WHEN I LEARNED of President-elect Donald Trump's decision to elevate former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon to chief strategist, I recalled the haunting words of a Jewish friend whom I've known for more than 20 years.
Months ago, after Trump had uttered bigoted remarks about seemingly every group except his own, I asked this friend what she thought of the GOP's presidential nominee.
"He reminds me of Hitler," she said.
At the time, I thought the comparison was interesting. Now, it feels sadly prophetic.
Like Adolf Hitler, Trump built his message around a sort of nationalism that demonizes perceived outsiders and pits the masses against them. Like Hitler, Trump's message is about returning the country to a period of prosperity and pride. Like Hitler, Trump portrayed himself as a populist to win an election. And now, much like Hitler, Trump has chosen a purveyor of propaganda as a key presidential aide.
For Hitler, the plucked-from-the-media mouthpiece was Joseph Goebbels, a highly educated man whose magazine, Der Angriff (The Attack), was the precursor to the creation of a potent Nazi media machine. In 1933, when he was chosen as Hitler's minister of propaganda, Goebbels used newspapers, radio, music, literature and film to spin a thick web of lies to the German people.
Goebbels arranged huge rallies to sway everyday Germans toward Nazism, used art and literature to shape the narrative and used the men under his control to incite street fights and increase political anxiety.
By 1933, with the Nazi Party targeting Jews as the outsiders, Goebbels, at Hitler's direction, led a book burning designed to purge Jewish books from Germany. He did so while claiming that "the era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end."
White supremacists understand the parallels between Goebbels and Bannon. That's why the so-called alt-right is applauding Bannon's key position in the Trump White House. That's why former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke told CNN, "You have an individual, Mr. Bannon, who's basically creating the ideological aspects of where we're going."
That's why Americans of every stripe should be appalled.
Bannon, as chairman of Breitbart News, ran a website that trafficked in racist propaganda, targeted Muslims and immigrants with impunity and spread outright lies about those it considered enemies of the racist alt-right movement.
His enemies included the Republican Party - a party he did not believe was conservative enough.
Bannon's solution, in his own words, was grounded in hate and fear.
"Let the grassroots turn on the hate because that's the ONLY thing that will make them do their duty," Bannon wrote of Republican leaders in a 2014 email exchange obtained by the Daily Beast and reprinted in the New York Times.
And then there's this Bannon quote, also from the New York Times: "Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action."
On that count, I'm hoping Bannon is right because Americans should fear an administration that would put a man such as Bannon in a key position. And we shouldn't fear Bannon's presence in the White House just because he is seen as a voice from the most racist elements of our country. We should fear him because, like Goebbels, he's smart enough to deceive millions through the use of propaganda.
As a tea party member, Bannon helped to manipulate the racial anxieties of white Americans who saw Barack Obama's presidency as an erosion of their privilege. At Breitbart, Bannon oversaw a propaganda machine that was designed to overturn the very establishment that Bannon benefited from after earning degrees from both Georgetown and Harvard. During the Trump campaign, Bannon used the controversial tape in which Trump bragged about grabbing women's genitals as the impetus for featuring women who'd accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault.
For the white nationalist movement that Bannon helped prop up during his days at Breitbart, such maneuvers speak to his potential as a highly placed ally.
For the rest of us, however, Bannon's mere presence in the White House will serve as a stark reminder of one sobering reality: Those who dare to forget history are always doomed to repeat it.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).