On the Edge

I was a little confused when I saw this meme.

 

I was not aware that the National Socialist Party was fielding candidates in next year’s election. In fact, I was not aware that there were enough Nazis in the United States to run for any elections. But then, I saw the #bluewave at the bottom and it became clear to me. By Nazi, they are referring to the Republicans.

This meme is as pernicious as it is false. It is false because neither of the major American political parties is anything at all like the Nazis. Here is the official 1920 platform for the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP or Nazi). There may be superficial similarities with one or both of the American parties in some of the planks, but I doubt very much if either party would endorse a platform anything like the Nazi platform. It seems particularly odd to compare the party whose president has a Jewish son-in-law, is probably the most pro-Israel president in the history of US-Israeli relations, and who has just signed an executive order against college anti-semitism with the Nazis, given that the one thing the Nazis were most infamous for was their hatred of the Jews. I wonder if the creator of this meme actually knows anything at all about the Nazis, or about history in general. Probably not.

This meme is pernicious because the attitude it displays tends to undermine the norms that the members of any polity, especially a democratic republic such as ours must adhere to survive. The loser of an election must concede gracefully to the winner. The winner must not attempt to change the rules or rig the system to maintain power. Elections and policy debates must follow rules everyone agrees to and ought not to be changed because one side dislikes the results. Factions that oppose the ruling faction’s policies must be viewed as members of the loyal opposition and not as traitors. The ruling faction’s policies may be opposed but not the system itself. There must be respect for opposing viewpoints. Above all else, political violence must be accepted under any circumstance. By following these rules, our republic has had peaceful transfers of power between leaders and political parties for over two hundred years. Ceasing to follow these rules will mean an end to that long, proud record.

The problem is that if you see people, not as fellow citizens you happen to have different ideas but as members of one of the vilest groups in the history of politics, you will probably not feel much desire to compromise or deal with them. After all, if they are Nazis, you have to stop them, by any means available. You need not concede elections when your opponents are Nazis. You do not need to respect their opinions. You can engage in blatant electoral fraud, deplatform and shout down their supporters, ostracise them, conduct impeachment on bogus grounds and even sanction violence against them. If the leader of the opposing party is literally Hitler, then why not attempt to assassinate him? If his supporters are Nazis why not assault them? They are the ones promoting violence and genocide in the first place.

We are standing on the edge of an abyss here in America. We are just a few steps away from stepping off the edge, into shattering the political norms that have allowed for the peaceful transfer of power in this country for more than two centuries. No matter where you stand politically, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, no matter how you feel about President Trump, you do not want want to live in a country in which those norms have broken down. You do not want to live in the kind of country in which political violence has been normalized. There have been people on the Left who imagine themselves as part of #theresistance and people on the right who fantasize about second amendment solutions to encroaching socialism. These people have no idea what they would be getting into. If their fantasies come true, they will find themselves in a situation uglier than they can imagine.

History is full of countries in which the political norms have broken down; the last century of the Roman Republic, the Spanish Civil War, Weimar Germany, and many, many others, Once broken down, the norms are almost impossible to reestablish. The results of that breakdown are seldom greater liberty, but tyranny. It is very difficult to climb back out of the abyss.

There is still time. We can still step back from the edge. It may be difficult, but the alternative is so much worse. We can begin by not sharing memes like the one above. The people of the opposing party are not Nazis or Communists. They are our fellow citizens, whose differing opinions we ought to respect. There is no one in American politics who is even slightly like Hitler, or Stalin, or any other dictator. If you do not like the president or any other politician, say so. Vote against him or her in the next election. But please, don’t seek to break the system just because someone you don’t like is in office. They won’t be in office forever. The damage to our institutions might be forever. Let’s all walk away from the cliff while there is still time.

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One Response to “On the Edge”

  1. Over the Edge | David's Commonplace Book Says:

    […] While I was writing on how close we, as a country are, to stepping off the edge of a cliff into the abyss of political confusion, the Democrats in the House of Representatives took us a step closer by voting to impeach Donald Trump. This attempt at removing the president from office is foolish because there is no conceivable way that the Democrats will get the sixty-seven votes needed to convict the president and remove him from office. Given that at present there are fifty-three Republican Senators, it is unlikely that even a majority of the Senate will vote to convict. The most likely outcome of this farce is that the Senate will vote to acquit Trump with at least one or two Democratic Senators defecting. Trump and his supporters will announce that he has been vindicated of any wrongdoing, and Trump will campaign on the basis that the impeachment was nothing less than a coup by the swamp he had been trying to drain. Trump will make the 2020 election between himself as the tribune of the people fighting against the deep state elite which tried to unseat a duly elected president on specious charges and he will win, if not by a landslide, then by a comfortable margin. Already, the Republicans are setting records in fundraising. […]

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