On a weekend in which major American cities are in peril thanks in no small part to Republicans sticking their fingers in their ears for years, some media observers are ready for Trump to step up to the plate and become president. Really, really ready. Desperately ready. So ready, in fact, that they’re seizing on any little detail—in this case, Trump’s debt-ceiling deal with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi—and using it as an emblem of the dignified, reasonable Trump presidency they’re sure is just around the corner. Barring that, they want to stop Trump—whose unembarrassed embrace of the politics of racial resentment make him the purest embodiment of the modern Republican Party to ever hold office—from dragging the GOP down with him.
The AP declared—the same week Trump ended DACA—that we were now seeing “Trump the independent. … unbound by ideology and untethered by party allegiances.” At the New York Times, Peter Baker presented credulous readers with a Promethean Trump who had upended “150 years of two-party rule” and should be considered “the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War.” Even when the story itself didn’t make the ludicrous argument that Trump was not at home in the Republican Party, people tried to spin it that way. Here’s how Washington Post reporter Robert Costa promoted an article by Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker headlined “ ‘Trump Betrays Everyone’: The President has a Long Record as an Unpredictable Ally.”
It’s the best press Trump has gotten since the sickening wave of praise he got for launching missiles into Syria, but it won’t be the last time this happens. Trump’s ascent—and everything it implies about the United States and its institutions—seems to have broken a few brains. Every few weeks, someone writes an article introducing the world to a new Trump: older, wiser, and at long last, a statesman. Ten seconds later, New Trump milkshake-ducks his way back into disgrace, and everyone goes looking for another scrap of evidence to hang their hopes on. It’s such a pathological cycle that it seems like it might have happened before.
It turns out it did! The 1930s were a decade during which Adolf Hitler, it is now generally agreed, did some bad things. Establishing a German dictatorship, murdering his political rivals, passing the Nuremberg Laws, rearming Germany, building a network of concentration camps, overseeing Kristallnacht, invading Poland, and executing disabled people look, in retrospect, like the actions of a bloodthirsty, racist madman. But wouldn’t it be prettier to think that a great nation like Germany would never consent to be led by someone so evil? Barring that, wouldn’t it be nice to believe that vague concepts like “the dignity and responsibility of public office” would have a civilizing influence, forcing even evil men to do good things? American journalists sure thought so! Here’s a brief anthology of press clippings in which the pundits of the day introduced their readers to a new Hitler, a statesmanlike Hitler, a “freewheeling, transactional poll who looks for wins.”
The New York Times, July 10, 1932:
It is beyond doubt that, as the party is moving toward power, the sharp edges of many of its views are becoming blunt. Even though Adolf Hitler refused to submit to cross-examination the other day on the ground that the lawyer of his opponent was a Jew his speeches no longer bristle with pointed references to the anti-Semitic cause. He lately went so far in his repudiation of racial exclusiveness as to assert in a public statement that, “against honest Jews we have nothing to say.”
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 5, 1933:
The Adolf Hitler who became Chancellor of Germany is barely recognizable as the man who talked of “heads rolling in the sand” just a few years back. There is a rather conciliatory note in all the pronouncements that have come from the Reich in the last few days and regardless of whether so strange a political concept as a “coalition dictatorship” assumes the flesh and bones of reality this sober tone is reassuring.
The New York Herald Tribune, May 19, 1933:
Every realist will prefer to wait and see before accepting the Chancellor’s fair words as the whole story. But the ability of those words, the statesmanlike quality of the effort, we do not see how anyone could question. Here was unmistakably a new Hitler… The intellectual grasp displayed before the Reichstag stirs the hope that much that the name of Hitler had represented in the past may be sloughed off. The childish follies of a pseudo-Teutonic civilization seem utterly incompatible with such statesmanship. So, too, be it added, do the cruelties and injustices of Jewish persecution.
The Mason City Globe-Gazette, Mason City, Iowa, Aug. 14, 1934:
The world’s most recent war scare seems to have pretty well blown over, following the conciliatory speech made by Hitler after his accession to the functions of the presidency on von Hindenburg’s death. The German dictator surprised most observers by the pacific tenor of his remarks. H’s speech seemed to be vastly different from the swashbuckling of Der Fuehrer in his earlier phase. Evidently responsibility—and looking down the muzzle of French and Italian artillery—has brought him to a more reasonable frame of mind.
The Kingston Daily Freeman, Kingston, New York, March 11, 1936:
A new Hitler appeared in the Fuehrer’s recent interview with a Parisian journalist, a peaceful and cooperative Hitler…. The only remarkable thing is that Hitler, after so much belligerent oratory, comes simply and frankly to this point [that Germany wants peace with France]. He has taken what is, for him, a great step forward. But historically it is a step backward—back to the enlightened statesmanship of Stresseman… If Hitler is sincere now, he can be forgiven many things, and may save European civilization.
The Washington Post, Feb. 1, 1939:
There was a lot of the traditional Hitler in his address. There was all of the bigotry, the stridency, the fanaticism, distortion, and ignorance which are inseparable from the man. But there was also a new Hitler, speaking defensively and not offensively, who for the first time sought the understanding of the democratic powers. … The speech is extraordinary in its frankness. And it may prove of the greatest importance in its results. Qualified optimism is obviously justified as a result of Hitler’s latest speech.
Whew! Good thing that Hitler fellow grew in office, or who knows what kind of mischief Germany might have caused. Now to take a big sip of Fanta and find out what happened in the 1940s!