It sometimes seems that contemporary liberals have only two points of historical reference: The first is Watergate and the second is Adolf Hitler. And for the past couple of years, they’ve been turning up the hysterics to elf.
To be fair, likening Republicans to Nazis has been a hobbyhorse for Democrats since the end of World War II. To hear them tell it, the stench of fascism is always wafting in the air, just waiting to choke the life out of an otherwise salubrious democracy. Whether it be Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, or Donald Trump, it doesn’t really matter, because, as we know, it can happen here. Over and over again.
Some of you argue that we’re in a unique situation these days; that Donald Trump’s belligerent disposition and nationalistic tendencies invite these sorts of equivalences. But those of us who lived through the chancellery of George W. Bush know better.
Now, I’m not going harp on the fact that equating conservatives who believe in things such as tax cuts and borders with Himmler is preposterous as a matter of both history and ideology. Nor am I going to mention that acting as if every lost election heralds the coming of the Fourth Reich is a tad bit belittling to the memory of the tens of millions of victims of the Third. I won’t even point out that persistently relying on one event to press your political position tends to whittle away the potency and poignancy of your arguments against legitimate wrongdoing.
Rather, I’m going to argue that all this Nazi rhetoric is a sign of how extraordinarily lazy and uneducated many of our most vociferous partisans have become.
I’m not sure whether the Resistance is aware of this, but there are thousands of years of recorded history to mine for political hyperbole. Think of how much smarter everyone would be if the pundit class took the time to present the appropriate context for their inflammatory analogies. Because it’s not necessarily that America needs less scaremongering in political discourse; it’s that it deserves a better-informed kind of scaremongering.
Nothing says pundits can’t be more precise.
“Scott Pruitt is a latter-day Albert Bacon Fall!” the Democratic-party consultant reminded the CNN roundtable. “The Trump administration has its own Teapot Dome scandal unfolding before our eyes.”
Nothing says they can’t go big!
“Like the Magyar hordes that destroyed the German armies at Pressburg, terrorizing the heart of Europe for decades,” Rachel Maddow explained in her introduction this evening, “so, too, the so-called originalists on the Supreme Court will spread fear across the American heartland.”
Nothing says they can’t turn history on their foes.
“President Trump,” Fox News’s Sean Hannity told his viewers this week, “has come to rescue the United States much in the same way Charles ‘The Hammer’ Martel saved Western civilization from the Islamic invaders at Tours.”
Cable news would be worth watching again.
Today, everything is the next Reichstag fire. Though, to be fair, it’s unlikely that many of the most panic-stricken progressive pundits and activists know enough about the Reichstag fire even to analogize about it inappropriately.
Not long ago, the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study found that about one-fifth of Millennials had never heard of the Holocaust or were unsure whether they had. Over 40 percent of all Americans were unaware of the significance of the word “Auschwitz” — including around 66 percent of Millennials. Forty-one percent of Millennials who had heard of the genocide believed that 2 million or fewer Jews had been murdered during the Holocaust.
So perhaps ignorance explains rhetoric. For many, “You’re a Nazi” is nothing more than shorthand for “I don’t like Republicans.”
I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I’m innocent, even though many in my family perished during the war. Growing up in an American Jewish community two generations removed from the carnage of World War II, a person can become anesthetized to history. Though many of us knew a number of survivors, few of them, at least in my experience, had much interest in sharing the details of their experience. Then again, maybe I never asked.
The little I did ponder Nazis or the Holocaust seemed a waste of energy and time. The era was incongruent with my conception of the Jewish experience. American Jews were hardly defenseless, after all. If there was any genuine threat of mass violence against Jews, it was — then, as now — found in the Middle East. From where I was sitting, it looked as if my coreligionists were fending quite well for themselves. Jews were reuniting Jerusalem or freeing hostages in Entebbe. They weren’t the kind of people who could be marched into ovens.
Since I’ve become a father, my attitude has changed. I think about how my little old grandmother (long passed on) saved her child, my father, by leaving him in the hands of a Catholic family of strangers. I think of how she escaped her captors (twice) and returned to Budapest, eagerly waiting for the Russian invasion to save her child. I think about how her husband, sent to a slave-labor camp near the front, saw that child only once. Then I think about how lucky we all are.
There’s no need to be uptight about history. The Producers is still funny. I’m still going to refer to nanny-staters as “food fascists.” There are, however, real-life Nazis in this world. There are real Communists. There are theocrats who want us dead. We can afford them the credit they deserve by being slightly more judicious with our outrage.