Bill Maher is Wrong, Trump is not Hitler, he’s Allende
Funnyman and political commentator Bill Maher is right when he says we have to worry about former President Donald J. Trump’s (R-Florida) efforts to manipulate the electoral system to his advantage.
Yet, Maher is wrong when he compares Trump to Adolph Hitler. The analogy is understandable, Hitler is the only dictator most Americans are familiar with. However, history offers better analogies, one of which I will explore below.
Hitler was the head of a well-organized revolutionary group with a large paramilitary force, the Nazi Party. Hitler himself was a revolutionary with plans for a German revolution. The Nazis wanted to overthrow and rebuild German society according to their ideology.
Trump is not a revolutionary, he has plans for a revolution, no ideology, and no organized revolutionary force. The Trump followers who stormed the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 were a disorganized mob with no leaders, no plans, and no weapons.
Thus, Trump is not a revolutionary. Instead, he is a fool playing with fire. Trump has no agenda beyond reelection, no ideology, and no organization behind him except a bunch of opportunistic politicians.
However, Maher is right to worry about Trump’s clumsy plans because they could lead to a catastrophe. Yet, Trump reminds me of a foreign leader who ushered in a bloody dictatorship.
Trump as Allende
Trump reminds me of Salvador Allende, the President of Chile from 1970 to 1973. Allende, a Marxist, did not win a popular election. Instead, the Chilean Congress picked Allende as the winner of close three-way race.
Hence, a large percentage of Chileans did not accept Allende as a legitimate president. Just as many Americans did not consider Trump the legitimate President because he lost the popular vote in 2016.
However, Allende felt he had the power to implement a radical agenda that included nationalizing major industries and seizing lands from the rich. Allende’s increasingly radical agenda put him on a collision course with Chile’s Congress, which was controlled by his opponents.
On 22 August 1973, the Chilean Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution accusing Allende of violating the Constitution and trying to replace the military with armed socialist groups. The resolution gave the Chilean military the cover they needed to stage a coup on 11 September 1973.
The result was chaos, with Allende in the Presidential Palace giving a strange speech on radio while the Air Force bombed the building. Troops eventually stormed the palace and found Allende’s body. Autopsies later found that Allende shot himself with a Russian AK-47 semiautomatic rifle, a gift from his “friend” Fidel Castro.
Allende apparently lost all hope when no Russian paratroopers appeared in the skies over Santiago. Allende’s supposed friends from the Soviet Union were nowhere to be seen, but his enemies had open support from the US Central Intelligence Agency.
The similarity between Trump and Allende is two men who believe they are the rightful president and the champion of the people. Moreover, Allende thought he had a moral right to ignore the rule of law, as Trump seems to believe. Similarly, wide segments of American society hate Trump today, just as many Chileans hated Allende when he was alive.
There are differences. Trump is a nationalist and an economic conservative whose agenda is unpopular but far from radical. Trump claims he can recreate a lost America, and restore white supremacy, while Allende promised a socialist utopia.
Similarly, Allende, like Trump, was viewed as a savior and a hero by one segment of the population, and an enemy of democracy by another. It was Allende’s divisive nature that split Chile’s political system and turned Chileans against each other.
Moreover, Allende, like Trump, was a buffoon whose clumsy plans went tragically awry.
An American Pinochet
The ultimate results of Allende’s rule were horrific. Army General Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet Ugarte seized power in a bloody coup and declared himself “President.” Pinochet’s rule began with the executions and murders of thousands of people, and the internment of 80,000 Chileans.
In 1980, Pinochet forced a new Constitution on Chile through a plebiscite. In 1990, however, the dictator stepped down and retired after 56% of the population voted against him in another plebiscite.
The danger from the path Trump is taking is not dictatorship by the Donald, but the destruction of constitutional norms that leads to dictatorship. Allende paved the way for Pinochet by trashing constitutional norms in the name of the common good, as Trump wants to.
Once, the Chilean Left established the precedent of autocratic rule by fiat. It was easy for the Chilean Right to justify violence and military dictatorship to “protect the Constitution and save the nation from the left.”
Hence, I can easily imagine America’s elites, including the leaders of many large corporations, justifying some sort of coup or action to keep Trump from retaking the presidency in 2024, if he wins. Note: I do not think Trump could win in 2024, however, I didn’t think he could win in 2016.
The danger is that Trump could disrupt the election leading to a period of chaos. In that period, an American Pinochet could appear and justify his violence by saying he is protecting the nation from Trump’s crazy racist followers.
However, Trump’s tactics of calling losses stolen elections could unleash havoc. What happens if Trump loses in 2024 but tens of thousands of his followers whipped up by nonsense about vote fraud march on Washington on Inauguration Day and clash with the military. Or if open fighting between left wing and right-wing paramilitary gangs breaks out in the streets of the Capitol. Such fighting is already a common occurrence on the West Coast.
I think there are elements of the media who would cheer if the Army started machine gunning Trump followers. Others would look the other way if the military began opening Pinochet style internment camps for Trump followers and Antifa thugs.
The Electoral College Nightmare
Another nightmare is the Electoral College being unable to choose a winner. Under the Constitution, the US House of Representatives chooses the President if the Electoral College cannot pick a winner. Remember, Allende became Chile’s president through a similar process.
A House chosen presidency will be uncharted territory. The House has not picked a president since the notorious Corrupt Bargain of 1824. The controversial Corrupt Bargain blew up the 1820s political system by convincing many ordinary Americans that the elite conspired to keep their hero Andrew Jackson out of the White House.
Fortunately, Old Hickory refused to march on Washington, and instead organized a new political party (the Democrats) that elected him President in 1828. Unfortunately, Trump, unlike Jackson, has no respect for the Constitution or the electoral process.
The danger Americans need to fear is military dictatorship and generals and admirals writing a new Constitution in the Pentagon break room. Not Trump becoming an American Hitler. Instead, the danger is Trump’s bungling paving the way for an American Pinochet.
Maher is right that Trump is a threat to our democracy. However, the threat Trump poses is not dictatorship by the Donald. Instead, the threat from Trump is the chaos that breeds monsters such as Pinochet.