When President Trump last week 'declared', by presidential fiat, that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, his intentions were pretty clear. Ratchet up the tension of an already volatile situation; provoke animosity and, by extension, violence; use that violence to support an agenda of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism. I would predict that before the day is out, we will be regaled with tweets about the Muslim ban, border security, and very likely, the necessity of Roy Moore, (the Alabama candidate who's as racist and depraved as the president himself).
Trump has now come out more or less absolving Roy Moore for his crimes, you know, the crimes concerning his efforts to sexually assault children. 'Look, he denies it,' Trump said.
I cannot say that I am surprised; nothing that this despicable vulgarian does or says anymore surprises me. Literally nothing. I have finally realized that nothing is out of bounds for this soulless, unprincipled wretch. But I cannot, for the life of me, understand the fawning, unwavering support of evangelicals in this country for this disgusting degenerate, or for the vile things that he stands behind.
Let's just recap. At this time, unless I am mistaken, eight different women have come forward against Moore, women who did not know each other beforehand, and who did not, themselves, reach out to the media to share their stories. (That discredits the 'they're doing it for political reasons' argument). Their stories are strikingly similar - Roy Moore pursued sexual relations with them when they were in their early teenage years, and when Moore himself was in his thirties. There is indisputable evidence that he wrote something inexcusably creepy in the yearbook of a sixteen-year-old girl. Some of his acquaintances have said that he was known to date teenagers. He himself did not deny outright to Hannity that he dated teenagers!!!!!! Moreover, he has outright admitted that he first 'noticed' his wife when she was fifteen, when he would have been twenty-nine. But this is not the most perplexing part of this story. Though disgusting and despicable, I can at least understand the depravities of one man (or in this case, two, given the now complicity of Donald J. Trump). But I cannot understand the continuing evangelical support of Roy Moore, or of Donald Trump. While Moore's guilt has not been proven in a court of law, I think it is safe to say that the court of public opinion should be well beyond the 'wait and see' mode on this man. But not for our president. And why not? Well, simple... because it was hurting him with his base. His base that includes the increasingly inscrutable evangelical community.
Ministers have come out in defense of Moore. Some of them have even said that even if he did the things he's accused of, there's no wrong in it, because Joseph was much older than Mary. Many of Moore's supporters are simply calling the accusers liars, and much of the evangelical community continues to support a PEDOPHILE, for God's sake!!!!!!!! This is the same group who wants to deny the marital rights of homosexual, consenting adults. They want to make sure that transgender persons cannot use the bathrooms that they want to (and why not? Oh, that's right... because they're afraid of pedophiles). But when there's an ACTUAL pedophile running for the United States Senate, (so long as there's a freaking 'R' next to his name), they defend and make excuses.
I come from the evangelical community, I understand (or I thought I did) that community, and I have defended, on many occasions, that community. Though I disagree with their religious views, and the politics that they espouse (Jesus never once mentions abortion or homosexuality, but he discusses greed and poverty all the time), I have nevertheless always respected the fact that they were principled in their convictions. And I understand why they feel like the coastal elites are snobs who look down their noses at them, and I even understand why they turned to Donald Trump in the last election. But there is no defense for continuing to justify his actions, or those of Roy Moore. The evangelical community, who once impeached Bill Clinton for cheating on his wife, has now elected a president who cheated on two wives, leaving them for younger women; has boasted on tape about sexually assaulting women, (a boast for which he never apologized); and who has admitted to using his power as the owner of the Miss America pageant to walk into the dressing rooms while the contestants were naked - a fact that has been corroborated by some of those contestants; and this community is now supporting, in large numbers, a man who, the evidence strongly suggests, pursued sexual relations with children. This shows that their principles are only as strong as the political winds. There is simply no honor in defending the indefensible. And there is really no Christian virtue in it. To paraphrase your messiah, the time has come to choose: God or Caesar.
So... just to be sure I have this straight... saying 'Happy Holidays' to someone is offensive, but charging $45 a pop for this hyper-politico-commercialization of Christmas (which, interestingly, seems to suggest that only Donald Trump can make Christmas great)... is peachy keen?
'When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'
'I have never turned away a stranger, but have opened my doors to everyone.'
'Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.'
'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
'Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.'
Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler…
--The Holy Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:177
'You must come home with and be my guest; you will give joy to me, and I will do all that is in my power to honor you.'
--Percy Bysshe Shelley
'The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself to the service of others.'
'Only a life lived for others is the life worth while.'
'Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and we will tell them to get the hell out of our great country.'
--Donald Trump's America
And these are just the highlights... just a fraction of the daily crapshow that is our current presidential administration.
One month on from the mass murder in Las Vegas, and the bump stock - that law-skirting piece of ingenuity that enables someone to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a de facto automatic weapon, enabling Stephen Paddock to murder 58 people and paralyze and wound hundreds more - is not only not illegal; it is back out there on the market. Way to go, NRA!
Now, before anyone's feathers get ruffled by my title, let me state at the outset, I am not going to defend the German National Socialist Party. Nor do I intend to argue, as our president said a few months ago, that there were some 'very fine people' among the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, chanting 'Jews will not replace us.'
No, I am interested in a recent to-and-fro that took place between the New York Times and Fox News. In this Times Op-Ed piece, Charles Blow argues that President Trump employs deceptive rhetorical strategies akin to those used by Adolf Hitler. One such strategy consists of telling lies of such magnitude that they seem to followers almost impossible to concoct, giving a new meaning to the old adage, 'you just can't make this stuff up.' Another strategy involves the constant use of caveats to preface his ridiculous and demonstrably false claims, as when Trump says, 'A lot of people are saying...' or 'I have heard that...' or the like. This provides just the right amount of discursive cushion between himself and the claim that he's making, such that he can never be accused, not with any legal force, at least, of lying or defamation. (An odd strategy, given that this president has also said, on numerous occasions, that journalists should be required to out their sources... then again, integrity is not Donald's strong suit). This amounts, Blow argues, to a 'weaponizing of untruth' that ought to scare citizens living in the most militarily powerful nation in the world. (We have long ago surrendered any putative moral power).
Cue the righteous indignation. Predictably, Amanda Head of Fox News, the de facto media arm of the Trump administration, returned the favor with this piece, titled, 'Sorry, New York Times, Trump Isn't Hitler. Not Even Close.' Now, leaving aside the fact that the title of Blow's piece is literally, 'Trump Isn't Hitler...' and leaving aside the fact that Head only circuitously addresses Blow's central premise about Trump's weaponized lying, I'll get right to my point: Head claims that 'to evoke Adolf Hitler - the most reviled dictator in the history of the world - is a bridge too far, even for the New York Times.' So I did a quick Google search, 'Fox News Trump Hitler' - it turns out, Fox News is downright sick and tired of the comparisons between Hitler and Trump.
*Sigh* To quote Head, 'Where to even begin?' For starters, for anyone who is in any way affiliated with Fox News - whether as a pundit, anchor, contributor, racist grandparent, or casual viewer - to cry foul over Hitler comparisons, is positively laughable. We should remind ourselves that when Barack Obama was president, the Hitler comparisons on Fox were a dime a dozen. As a matter of fact, here's a short compilation, in case you've forgotten.
But in Obama's case, it wasn't because he arrested en masse persons involved in the protests of his inauguration, or because he suggested that people ought to be forced to behave in certain ways during the playing of the national anthem, or because he said he wanted to strip away the broadcast licenses of every media outlet that dared to question his authority or veracity, or concomitantly, because he only gave interviews to the media outlets who spent their every moment trumpeting his glory, or because he wanted to give national preference to one particular religion, or because he explicitly wanted to disallow members of another religion from entering the country, or because he said that a federal judge of a particular race couldn't be objective in a case concerning himself, or because he touted a false moral equivalency between self-proclaimed racists and the protesters who marched against them, or because he threatened to 'primary' any members of his political party who didn't pledge absolute loyalty to him, or because he falsely and without evidence accused a former president of illegally wiretapping him, or because he threatened to imprison his political opponents if elected, or because he fired the director of the FBI for the express reason that said director was investigating possible collusion in a presidential election between himself and a hostile foreign power. *Deep, restorative breath* No, in Obama's case, the Hitler comparisons were made because of the sizes of Obama's rally audiences, the chimerical seizure of all firearms that Obama had no interest in passing, Obama's efforts to pass universal health care, Michelle Obama's push for healthier food options in public schools, and the fact that, like just like Adolf Hitler, Obama was, brace yourself, democratically elected. (Watch the video, if you don't believe me).
But, we should address the larger point... that Hitler comparisons are simply out of bounds, a 'bridge too far...' as Head put it. As even Blow himself says, 'It is a commonly accepted rule among those who are in the business of argument, especially online, that he or she who invokes Adolf Hitler, either in oratory or in essays, automatically forfeits the argument.' Until just recently, when Nazis have suddenly hit the mainstream once again, it was simply accepted as unassailable fact that the Nazis, and chief among them Adolf, were the paradigmatic example of the most radical evil imaginable in history, an evil so Satanically evil as to be utterly inhuman, almost to the point of otherworldliness. As a teacher of philosophy, I could not even begin to guess how many times I've gotten some version of the Nazi question: 'Spinoza says everything that happens happens as an expression of God's perfect nature - So, Hitler is an expression of God's perfect nature?' 'Nietzsche says that we must affirm life with all its imperfections. So Nietzsche would affirm Hitler?' 'Kant says we must always tell the truth - but does that mean I have to give up to the Nazis the Jews that I'm hiding in the attic?' 'Anselm says that it is better to exist than to not exist - but wouldn't a non-existent Hitler be better than an existent Hitler?' Etc. It is this otherworldly sense of absolute, radical evil that grounds the 'out of bounds' characterization of any Nazi comparisons (provided they're against my political party). As Head writes, 'there is no comparison between a lie and the mass execution of millions of innocent civilians.'
It is high time we drop this veneer of untouchability and incomparability when it comes to the Nazis, and high time that we rehumanize the Nazis. Don't get me wrong. Yes, Hitler was a genocidal racist, a master propagandist, demagogue, and a madman who led Europe into self-destruction; yes, Nazism was (and is) evil; yes, an entire nation (or at least, the lion's share of a certain subset of that nation) was seduced by the poisonous haze of National Socialism. But that is precisely what makes it so interesting, and so potentially instructive. When I say that we must rehumanize the Nazis, I mean that it is of fundamental importance that we treat Nazism for what it was. Nazism did not arise spontaneously one day, ex nihilo. It was not the result of a hypnotism from another planet. It was not the beasts of hell unleashed upon the earth. Nor was it the product of one single madman. Oh, if only it were that simple.
While Nazism as a political movement may have been the brainchild of Hitler, the elements that constituted the core of Nazism were in no way invented by Hitler. Hitler did not invent the antisemitism that had been part of Western culture since the Roman occupation of Judea (Palestine); nor did he invent Social Darwinism or eugenics. Hitler wasn't responsible for the nationalism that preached the cultural superiority of Germany - a nationalism with philosophical roots that went back at least to the time of Fichte and Hegel; Hitler did not create the conditions of World War I, and it wasn't Hitler who imposed the British naval blockade of ships bringing rations to Germany, believed to be responsible for upwards of 800,000 German civilian deaths during that war. Hitler didn't set the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that later left Germany's economy in tatters. Nor did he invent the human propensity for resentment, tribalism, or that special breed of tribalism known as bent-twig nationalism. This is not to diminish his role, of course. In Hitler these passionate rages and resentments coalesced into a maddening rationality, to quote Jonathan Glover, 'a twisted deontology'; and Hitler was the strategist and orator who harnessed these elements and used them to propel himself to power, and ultimately attempt to exterminate an entire race of people (along with Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, and so on). But these elements were in the air for him to exploit, and exploit them he did. By rehumanizing, I mean, it is time we acknowledge that it was not demons, monsters, or otherworldly beings who made up the Nazi party - it was good old-fashioned, flesh and blood human beings. It was human beings who put these persons in power; human beings who helped stigmatize, exclude, and oppress certain classes of human beings; who screamed in fervor as they threw their books into bonfires; human beings who cheered, enraptured, as Hitler spoke about the purity of their blood; human beings who collected the personal effects of the human beings who were being carted to their deaths; human beings who locked up and operated train cars full of human beings; human beings who marched human beings to the ovens; and it was human beings who closed their windows in the summertime to quell the stench of the burning human beings coming from the nearby crematoria. The resentments, brutalities, bigotries, megalomaniacal ambitions, credulity, conformity, and cruelty that made up the phenomenon of Nazism were undeniably human. We ignore this at our peril.
What does any of this have to do with our unrepentant narcissist-in-chief? Well, it seems to me that what is so potentially effective about the Nazi comparison is that, like thoughtful and well-executed science fiction or dystopian fiction, Nazi comparisons operate by identifying structural and tactical similarities between the world we inhabit and the world we all (or most of us) agree we'd like to avoid. The guiding principle is that the more family resemblances that are shared between these two worlds, the closer we are to creating a world that we do not want to inhabit. Just as Nazism didn't emerge ex nihilo, the final solution developed over a period of time, as the political terminus of all those factors noted above. It seems clear that if we must wait, as Amanda Head seems to suggest we should, until we reach the point of mass genocide to begin asking questions, we've waited too long. I agree with Head that such comparisons ought not be made carelessly, but I fundamentally reject the principle that such comparisons are categorically off limits, (and clearly Fox does too, given the aforementioned treatment of President Obama).
So here are some suggested criteria for the assessment of all future Hitler comparisons. These criteria are predicated upon the aforementioned similarities between our current political world, and the world of Nazism. The considerations are: (1) the nature of the similarities - how relevant they are to the implementation of policies. Obviously there are a lot of similarities between President Trump and Adolf Hitler. (They are both males, both white, they both have hair, etc.). Many of these similarities, however, have nothing directly to do with policy. In this way, the fact that Obama and Hitler were both democratically elected ought to be recognized for the blatantly, almost unprecedentedly stupid remark that it is; (2) how distinctively Nazi those characteristics are. There may be other similarities that an American president may share with Hitler that do pertain to policy, and yet, they are the sorts of policies that many other (non-Nazi) governments have pursued. So the fact that the Nazis implemented firearms restrictions in the late 1930s, or that the Nazis were concerned with health care, would not be relevant considerations by this criterion, because many (non-Nazi) governments have implemented gun restrictions (with overwhelmingly positive results), and every industrialized nation in the world has some form of universal health care; (3) the relatedness of the characteristic to the genocidal acts of the Nazis. While Trump's weaponized lying would accord nicely with criterion #2, it alone would not necessarily pass muster for criterion #3, since there is not a strong essential relation between deception and genocide. However, the racism of Trump would; (4) the number of these similarities, and their relations to each other. This one muddies the waters, insofar as it suggests that a characteristic need not fit all of the criteria listed, if that characteristic, partnered with others, is worrisome. With the Nazis, for instance, the sheer fact that they imposed restrictions on gun ownership is not, on its face, worrisome. However, that these restrictions were imposed along strictly racial lines, makes it so. Likewise, Trump's weaponized lying, while not fitting comfortably within criterion #3 on its own, can be mobilized to serve ends that tend in the direction of #3, as happened for instance when he used his brand of weaponized lying to launch an all-out, relentless assault on the legitimacy of America's first black president, or when he lied repeatedly about the thousands of Muslims who celebrated the fall of the towers on 9/11. This sort of lying is weaponized in the sense that it aids Trump in helping stoke and disseminate race- and religion-based hatred, which could potentially lead to more deadly outcomes.
Santayana famously said that 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' While comparisons to mass-murdering megalomaniacs should always be conducted with surgical precision and care, we do ourselves a tremendous disservice of willful forgetting if we declare them, without qualification, 'a bridge too far.'
This from Politico: 'Trump Spars With Widow of Slain Soldier About Condolence Call.'
I suppose I should not be surprised anymore. But is there really absolutely no limit to what this bottom-feeding, petulant, narcissistic child will do or say? (Honestly, to call him a 'child' is an insult to children everywhere, because nearly all of the children I know or have ever known demonstrate far more self-control, empathy, integrity, and simple decency than this shameful, shameless, divisive mouth-breather). For as long as I live, I will never understand what it is that his adoring fans see in him. Have we really become such a nation of malcontents that a solid and unwavering 37% of us can admire someone whose only demonstrated 'virtue' is a complete and utter lack of decency, whose only demonstrated capacity for sympathy lies with white nationalists and neo-Nazis? If an NFL player kneels in protest against the objectively verifiable fact of race-based police brutality, it is somehow disrespectful to the military. But this, publicly quibbling with the widow of a dead soldier over how your phone call with her went... surreptitiously accusing her of lying, this is respectful? Every day that this man occupies this office is a blight upon the moral fabric of this nation. But hey, at least he says 'Merry Christmas,' right?
As I continue to come down from last weekend's David Foster Wallace conference, I stumbled onto this Salon piece, reflecting upon Wallace's prescient forewarning regarding the seductive dangers of reality-TV culture, (if 'culture' in this instance is the right term). Like James Incandenza's film, Infinite Jest - a film that entertains its viewers to death - we are rapidly spectating ourselves into a nihilistic conflagration. One might wish to find solace in the fact that Trump's approval rating declines on a nearly daily basis, and that he is now sitting at record low support for any president at this point in their administration. Is this not, we might wonder, evidence that America is growing weary of the Reality-TV President? Yet, we risk missing the forest for the trees if we fail to see that Trump is merely part of a much larger problem - one player in the spectacular carnival of souls that daily constitutes our leisurely milieu. However low his numbers may be, we (and I speak from a first-person perspective) continue to watch. We tune in to find out what's new with the Russia investigation, we wait with bated breath to see which official he will inappropriately fire next, we laugh snarkily at his latest tweets, we cheer on the folks at CNN as they assume the mantra of political satire. We are no less enamored of the spectacle than we were two years ago - spectating ourselves to apocalypse.