Spoilers ahead as Alex Vickery-Howe reflects on the streaming series Hunters and its resonance in 2024.
I recently finished the second and final season of Hunters, created by David Weil. It’s a clever and compelling series, although one plot twist involving Al Pacino’s character jumped the shark early for me. Still, it’s worth it for Kate Mulvany’s biting Sister Harriet, who deserves her own spinoff.
The show follows a ragtag group of vigilantes tracking down Nazis, Tarantino-style, ending with (spoiler!) the trial of Adolf Hitler for war crimes. Of course it’s deeply cathartic to see this play out. The beautifully written Jewish defence lawyer, well-played by Josh Zuckerman, rounds out the series perfectly, embodying dignity and compassion when stating his reasons for upholding Hitler’s right to a fair process – not for the sake of the monster on the stand but for what it says about those who’ve been most affected by his cruelty. The show ends on a high.
There is – buried shallowly in some of the closing scenes – some heavy-handed social commentary linking Hitler’s tyrannical, xenophobic ideology to that of a certain returning presidential candidate. This has become obligatory in a lot of contemporary drama coming out of the US… but, to be fair, the comparison would have been pretty difficult to resist in the context of Hunters.
When the show was released, this commentary felt like a bit of an overreach. It doesn’t now.
It reminded me of Australian playwright Stephen Sewell, a favourite of mine, who wrote the excellent Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America way back in the early two thousands, when George W. Bush was flirting with the erosion of civil liberties. It seemed completely fantastical and hyperbolic when I saw it.
Again, not so much now…
David and Stephen, if you’re out there…I’m afraid you got this right.
Godwin’s Law – an internet adage which asserts that the longer a discussion continues online, the more likely it is a comparison to Hitler or Nazis will emerge – was, for a long time, the antidote to any ‘Trump is just like the Führer’ rhetoric. Recently, however, Mike Godwin himself has declared that these comparisons are actually valid. What may have felt unsophisticated and far too simplistic during Donald Trump’s first disastrous term in office is now, tragically, a balanced lens. The ground has shifted.
Trump has started saying the quiet part out loud.
As he ramped up the nonsense in his campaign, towards the end of last year, Trump parroted Hitler directly when he declared that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the American population. It doesn’t get much more Fourth Reich than that.
Trump’s base, disenfranchised and aggrieved, are willing to overlook this rhetoric, just as they were willing to overlook his obvious grovelling to a Russian despot. The concept of ‘patriotism’ has become warped in the American psyche to the extent that worshipping an ex-KGB agent is no longer a disqualifiable offence for an aspiring second term president (Joe McCarthy must be turning in his grave).
Now, despite all those who fought and died under the American flag in the Second World War, embracing Nazism seems weirdly fine with Trump’s base too? It’s no wonder, really, as a crumbling education system has convinced many of them that Hitler was really a socialist (just like those darn, nosy Democrats). It’s a sorry state of affairs when history has become so distorted that millions of Americans can, with a straight face, mimic the Nazis while accusing a centrist party of being the true evil. It’s the tragic kind of stupid.
Rounding out his bile tour, Trump declared to a flustered Sean Hannity that he’ll be a dictator on day one and day one only. Do you know how much damage a lunatic can do in one day? Hasn’t anyone seen Revenge of the Sith?
In what was a transparent, toadying attempt to give Trump a much-needed free kick, Hannity tried over and over to get Trump to declare that he believed in democracy, that he wasn’t a power-hungry psychopath, that he would obey the law….
I’ve spent a few years arguing that Trump is the world’s most obvious conman, that Trump University was the big red flag for all but the dumbest representatives of the human race, that America’s decay is a global problem, that Four Seasons Total Landscaping might have been the end of it in a sane world, and that The Apprentice should never have been mistaken for a documentary. I have, looking back, been just as keen as David Weil to draw that line between Hitler and MAGA. Just as keen as Stephen Sewell to question the American experiment.
More recently, I’ve tried to balance my rhetoric. I’ve sought, instead, to unpack why all these people have been taken in. “You can’t cancel millions”, as a friend pointed out this afternoon, so continually screaming at them that they’re fools for believing this Hitler-quoting, Pornstar-bribing, Covid-denying, thoroughly rotten rockmelon (sorry, cantaloupe) is a counterproductive exercise.
Others steadfastly claim that Trump is the most masculine president ever, despite it being obvious that this pampered Cheshire Cat, this mewling Hamburglar/Hutt hybrid, would lose an arm-wrestling competition with a reasonably fit fish.
Reality is nowhere near the Trump Train. But there are still plenty of passengers holding on to his lies and delusions. And now, while it was arguable before, we have little choice but to admit to ourselves that Trump’s return to the White House really will mark the rise of fascism in the United States.
I hate that I wasn’t being hysterical about this.
Trump himself probably doesn’t even know where it’s all leading. He is one of far, far too many Americans falsely claiming that fascists and socialists are one and the same, which tells us his understanding of history is as reliable as his understanding of viral plague, marital fidelity… and windmills. Trump is really a patsy for smarter, meaner people.
The conman is gleefully selling trading cards with a piece of his mugshot suit as a ‘special gift’ for his most devoted cultists, which is the point where satire dies, the American Republic jumps the shark alongside Pacino, and House of Cards looks like a well-governed utopia.
Perhaps the deepest irony in all of this is that those who really do love America are those he has successfully marginalised and vilified. Those of us who believe in freedom and justice for all will be the first to be attacked in Trump Part Deux. Much as the free press has been smacked down by his lemmings for years now.
I honestly don’t know what can possibly be said in 2024 to dissuade the MAGA base. President Biden is clearly at the end of his tether.
I’ve held onto the belief that many of Trump’s flock are good people who’ve been misled, many are desperate people who’ve been neglected and ignored, and most would be horrified if they understood the historical precedent in play. Very few Americans want to emulate Hitler… surely?
Where’s Sister Harriet when you need her?
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