Since the humble beginnings of the modern activist movement some 50 years ago, White Plaza has long been the beating heart of our own campus’s protest scene. Last week, it once again served as an incubator for student dissent when an anonymous undergraduate used its main space to plaster a particular canvas. The piece featured four panels, which from right to left portrayed Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. The juxtaposition of our very own president lined up with some of history’s most repulsive villains certainly intended to provoke, and provoke it did. Passing visitors and students alike ogled at the piece before it was unceremoniously removed by University officials.
Normally, I would feel inclined to applaud the artist in question. Taking the time and resources to design, print and place any art in the name of a political cause is an admirable endeavor and one that merits praise. In many respects, art is a civil yet powerful form of political expression. But in this particular case, I can’t help but hesitate before commending the effort. To be frank, this type of hyper-polarizing art does far more damage than good and amounts to little more than a desperate attempt to aggravate and aggrandize.
Comparing Trump to Hitler and other former despots isn’t a terribly novel concept. Everyone from credible news outlets like MSNBC, to B-list celebrities (Spike Lee and Ashley Judd, among others) along with countless sit-at-home internet commentators have compared our president to a man who is quite probably the most despised figure in human history.
But let’s get one thing clear. Regardless of whether this analogy is made on cable news or our own campus, it’s still an incorrect and outright dangerous one. For the record, I personally think that our president is very, very far from an ideal, or even competent leader. But to group him alongside a man who killed 30 million people is both naive and downright counterproductive.
Perhaps the most obvious flaw with this type of comparison is that it simply hasn’t worked. Since long before the election, the Hitler comparison has been a mainstay of howling liberal rhetoric. But despite the ubiquity and rather extreme nature of those statements, Trump won the election and remains our president. Continuing to compare the two only serves to further degrade legitimate discourse and widen the chasm between Trump’s supporters and the rest of the populace.
As Bill Ozanick, writer for The Hill, stated before the Nov. 8 election, “Comparing Trump to Hitler says a lot more about the accuser than the accused. If you truly want to convince someone else to not vote for Trump, while maintaining your intellectual honesty and ostensible acumen, you really need to stop comparing Trump to Hitler.”
A further issue with correlating Trump and Hitler is that doing so implies that Trump’s supporters are proverbial Nazis. Following the events of Nov. 8, a countless number of words and ink were spilled in the name of un-demonizing those who voted for our 45th president. Much better writers than myself can explain to you why voting for Trump doesn’t inherently make someone a bad person.
But by giving their leader the title of Führer, the White Plaza artist and many others are equating millions of good people with members of the Nazi party, a sad and telling indication of how wide our nation’s political and cultural gap has grown. Simply put, Trump supporters aren’t Nazis. They are, by and large, good people whose legislative priorities differ from our own. This exact point highlights just why modern political discourse has become so futile.
The sect of the social justice crowd that propagates this type of nonsense is so desperate to “fight the good fight” and stand up for some greater cause that they go to downright drastic reaches to do so. Every politically conscientious student on this campus should want to engage in productive discussion. but the “art” in White Plaza was very far from that ideal. Rather than asking the important questions or pointing out the many and varied flaws with Trump’s policies, this type of expression only seeks to call names and scream insults. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t recall ever hearing a time when insulting someone changed their mind on anything.
College is a time to learn from mistakes. And while students may feel like they have accomplished something by comparing our nation’s leader to some of history’s worst figures, it’s my hope that they’ll come to realize more productive ways of political expression before they sully the real world with this mindless wailing. If we as Stanford students are to make any real change in the world, it won’t be done through mud-slinging or defamation. As members of one of the most influential and academically blessed institutions on earth, we have the resources and potential to make a true impact on the politics of our world. We simply have to find better vehicles of expression.
Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’ stanford.edu.