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Opinion newsletter: On comparing Trump to Hitler and Mussolini

Trump news conference
President Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on July 23.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, July 25, 2020. This will be my final newsletter of March 2020 before August begins. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Donald Trump is no Adolf Hitler. Or Benito Mussolini. Or Augusto Pinochet. Those are among the historical disassociations I’ve seen in response to some of the reader letters sounding the loudest rhetorical alarm possible (for example, today’s letters are headlined, “Portland finally proves it: Trump is pulling us into fascism”) in response to the federal thuggery on display in Portland, Ore.

They aren’t wrong: Literally, Trump is none of those men. And that means nothing.

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Needless to say, any historical comparison between Trump and the autocrats who preceded is primarily between their actions, and in this regard, we have reason to worry. Beyond the literal sense, we know that Trump is no Hitler or Mussolini because we can look back at the full arc of those dictatorships and see the destruction and mass murder that resulted. With Trump, we have no idea where we are in the arc of his presidency, so while no one can compare the Trump of 2020 to the Mussolini of 1922-45 or the Pinochet of 1973-90, it’s entirely fair to point out troubling similarities between federal agents abducting protesters off the streets in Portland and, say, a racist dictator siccing his secret police on political opponents in 1934.

In other words, Trump is no Hitler of 1944, but he does bear some unnerving similarities to the Hitler and the Mussolini of 1934.

The L.A. Times Editorial Board looked back at the dark vision of life in “inner cities” Trump projected during his campaign in 2016 and warns he now possesses the power to make that vision a frightening reality. Let’s hope that we’re in the last stage of the Trump presidency and that this isn’t just a first-term preview of where this administration can take us in years to come.

Portland gets a taste of the Border Patrol’s brute power. Many of the agents seen advancing on protesters were from the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, and while we might tell ourselves that the random acts of aggression and abduction are what we see in dictatorships, what’s happening in Portland is fully American. Historian Karl Jacoby writes, “The fact is, the Border Patrol has been allowed to wield power in a similar manner along the border for decades, with often deadly consequences for Latinos.” L.A. Times

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Trump’s troops in Portland are a constitutional outrage. In addition to being morally offensive, the president’s deployment of militarized federal agents to Portland violates the U.S. Constitution. This isn’t to say the president has no legal authority to use forces domestically, but rather that the conditions are statutorily defined for such action, and Trump has not met those conditions, writes UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky: “Never before has a president so blatantly used federal law enforcement for his own political messaging. Nor have presidents sent unidentified federal law enforcement officers, dressed in military clothes, in unmarked cars, to pick people up off the streets willy-nilly and take them into custody.” L.A. Times

How do you pointedly yet gracefully call out rage-inducing misogyny? Watch AOC. After Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was insulted at the U.S. Capitol with words often reserved for powerful women who annoy their male colleagues, the man who berated her stood on the House floor and offered a tearful non-apology. AOC had none of it, and in the best way possible, writes Robin Abcarian. L.A. Times

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It’ll take a lot more than anti-racism workshops to improve diversity in business. Business and public policy professors Judd B. Kessler and Corinne Low set out to find what factors in a job candidate’s résumé would boost or impede their chances of being hired. What they found was alarming: “Employers hiring in STEM fields penalized résumés with minority or female names. The effect was big: These candidates were penalized by the equivalent of 0.25 GPA points, based solely on the name at the top of the résumé. That meant such a candidate needed a 4.0 GPA to get the same rating as a white male with a 3.75.” L.A. Times

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This might be the most infuriating thing I read all week, and it had nothing to do with Portland: A group of top scientists back in March were convinced that coronavirus economic shutdowns would do more harm to society than a virus they considered mostly benign, and they sought to convince the White House of their position. Problem is, these cocksure men — led by Stanford’s John Ioannidis — didn’t wait for the research to come in, and by now we know how spectacularly wrong they were. BuzzFeed News

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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