NOT AS BAD AS HITLER IS NOT A PASSING GRADE…

August 20th, 2017

The straw that broke the camel’s back is the wrong metaphor if you’re going to talk about President Donald John Trump. The comparison fails because Trump isn’t a beast of burden, he’s a steaming manure pile out behind the barn that simply composts the straw and grows richer.

Whew.

I feel better now.

OK.

Jonah Goldberg, writing in The ‘Last Straw’? for The New Republic, begins this way:

Normally, when I’m out of town, and I can only follow the news or check in on Twitter intermittently, I feel like the security guard at a sewage-treatment plant doing his morning rounds amidst the vats and pools: Same sh*t, different day. But this week feels different. The fecal content is higher. The curlicues of shimmering methane distorting the air above Washington seem thicker.

Taking this metaphor beyond all good sense and taste, when I look at the gauges and dials in the control room, all the needles are in the red, and the sewage-outflow pipes are all pointed at the industrial turbines. I feel like I’m Jack Lemon in a SyFy rip-off of The China Syndrome: From the writers of Sharknado 7: The Sharkenating, SyFy brings you: Shit Show. “My God. That’s not coolant water . . . that’s not water at all!” In other words, it feels like this is the moment when Trumpism hits the fan. Of course, it has felt like this to one extent or another before…

Maybe, but I don’t think so. Only Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the rule of law matters in our latest national nightmare.

Goldberg is a good writer however, and his whole piece is well worth 20 minutes or so of your time. I particularly liked this bit:

[I]f you’re going to then argue that because someone wasn’t as bad as Hitler—or because someone fought Hitler—that they are somehow absolved of their own evil deeds, then you’re a fool. To do so is to render complex moral and historical questions into a pass/fail system. Suddenly, “not as bad as Hitler” becomes a passing grade.

That reminds me of the story a friend told me about her uncle, a dirt farmer in Iowa. Her uncle, she said, once summed up his life of troubles and back breaking work this way: At least I’m no damned nigger. That sense that we can’t be that bad if we can be, or can pretend to be, better than someone else, is at the heart of bigotry and xenophobia.

Goldberg concludes:

Whether or not the antifa [Anti-facists, JH] goons are better than the alt-right peckerwoods is an idiotic argument to have. It’s an entirely subjective and aesthetic question. If you think racism is the most evil thing ever, you’re going to say the KKK is worse than antifa. That’s fine by me. But who cares? Is there a fainter praise imaginable than “He’s better than a Klansman?”

The really infuriating part of this Manicheanism is its retroactivity. In the post-Charlottesville tumult, liberals have convinced themselves that the GOP is simply the face of institutional racism. Sadly, Donald Trump has made that an easy charge to levy. But as Kevin Williamson notes, this rush to tear down Confederate statues is really an example of the Democratic party cleaning up a mess it created. I’m reminded of something George Clooney said a decade ago: “Yes, I’m a liberal, and I’m sick of it being a bad word. I don’t know at what time in history liberals have stood on the wrong side of social issues.” One could be charitable and say, “It depends what you mean by liberal.” But as an institutional matter, the Democratic party’s history on race is far, far worse than the GOP’s. It breaks my heart that the GOP has allowed this to be forgotten. But as an historical matter, the idea that the party of Woodrow Wilson, Josephus Daniels, Robert Byrd, William Fulbright, Richard Ely, et al. has been the great bulwark against racism is laughable.

The simple truth is that history isn’t simple: The universe isn’t divided into the Forces of Goodness and the Forces of Evil. That divide runs through every human heart and, therefore, every human institution. Recognizing this fact is the first step toward humility and decency in politics and life. But we live in a tribal moment where people ascribe good and evil to vast swaths of humanity based upon the jerseys they wear. Sometimes, the jerseys do make the case. Wear a Klan hood or a swastika and I will judge the book by the cover. But just because you think you’re morally justified to punch a Nazi, don’t expect me to assume you’re one of the good guys.

I’ll simply point to events in Boston yesterday as one for the good guys.

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