Why would Donald Trump, who has been likened to Hitler more times than Adolf Hitler from Nazi Germany, do this crazy tweet?
As Trump said when asked about this tweet and also about Mexico simultaneously at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, “I love the people of Mexico.” As he said later in the same press conference, a few seconds after saying the words Nazi Germany, “[BuzzFeed is] a failing pile of garbage.”
Here are three variegated explanations for why he made the Nazi comparison, for which the Anti-Defamation League has asked him to apologize. You may choose to believe one of them—or even all of them, at no extra charge.
Trump is attempting “innocent Hitler hyperbole,” in the tradition of Mike “the Oven” Huckabee and Don “Gas Chamber” Trump Jr. Don Sr.’s remark is not as offensive as theirs, because it does not explicitly evoke the Holocaust, but, like them, he is using Nazism as a shorthand for persecution.
Is Trump trying to paint himself as a stigmatized Jew? I don’t think so. Is he then trying to paint himself, as one of my colleagues wondered, as an “indignant Hitler”? I would venture, “No.” Perhaps he thinks of himself as a sort of latter-day Ernst Röhm, the Nazi paramilitary leader killed on Hitler’s orders on the Night of the Long Knives. There’s no coherent answer here, and I’m very confident that Trump has never heard of anybody from Nazi Germany except Hitler.
In any case, Nazis did persecution, and Trump feels persecuted by the leaks. If he can forge a strong association in the minds of his supporters between his own enemies (the left, the intelligence community) and Nazis, he will have provided a counterbalance to the prevailing association of him with Nazis. Free-floating, unspecified Nazi comparisons will then mean whatever their inevitably partisan audience wants them to mean. They will be vacated of what little power they still have, just like the term fake news (also appearing in this tweet), which now denotes any and all opinions.
Trump is trying to upset, confuse, or distract people. He is always trying to do this, so yes, he is definitely doing this.
During the campaign, Trump would often describe his opponent in terms that had been or could have been applied far more accurately to him (“unstable,” “bigoted”). This is called “psychology,” or “projection.” Now that Trump has defeated his big rival, he faces an array of smaller rivals—Democrats, the intelligence community, and most notably “a lot of people.” Since “a lot of people” see a similarity between Trump and Nazis, Trump is deflecting that similarity—unconsciously, using psychology—and aiming it right at the CIA.
Nobody knows if Trump has intentions or what they are, but I hope these three theories diminish the sensation of tension you started feeling in your head when you read the tweet. And if you’re wondering why he put “leak” in quotes, that’s pure parapraxis.