speak his mind. That way, there will be little doubt about what he thinks and what his supporters think. Once this sort of thing is out there for all to see, we can rebut it with reasoned argument, exposing the problems associated with his ideas.