I remember back when I was just getting interested in politics as a young teen in the 60s. My family was fairly liberal, and I was pretty much in sync with their views. I vividly recall being taken aback by the frequency with which ultra-conservatives, generally then from the John Birch Society, would label liberals with whom they strongly disagreed as “Communist” or “Communist-influenced.”
Unable to square our family’s rather modest progressive views with the doctrines I knew characterized Communism, I asked my mother to explain how these labels could possibly be applied to those who held our views. She was very patient in answering, essentially teaching me that some in politics chose to avoid legitimate debate or even the tough contests associated with political disagreement. They, she said, would try to scare others by associating their political opponents with evil enemies who would bring about cataclysmic times if they were allowed to gain control.
Well – I shot back – “shouldn’t we be concerned about anyone or anything that might pave the way to Communism, or God forbid, fascism or Nazism?” She responded that we always need to be on guard against any real threat of tyranny, but we must be careful about too easily associating political opponents with tyrants who have led, or might lead, the world down such a dark path.
I have often thought about those first conversations in my political awakening. We’ve had more than enough of the easy classifications over the years, coming from both the right and the left, and all sorts of interest groups in-between. These nasty, extreme, and over-the-top labels that have been slapped on people in such political disputes have seldom been deserved or helpful in solving problems, resolving differences, or bringing people together.
Today these bad habits have manifested themselves in perhaps the strangest ways of all. There is no doubt that the presidential campaign we’re witnessing is one of the most bizarre we’ve seen in a long time. The leading candidate on the Republican side, Donald Trump, is exceedingly controversial. Obviously, he’s drawing considerable support from the field. Yet, he says things and takes positions that worry others considerably.
I am one who has had some of those concerns, and I’ve written about it.
But here’s the point I want to make: where do folks, often strangely enough from the so-called intelligentsia, come off likening Trump to Hitler or Mussolini, and his supporters to Germans in the 30s?
Yes, he has controversial views about permitting Syrian refugees at a time of heightened concern about terrorism and dealing with immigration from Mexico (though apparently he may have indicated to the NY Times that his final position might be softer.) While disavowing David Duke frequently throughout his career, he failed to do so in a single interview. But comparing him to Hitler? Mussolini? A proto-fascist?
I’ve done considerable study of that awful period in our history. Much of my father’s father’s family was killed in the Shoah. So, I’m intensely sensitive to any sort of development that might conceivably lead that way again.
While there are always many words and actions to worry about, where are the signs that this political movement or any other of our time in America bears any true resemblance to that of the 30s in Germany and Italy? There’s a lot that’s awful, but nothing even close to that.
If folks want to argue otherwise, fair enough. Do it in a thoughtful essay that is grounded in history and analysis. But, in the meantime, cut out the cheap throwing around of these labels on Facebook and Twitter. It demeans the victims of Hitler and Mussolini. It misleads our fellow citizens. And it libels your political opponents.
Ah, to think when I was young that this was just the domain of the dreaded John Birch Society.