Foreign affairs analyst Christiane Amanpour stumbled into a minefield by comparing Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom in Germany, to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, was orchestrated by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. A moment of infamy, it erupted on November 9, 1938. The nation-wide violence lasted for two days and resulted in the deaths of 91 German Jews. It also caused the destruction of scores of synagogues, the vandalization of thousands of Jewish-owned businesses, and the arrest of 7,000 Jewish men, many of whom were sent to concentration camps such as Buchenwald and Dachau.
After Kristallnacht, conditions for German Jews deteriorated sharply. A blot on Germany which may never wear off, Kristallnacht was a prelude to the Holocaust. Within a few years, Nazi Germany lost all its moral bearings as it embarked on an unprecedented campaign of mass murder on an industrial scale.
Amanpour, a seasoned foreign correspondent, fully understood the meaning of Kristallnacht when she observed its 82nd anniversary on her current affairs show.
“It was the Nazis’ warning shot across the bow of our human civilization that led to genocide against a whole identity, and in that tower of burning books, it led to an attack on fact, knowledge, history and truth,” she said in a fair assessment of its overall effect.
But then, in a misbegotten reference to Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ victory in this month’s U.S. presidential election, she added, “After four years of a modern-day assault on those same values by Donald Trump, the Biden-Harris team pledges a return to norms, including the truth.”
Trump has surely been one of the worst presidents in two centuries. He lacks character, he lies, he is embarrassingly unpresidential, he has emboldened white supremacists, he mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, and several of his policies, domestic and foreign, have been to the detriment of the United States and its allies.
Yet Amanpour’s attempt to compare Trump with Kristallnacht was egregiously incorrect, a case of false equivalence.
Kristallnacht was one of the peaks in the valley of Nazi antisemitism, exposing Hitler’s Germany as an amoral entity. But to compare Trump, even remotely, to Kristallnacht is an affront to the substance and understanding of history as it unfolded in Nazi Germany eight decades ago.
As the president of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful and influential nation,Trump is no role model. Which is why the majority of American voters rejected his bid for a second term in the White House.
Since his defeat, Trump has further tarnished his reputation by breaking with every hallowed American presidential tradition. Baselessly claiming he won the election, he stubbornly refuses to concede and gracelessly refuses to assist Biden’s transition team in the runup to the president-elect’s inauguration on January 20.
Trump is a benighted figure, but he is neither a Nazi nor a fascist. Amanpour’s attempt to tar him with the brush of Kristallnacht was an ill-conceived notion. No one should ever try to use Kristallnacht, or the Holocaust, for partisan political ends. This amounts to playing fast and loose with history. It’s an unpalatable and unacceptable tactic.
Having been criticized for effectively belittling and trivializing Kristallnacht, Amanpour issued an apology yesterday.
“It is the event that began the horrors of the Holocaust,” she said accurately. “I also noted President Trump’s attacks on history, facts, knowledge and truth. I should not have juxtaposed the two thoughts. Hitler and his evil stand alone, of course. My point was to say how democracy can potentially slip away and how we must always zealously guard our democratic values.”
Democracy is indeed a fragile flower that must be carefully nurtured and tended. Despots and dictators are always waiting in the wings to hijack it. We cannot take it for granted. We must guard and protect it from extremists who would gladly destroy it in the bat of an eyelash.
But the dissemination of false comparisons to sustain democracy is absolutely wrong and unsustainable. Amanpour should have known better than to compare Trump with Kristallnacht. One can only hope she has learned an important lesson.