How Hitler Ruined Our Ability to Discuss Politics
Sean Spicer, White House press secretary and mound of Arby's roast beef given hateful sentience by an unholy flesh magician, recently made the news for somehow bungling a press conference meant to denounce the actions of a brutal dictator with a comparison that probably gave Mike Godwin an aneurysm.
Specifically, after a thousand black flies exited his maw and stopped screeching prophecies, Spicer said, "We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II. You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons." Even if you take the incredibly generous interpretation that he was only referring to combat (which you shouldn't, because if you ever find yourself saying "We should ignore the Holocaust because technically ..." then you need to step back and take a good, hard look at yourself), he's still wrong. The Germans killed thousands of Soviet soldiers and civilians with chemical gas attacks, because gas is a great way to clear pesky resistance fighters from caves and catacombs if you don't care about violating the Geneva Convention. And hey, the Allies debated using gas too, before ultimately deciding that it would be much more humane to instead firebomb civilian populations for no strategic purpose. Burning to death is better than choking to death, right?
I'm sure someone is already spewing curses at me for disparaging the good guys, but that's the problem. Lost in the well-deserved mockery of Spicer's kindergarten-level knowledge of history is the fact that he, like so many people who use the comments of music videos on YouTube to debate history before him, is using Hitler as a benchmark. That's what Hitler has become to the modern world. He's history's perfect supervillain -- an ultimate evil that had to be defeated at all costs, a yardstick to measure all other inhumane acts against, the only part of history class that's even vaguely remembered. Someone is either better than Hitler or worse than him, as though chemical attacks, ethnic cleansing, and the lives that were lost in them can be ranked like Radiohead albums and NBA draft picks.
This has ruined our ability to discuss the acts of politicians. You can't read the news or check social media without seeing people compare Trump to Hitler, but here's a smattering to refresh your memory:
Trump supporters consider these comparisons ridiculous, and they should. In fact, they're just as ridiculous as these beautiful historical artifacts that, if I had my way, would be displayed in very confusing museums for centuries to come:
Those come from "news" sites that have headlines like "13 MIND-BLOWING SIMILARITIES BETWEEN HITLER AND OBAMA," from sites arguing that Obama's presidency was foretold in Biblical prophecies around the end days, and from forums like Free Republic, where the country's angry old uncles gather to posit that all black Americans should lose their right to vote because some kid in their neighborhood was caught shoplifting. You know, the crazy fringes of the country's political discourse.
Those were, obviously, ridiculous arguments. Obama's presidency came and went and did not throw America into a fascist darkness in which we were dragged from our homes at gunpoint and forced to toil in communism camps. Liberal America, not unreasonably, mocked the far-right's paranoia and alarmism.
Weirdly, though, a lot of Obama supporters didn't have many jokes when the Obama administration extra-judicially executed an American citizen, or murdered foreign civilians in legally dubious drone strikes and then did their damnedest to hide and fudge the numbers, or praised a brutal dictator's sham elections, or sold $115 billion worth of weapons to one of the most oppressive and cruel regimes on the planet so they could continue to fight a war in which they're committing blatant human rights abuses. In fact, they didn't have much to say at all, unless it was pointing out how badass Obama looks in sunglasses or how he and Justin Trudeau are a totes adorbs power couple. Weird that we'll endlessly mock a photo of Jared Kushner that was meant to make him look cool, but slobber all over the exact same kind of photo when it's the guy we don't think is Hitler, huh?
Remember that the decisions of the "cool rock star" in the first photo killed the child in the second.
At the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart SJW cuck, I believe that murdering civilians is bad. But because we're reduced politics to "Literally as terrible as Hitler" or "Meh, whatever, is Homeland on tonight?" we slot most issues near the bottom of the scale we've invented for bad actions, on which killing a bunch of people is "Hit the sad face on Facebook and then forget about it" bad, but Hitler killing way more people is like, you know, really bad. "I guess we have to do something about it" bad. We don't follow politics so much as we all have Hitler Detectors installed in our brains, but they've been horribly miscalibrated.
It's tough to follow politics on a regular basis, let alone agitate for change. It's complicated, it's time-consuming, and it's often depressing. Judging a politician on a "Do they resemble Hitler, according to our worldview?" is a quick and easy workaround. But when you make fun of people for answering "Yes," then panic and do the exact same thing when the wheel turns, it isn't productive. You mocked the other side for this for eight years, and now you expect to be taken seriously?
If you're worried about Trump being the next Hitler, then I have good news: At the risk of being super embarrassed by a Trump-brand labor camp in a few years, I'm pretty confident in saying that he's not going to commit genocide or turn America into an autocratic dictatorship. Remember how his attempt at a Muslim ban was struck down by the courts? A decision a real fascist would never allow a court to make? That's the system working as intended.
For everyone on Twitter screaming about how America now resembles Germany in the '30s, remember that America has been an uninterrupted democracy for over two centuries, despite detractors of every president demanding they be impeached before they executed their secret, devious plot to do away with elections and declare themselves king. Germany's fledlging experiment with democracy lasted 14 shaky years, featured political factions warring in the streets, and was full of people longing for the good old days when an emperor ruled the country with an iron fist. What's that old saying? "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to draw tortured parallels to score cheap points on social media in lieu of actually addressing modern problems?" It's something like that.
We've been comparing politicians to Hitler for longer than the Third Reich existed.
So no, Trump isn't going to order paramilitaries wearing his shitty clothes to beat you in the streets because you committed thoughtcrime, and to believe otherwise is an insult to the many people who work at every level of the American government -- which, for all its flaws, is pretty damn good at stopping that kind of shit from happening. But we've reached the point where pointing out that Trump isn't literally Hitler 2.0 will cause a good chunk of society to yell "Oh, so you think there's nothing to worry about, you Nazi apologist?! You must be a huge fan of geese, because you sure step like them!"
Well, there's plenty to worry about. The Trump Administration completely botched a raid in Yemen, which killed 23 civilians and an American Navy SEAL, it's escalating America's drone program, it's flouted conflict of interest rules for the benefit of Trump's family, it's on pace to outspend Obama on travel in just one year, thanks to Trump's weekly trips to Mar-a-Lago (which is pushing local businesses to bankruptcy, to boot), it's cut valuable social programs that could probably stay funded if Trump could just stay in the goddamn White House for a few weekends, it's called for cuts to science and medical research that could end up creating far more expenses down the road, it's denying climate change, it's established a dangerously unpredictable foreign policy doctrine, and it's eroding American soft power by looking and acting like a group of misanthropic hamsters who have seized control of a human body, to the constant mockery of the rest of the world.
But those problems are getting drowned out, because Trump's detractors are busy screaming inaccurate Hitler metaphors and his supporters are busy denouncing them as ridiculous. Panic is induced, often by people who paid no attention to politics until they were told to be terrified of Trump, then everyone relaxes when reality fails to live up to the dystopian hyperbole. Then the country gets not a lot worse, but a little bit here and there, in boring, easily ignorable pieces. These two headlines were written on the same day. One is based on fact, the other is speculation. Which do you think got more attention?
Here's a hint: Not many people are telling their Twitter followers that Trump reversed an Obama bill that banned states from preventing federal funds from going to abortion services, because boring reality isn't as interesting as frothing guesswork. Panicking about how that crazy fascist Trump is going to start World War III lets you wallow in doom and despair, but it also keeps you from actually having to do anything. If Trump cuts women's health services, you can write your representative or make a donation to Planned Parenthood in protest. If you listen to the doomsday prophets shouting about how Trump is going to plunge the world into nuclear Armageddon, you can act smug about not voting for him, gloat "I told you so!" and then go on about your day without actually having to work at making the world a better place. Why bother if we're all doomed, right?
The idea of doors getting busted down in the middle of the night and people getting dragged off to Trump Concentration Camps is exciting. The idea that an inept administration with about as many qualifications to run a government as a pack of sleepy turtles might bungle tax reform to screw over lower- and middle-class Americans doesn't offer the same thrills. We make movies about the heroes who resist ethnic cleansing, not people who resist cuts to social security. But resisting Trump doesn't mean that you get to be a heroic rebel fighting the evil empire, that you get to demand his impeachment every time he does something you don't like and then rant about how the system is hopelessly broken when it doesn't happen. It means that you have to read through long, dry documents on economics and foreign policy before calling your senator and asking them to oppose a bill. It means you have to treat the other side as regular people who need to be convinced of the logic and morality of your position, not as an enemy that needs to be destroyed. Otherwise, you turn into the crazy anti-Obama fringe that were mocked for eight years. The ones who raged and made stupid posters and foretold the end of days as the world continued to function, but changed forever around them.
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