“Hitler was democratically elected” (1975- ) is something you hear, at least in the US, at least since the 1970s. Strictly speaking it is wrong: when Hitler ran for president of Germany in 1932, he lost. He only got 37% of the vote (compare that to Donald Trump’s current 42%). But in a more general sense it is true: the rise of Hitler came through democratic means.
“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”
In 1932 there were four nationwide elections in Germany: two for the Reichstag (parliament) and two for president. By the end of it all, Hitler lost the presidential election to Paul von Hindenburg, 53% to 37%, but the Nazis, his party, won a plurality in parliament of 33%.
That 33% for the Nazis might not sound like much, but it was way better than any other party. On top of that, the Nazis were the only party with broad support, from both Catholics and Protestants, rich and poor, young and old, men and women, town and country. They had strong support from business and the middle class. That made Hitler the natural choice to become chancellor (prime minister) to form a majority coalition.
So in January 1933, Hindenburg, as president, made Hitler chancellor. Those on the right had assured Hindenburg that they would be able to control Hitler: he needed them to have a majority in parliament. But in practice they were not able to control him.
Hitler moved on limiting civil rights almost right away, particularly rights of protest and free speech. Then, when a fire broke out at the Reichstag in February, he blamed the communists. He got enough people afraid of a communist uprising – unfounded fears as it turned out – that he got President Hindenburg to agree to an emergency decree: the Decree for the Protection of the People and the State. In the name of national security Hitler was able to silence the press and throw anyone he wanted in prison. He was now, in effect, dictator, and he never let go.
So is Trump like Hitler?
Like Trump, Hitler:
- played on people’s fears and racism;
- promised to make his country great again;
- had little regard for civil rights;
- presented himself as a strongman;
- was dismissed as a clown who could be controlled.
Unlike Trump, Hitler:
- had a strong, united party behind him with broad national support;
- faced no strong opposition party;
- had already tried to overthrow the government (in Bavaria in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch);
- had a master of propaganda (Joseph Goebbels).
Also, Germany in 1932 was in way worse shape than the US in 2016: it had lost the First World War and was sunk in the Great Depression with high rates of unemployment and poverty. It was a far more desperate country.
– Abagond, 2016.