If nothing else, the “TIME Person of the Year” ritual is social media candy. Add this additional attention, and still another major magazine cover to the Donald stack (a literal pile if you saw the shrine in his office), and it’s understandable why the 2016 POY edition caused many to to compare it to same TIME real estate in 1941.
Most of the online snark, chatter and venting draws a vague visual comparison between the chairs and the postures. (Apparently, Trump also earns devil points for the proximity of his head to the “M” in TIME.)
As it settles in that PEOTUS Trump is no different than candidate Trump, there are millions of people right now (52% of presidential voters, at least) who are primed for this analogy. But it didn’t start yesterday. Rather, Hitler has hardly had a day off since the start of the presidential campaign. (Or the start of Obama’s in 2006, to be more accurate.) If Hitler has become such as a knee-jerk analogy, however, there is still a legitimate reason to address this Trump-Hitler blather. It’s to say some words about Trump’s personality and why this particular comparison is and actually isn’t laughable (as you’ll see below).
Let’s start with a better explanation why the comparison is ridiculous.
Simply put, Trump is no Hitler. Nadav Kander’s Trump portrait is informative for impishness, not the diabolical. Trump’s pallet consists of huckster-ish seduction and throwing his weight around. Catching our eye with his gaze, the cover is less of a glare or a stare than a demonstration. In the portrait, he is less of a bad ass then someone sharing with us how he poses like one. In what’s ultimately a confiding gaze — a wink, if you will — he’s revealing himself as an actor. So if folks are actually looking for Hitler here, it’s pretty ironic that Trump, instead, offers us up his Apprentice persona.
In comparison, Hitler’s iciness, his physical tension and upright posture, the martial quality and our total dismissal is truly terrifying. The Hitler portrait is a universe away from camp. The hate, anger and paranoia is totally palpable. The Trump photo, on the other hand, doesn’t convey any tension at all. The back of the chair, which TIME hilariously chose not to airbrush, is as kitschy as the man. The face in half shadow — a play on darkness and evil, I assume — is so exaggerated, it’s nourish.
In drawing this distinction, though, I’m not saying that Trump isn’t dangerous.
If one is looking for a viable comparison between Kander’s Trump and the other cover boy, you can actually find one in the accompanying photos Kander took of the people behind Trump. To the extent the amoral Trump is opportunistic to the core, and has chosen to licensed his soul to Bannon and Pence, those portraits close the gap some bit.
Here, the banality, punctuated by the quality of obsession and profound disconnection (the noirish quality now abetting the fear) lends itself much more to the portrait from ’38. In fact, these shots emanate terror as thoroughly as Trump, the Fuller Brush Man of darkness, can enable it.
Disturbingly, the Trump cover and all the foolish noise it generated turned into one more act of distraction and misdirection. That is what’s so evil here.
Update 12/10/16 5:55 EST: The previous version of the post used the word “autism” as an adjective. It’s use was inappropriate and we apologize for any offense or upset it has caused.
(photos: Nadav Kander for TIME. Pence caption: The True Believer A devout evangelical Christian and a former leader in the U.S. House, Vice President–elect Mike Pence will help Trump navigate the agendas of conservative lawmakers and activists. Bannon caption: The Rabble-Rouser The former head of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon has pushed for a darker, more divisive populism, publishing articles that stirred racial animus. He will be a senior adviser at the White House.)