Donald Trump, Supporters, US Capitol
Supporters of Donald Trump in front of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Photo credit: Brett Davis / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

History has shown us that authoritarian leaders who stage a coup and fail will come back and finish the job.

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Following his latest indictment for attempting a coup, the campaign of Donald Trump released a statement saying the “lawlessness of [the] persecutions” of the former president are “reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.”

That’s obviously a ridiculous, upside-down thing to say. Correspondingly, the condemnation of that statement was swift. 

“Comparing this indictment to Nazi Germany in the 1930s is factually incorrect, completely inappropriate and flat out offensive,” tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). 

Seeing how Trump hangs out with enough Nazis, you’d think his campaign would get their Third Reich references right. But now that they brought it up, let’s take a closer look at history and who could be compared to what. 

And that doesn’t bode well for Trump and his MAGA Republicans. 

If you want to find parallels between the Nazis and what transpired after the 2020 election, then you don’t have to look to the 1930s, but rather to what happened a decade earlier. 

Almost exactly 100 years ago, Adolf Hitler also staged a coup. In November of 1923, he tried to overthrow the Weimar Republic in the so-called Beer Hall Putsch. It was a disorderly affair involving a couple thousand right-wing supporters, so there are some similarities to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

However, for comparison purposes it is more important what happened next; maybe we will actually learn something from history for once. 

After his coup failed, Hitler was charged with treason. However, the subsequent trial gave him a platform for his nationalistic views, and he received a fairly lenient sentence (after having almost been acquitted).

Ultimately, he ended up spending nine months in confinement, during which he wrote his manifesto Mein Kampf

He then used his status as a right-wing hero to build a political movement and seized power in Germany in 1933 — nine years after being released from prison. It took him less time than that to light the world on fire and perpetrate the worst crime against humanity in history. 

Obviously, while there are some similarities in terms of their movements, Trump’s situation is very different. In addition, Hitler and the Nazis were so bad that comparing them to anybody, no matter how bad he might seem, diminishes the atrocities committed during the Third Reich.  

That being said, there is a lesson to be learned here, and it is not at all what the Trump campaign thinks it is: When dealing with somebody who initiated a coup, it’s wise to expect they will come back and try to finish the job if given a chance.

Therefore, to protect the rule of law and US democracy, there can be no leniency in this case. Trump has to be punished to the fullest extent of the law for trying to overturn the 2020 election. 

Any other outcome would only embolden him and the other anti-democracy forces currently at work in the US. And that would be a historic mistake.

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