Arlington, VA – In light of ubiquitous comparisons being drawn between contemporary leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump and French National Front President Marine Le Pen and fascist dictators like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, international researchers warn against the dangers of erroneous or decontextualized historical analogies.
“If we look at Trump, we can certainly see the use of Putin against the reputation and brand of Trump, which is quite interesting because you do have some contradictions within the character assassination,” said Greg Simons, a professor at Uppsala University and the Swedish Defense University, at a March 4 conference hosted by the Character Assassination and Reputation Politics (CARP) Lab on Mason’s Arlington campus, “You’re either one or the other, you cannot be both in this case because we’re talking about two absolutely different kinds of personalities.”
Simons argues that President Donald Trump has been paradoxically portrayed as a fascist with parallels made to Adolf Hitler, and also as a minion of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Marlene Laruelle, A George Washington University professor, echoed Simon’s sentiment in her presentation on the character assassination tactic of labelling contemporary Russia, and by extension Putin, as fascist.
“Putin is parallel with Hitler, but Putin is also parallel with Stalin, so you have the kind of best of the worst of the negative qualities,” said Laruelle. “If you link the three ideologies together, you are really at the risk of error in your logical reasoning because you are making so many different analogies that in the end don’t really make sense.”
The panelists agreed that these erroneous linkages between the different ideologies of fascism, Nazism and communism can have a real impact on public perception of a country, bilateral relations and foreign policy.
“It’s a cheap way to damage the country’s image and of course it has its policy implications in the sense that it’s telling us that there is no way we can cooperate with Russia because who likes to cooperate with Hitler?” said Laruelle.
“If they knew, they would not make the comparison just out of respect for those who have been dying from fascism,” said Laruelle, adding that she was surprised at the lack of backlash from World War II veteran or Holocaust survivor advocacy groups regarding comparisons between unpopular leaders and Fascist regimes.
“The problem is that there are real fascists in the contemporary world as well,” said Furman University Professor Marta Lukacovic, “But if we call everybody we don’t like a fascist, we have a problem.”
University of Richmond’s David Brandenberger closed the panel’s discussion by adding that such comparisons can add insult to injury. In addition to being largely innacurate given the opposing ideologies of communism, fascism, and the political ideologies of the contemporary leaders in these analogies, empty comparisons between contemporary leaders and fascist dictatorships can be culturally and historically insensitive.
“In Russian the word fascist is a four-letter word. Once you accuse somebody of being a fascist, you cannot continue the conversation. It’s much, much more inflammatory,” said Brandenberger, accompanied by nods from his fellow panelists, many of whom hail from Eastern Europe or speak Russian in some professional capacity.