AN UNCOMFORTABLE REALIZATION
It’s a simple rubric. If you’re at a rally and the guy to your right is waving a Swastika flag, and the fella to your left is issuing a Nazi salute, extending an arm covered in SS tattoos, then you are at a Nazi rally. And if you remain at that rally, you my friend, are a Nazi.Stated during an online discussion
My first experience with using the internet recreationally was maybe twenty years ago.
I was coming into my political identity at that time. A few years earlier I rejected the libertarian principles that I formerly embraced–a result of my studies in sociology and experiences working with troubled young men. But I had not quite developed my current leftist identity, what I would describe as Democratic Humanism. I was seeking out forums in which I could have conversations with people from a variety of views–and boy did I find them. I spent a great deal of time in online debates. Yes, there were quite a few conservatives and American-style libertarians. Some I would call “right-wing.” I enjoyed talking to them, though they often were not well versed in standard rhetorical and argumentative skills. Many were misinformed. That was all right. I benefited from the diverse perspectives. I could respect where they were coming from even if I disagreed with their positions.
Occasionally, someone involved in these conversations would say something “Nazi.” In other words, they expressed an opinion that was consistent with fascism. Early on this included rhetoric espousing an “us versus them”, or what I’ve come to call a “Those People” discourse. I also saw a lot of “my country right or wrong” arguments. I learned, however, that it was poor form on my part to point out the Nazi when I saw it. The response was always something along the lines of “this is why you can’t have a conversation with liberals. Every time you say something they disagree with they accuse you of being Hitler!” There was that whole Godwin’s Law thing. The norms of online debate precluded the mention of fascism or Nazism, even when these ideologies were openly expressed.
When Facebook came online I signed on for the sake of marketing my first novel, Stone is not Forever. It wasn’t long before I found some old friends and started engaging in similar political discussions, often with very similar results. I knew my friends were wrong. They often rambled off talking points from FoxNoise. This was also around the time that Glenn Beck was at his height and I noticed a distinct turn in the debates, more assertive, aggressive, and less open to discussion. Every critique was an attack. Every piece of evidence was a lie. I rarely heard, “that’s a good point, but…” Anything to the left of a mythical version of Ronald Reagan was an embrace of Stalinism. There was no middle ground. At this point, Beck was talking about progressivism as a “cancer” that needed to be eradicated. Again, all of this is…well…Nazi. Yet still, it was impolitic to point it out.
So, I’d be engaged with my friend Steve (a pseudonym, of course), and he’d say something about how people like me should be rounded up and forced to take a loyalty oath, and I’d think, ‘that’s kinda Nazi there, Steve.’ Of course, I couldn’t say anything because, you know…liberals!
Then there was Michael Brown and the growing reporting of unarmed black people, mostly young men, being killed by police. Every time a new, tragic report came out Steve proclaimed, “if he didn’t want to die, he should have obeyed the police.” Um…Steve, that’s called a police state. That’s a central tenet of fasci…well, um…you know…the police shouldn’t be allowed to kill people. “Liberals hate the police,” Steve would respond.
To be fair, I really didn’t want to call Steve a Nazi. I knew Steve. I’d hung out with Steve. Drank beer with Steve. Steve loved his kids. He coached little league. He adopted a puppy! Steve’s not a Nazi.
This position required me to make assumptions about Steve’s motives.
Ah. He’s just watching too much FoxNoise. He doesn’t realize what he’s saying. He doesn’t understand politics.
But he’s definitely not a Nazi.
What was Steve thinking in 2016? I mean, he’s not an idiot. I’m sure he’s not a bigot. A sociopath? I don’t…what the hell is Steve thinking? Maybe he is an idiot or a sociopath…but he’s certainly not a Nazi.
Then the immigrants. The administration militarized the border, teargassing desperate women and children. “Well,” Steve posts, “what do those people expect.” Steve didn’t really like the openly racist things the President was saying about Those People…not that the President was wrong…just that the President shouldn’t talk like that. Then, talking like that became the expectation of anyone wanting Steve’s vote.
Then Charlottesville. Literal Nazis rallied in an American town. Certainly, Steve would condemn this. After all, how hard is it to condemn Nazis? I jump on Steve’s Facebook page to read his clear-eyed condemnation. There were, in fact, some critical posts on the Charlottesville Nazis. They amounted to, “I don’t like Nazis, but liberals are so hypocritical when they say they don’t like Nazis…”
Anti-liberalism is a centerpiece of fasc…oh, Steve’s not a Nazi.
Shortly after Charlottesville, I limited my time on Facebook. Every time I scrolled through my feed Steve and other friends were posting so much Nazi that I just couldn’t take it anymore. When I did log on to Facebook (and don’t get me started on Twitter) I hid their posts, or skipped over their mindless memes and shared links. I gamed my algorithms to show more of my family updates, my wife’s posts, and what my dogs Falcor and Newton were saying. Even still, the Nazi was inescapable.
Then January 6th…
I don’t need to go on.
Look, the bottom line is that my friend Steve and his political brethren are Nazis, or fascists more broadly. It is now impossible to deny this simple fact. As much as I hate to see it, and say it, Steve is a Nazi.
He may not be sporting jackboots and SS tattoos. If I asked him, he would certainly deny being a Nazi or a fascist. He’d even believe he was telling the truth.
Of course, in the 1920’s and 30’s people all over Europe and America embraced this twisted ideology believing that this was the best way to be delivered from whatever it was they needed to be delivered from, poverty, desperation, loss of identity, sense of purpose, and a soul-sinking belief that everything they knew and the values they held dear were disappearing. Along came leaders who promised them prosperity, pride, and purpose by restoring the greatness of what was once sprawling and indomitable empires. They were assured that their misery was not of their own making. Their leaders told them that “those people” undermined their nation and denied them their birthrights as a chosen and superior people.
Steve holds many of these same fears and resentments. He is willing to give himself over to a party, an ideology, and ultimately an authoritarian leader making the same promises and offering the same hope of restoring his greatness by Making America Great Again. If only those people, the liberals, the entitled minorities, the immigrants from shithole countries, the parasites could be silenced, put in their places, Steve would have nothing more to worry about.
That’s fascism. That’s Nazism. It doesn’t matter what Steve calls it. It arrives at the same place. If Steve and his poisoned brethren are successful we will all be living in an authoritarian police state in which rights belong to the privileged, Real Americans. The rest of us will be reduced to second-class semi-citizens subject to limitless and unbounded policing and censure.
So, yes. Steve is a Nazi. It doesn’t matter how much we like him. We have to call him out on it. Fascism feeds on fear and ignorance.