Michiko Kakutani did not actually name Donald Trump in her New York Times review of Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, but the review was hard to read as anything but a comparison. “Regardless of whether this review was intended as an article length Trump subtweet, that’s the reception it’s getting,” wrote a Washington Post observer.
In a way, those who saw Trump in Kakutani’s review were doing history since comparison is one of the tools by which historians try to understand the past. But does comparing Trump to Hitler or Trumpism to fascism elucidate either of them? Or does it warrant the charge of Godwin’s Law?
I raised the issue with sixteen historians of fascist-era Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain, asking whether they would define Trump as a fascist and leaving them to decide how broadly they defined the term.
The vast majority did not consider Trump a fascist, with the most common specific objection that Trump does not lead a coherent movement with a specific ethos. “He has no normal political organization as distinct from a publicity team,” responded Stanley Payne, a noted authority on fascism history. “The major fascist movements certainly did, almost by definition.”