Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
December 8, 2015

Trump as Führer. It Doesn’t Happen on its Own.

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015

Yes, the stylistic echoes of Nazi Germany are pretty strong in this photograph. (Ironically, it was taken last week during Trump’s appearance before the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in DC.) The image is just the type of freeze frame “cheap shot” that gets passed around with glee on social media. It reinforces the scary idea that Trump’s ban on Muslims makes him an ideological reincarnation we might call The New Furor.

If we allow that narrative to frame how we see the image, the Heil Hitler caption writes itself.

But it’s more complicated than that. The Hitler trope puts all the onus on Trump for having the gumption to play the defiant strongman. However, this photograph also shows how Trump’s grandiosity is being enabled by two sturdy columns of support. The first is so much fawning praise and admiration from Trump’s white fan base, standing faithfully by, cheering on his program of fascist purification. The second is a system of media politics in the United States that, at moments of crisis, too easily underpins and seals populist demagogues with presidential legitimacy.

— Philip Perdue

(photo: AFP Photo/Saul Loeb. caption: Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015). 

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