October 3, 2016

How do you sell Hitler books? Put Trump on ’em.

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The back cover of a new edition of My New Order, a collection of Hitler’s speeches.

It’s not hard to find people making comparisons between Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. Google did it (kind of). Michiko Kakutani did it, albeit in the deadest of deadpan. America’s Canadian sweetheart Norm Macdonald did it, after reading Rudolf Herzog’s absolutely essential Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany.

But Hitler (in the parlance of our times) doesn’t just represent a dead German dictator. He’s the go-to stand-in for the general concept of hateful fascist racist evil power. Generally, that comes with one caveat: It’s a foreign evil. Any quick Hitler comparison, as well as every other headline comparing Trump to a different international despot, handily elides the homegrown stamp of Trump’s brand of hate. It helps us forget all the other American corrupt robber barons, American hate-harnessing hucksters, and American imperialist dickheads that came before him.

But there’s one Hitler-Trump connection that’s more than rhetorical, and that’s the tidbit from a 1990 Vanity Fair piece about Trump’s divorce from his first wife Ivana. In it, Marie Brenner reports that, according to Ivana, Trump keeps a collection of Hitler’s speeches, titled My New Order, “in a cabinet by his bed” and reads it occasionally. Trump, of course, denies this with his characteristic bluster, which actually isn’t impossible to believe, because we all know that fucker doesn’t read.

Now, the publisher of My New Order has run with this aforementioned allegation to sell a new edition of the book — to the point that they are featuring a photo of Trump giving a, uh, familiar gesture on the book’s back cover. Daniel Marans reports for the Huffington Post:

A photo of Trump, his right arm raised as he bellows into the microphone, appears on the back cover of My New Order. The image comes from the Dec. 10, 2015, front page of the Philadelphia Daily News, which ran with the headline “The New Furor.” At the time, Trump had just proposed a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Below the photo, Ishi Press International writes: “Did Donald Trump really keep a copy of Hitler’s speeches by his bed? The ex wife said, ‘Absolutely!’”

Further on down in the copy, Ishi Press’s copy makes the comparison explicit:

It can be seen that there are clear similarities between the speeches of Trump and the speeches of Hitler. Here are examples: They repeat themselves constantly, saying the same things over and over again. They never admit they have made a mistake nor do they ever take anything back. To any criticism, they respond by insults and name calling. They use a low form of language, with simple sentences even a person with the lowest level of education or with no education at all can understand.

Look, selling Hitler’s books is a weird and often challenging gig. Sometimes, their relative scarcity in Hitler’s home nation makes for easy pickings. But usually you can’t sell Hitler unless you’re giving it away, breaking the law, or donating the profits. (Texas prisoners, meanwhile, don’t have any trouble getting copies.) And at first, this seems like a bold choice as far as co-branding is concerned, if only because this is certain to lead to a lawsuit or reasonable threat of one.

But my question is: who is the audience here? If we’re talking about the gaggle of Pepe-meme-toting alt-right basement mutants who already relish the Hitler comparison, it’s possible that they’ll be more inclined to buy this edition. Your grudging Trump voter is likely not going to be convinced otherwise, in part because comparing politicians you don’t like to Hitler has become a total snowclone that’s often intended to shut down discussion and leaves little critical impact. I doubt any Democrats who glimpsed Tea Party protestors hoisting Obama-as-Hitler signs suddenly started forming new opinions on mass deportations and shadow wars.

However, I do think there is value to be had in more widely taking up close readings of the left’s rhetoric of fascism — and if not necessarily making facile comparisons to Trump, then at least using that as a springboard to examining his rhetoric as well. For many on the left (or in the center), last week’s presidential debate provided the first time watching Trump in an extended, unbroken period of public speaking. Though there are exceptions, most non-Trump supporters digest his speeches through sound bites and edited clips, rather than raw video.

And there’s something very weird about watching Trump uncut. His inability to finish sentences, his scattergun name-dropping, that extremely “lol didn’t read” vamping on everything from foreign relations to cyber security — it’s all mind-numbingly tedious. Yes, there are moments of theatricality (“CHINA!”, “WRONG!”, “CYBER!”) but those are far outpaced by numbing nonsense. It’s both completely absurd to think that this style has captured the hearts and minds of millions, and also a chilling reminder that style is often more powerful than substance when it comes to pushing a massive agenda of harm and violence. Trump may not be Hitler, but he’s no original.

 

 

Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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