Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes, one of the media’s favorite Donald Trump antagonists, took to Twitter this weekend to pen a transcendently nonsensical thread comparing the firing of a handful of bureaucrats to the rounding up of political undesirables in the lead-up to the Holocaust.
It’s wouldn’t be a huge deal, except that this kind of hysterical reaction has now been normalized in American discourse, illustrating that once-rational people have either lost all sense of history or are willing to belittle the past for short-term political gain. My bet is on the latter.
Here’s how Wittes begins his updated version of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem:
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) February 9, 2020
When fellow Hungarians came for my grandfather — he was one of the first to be deported from the country — they sent him to sweep mines on the Eastern Front before handing him over to the Germans at Mauthausen and then Gunskirchen.
At some point he perished, no doubt, in a vile and undignified manner, perhaps succumbing to starvation or typhoid or dysentery, or maybe he was shot in the head and left in a shallow unmarked grave. We don’t know. His wife and son, the latter of whom he would never meet, would never find out how he died, despite decades of trying. His loss, like the deaths of millions of other powerless and now anonymous victims of that age, would have repercussions that reverberate today.
When “they” came for James Comey, on the other hand, he landed a massive book deal, made millions on the speaking circuit, wagged his finger at his former boss through social media to his million followers, and spent some quality time with family. He never once had to worry about state-sanctioned violence. Comey, a man powerful enough to oversee a cooked-up investigation into a presidential candidate, merely lost a job.
Like Comey, all the alleged victims on Wittes’s ludicrous list served at the pleasure of the president and could be fired by Donald Trump for almost any reason he desired, just as they could have been fired by Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter or FDR. Many of the people on the list, in fact, have been investigated by the inspector general, who found that they acted either incompetently or potentially illegally.
Government bureaucrats aren’t endowed with a God-given right to work in the executive branch of the United States government. Most of these “victims” will find lucrative work elsewhere. None, I confidently say, are going to be thrown into camps. If you don’t like who Trump fires, or how he fires them, you can always vote for another candidate.
It might come as a surprise to those who, through hyperbole, demean the real victims of history, but Nazi Germany didn’t hold impeachment hearings for their leaders in 1938, there was no institutional anti-Hitler media in 1939, and most people in 1940 did not publicly accuse Hitler of being a seditious criminal and madman. Those who did, such as Martin Niemöller, ended up in Sachsenhausen and Dachau, not the green room at CNN.
Though there are a number of iterations, here is the most popular version of Niemöller’s poem:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me —
and there was no one left to speak for me.
You’ll notice the kicker. Even as Wittes is diminishing the horrors of the Holocaust for political gain with his bumbling analogies, a bunch of high-profile Americans were speaking out about Trump actions. We’ve basically spent four years listening to people speaking out. Some of the people on Wittes’s list, in fact, have been speaking out for themselves in major magazines and on television and in newspapers.
Trump’s most self-aggrandizing critics might not realize this, but they’re not actually part of any real “resistance,” they’re just partisans. The only people who “came” for Andy McCabe were producers and editors with checkbooks open. And even if the firing of Alexander Vindman reminds you of Night of the Long Knives, you have wholly lost touch with reality. As the kids say: Read a book.