Matthew Rozsa explains why we need to laugh at neo-Nazis.
During a Donald Trump rally in Las Vegas earlier today, a Trump supporter shouted “Sieg heil!” as a black protester was physically ejected from a room where the candidate was speaking. Unsurprisingly, this incident has taken social media by storm, if for no other reason than it reinforces the widespread belief that Trump is a latter-day Nazi.
As I wrote in an article for MSNBC last month, the comparisons between Trump and Adolf Hitler are erroneous. My thesis was simple: Racism, rhetorical violence, and personality cults are so embedded in America’s political past that it is simplistic to attribute those traits solely or even primarily to Nazism. That said, while Trump may not be a Nazi, plenty of his supporters are. As such, it is time that decent Americans everywhere recognize this phenomenon for what it is and respond to it in the only appropriate fashion… by pointing and laughing.
Please understand that I’m not trying to minimize the horrors of neo-Nazism. Indeed, as I’ve discussed before, I was nearly murdered in an anti-Semitic hate crime when I was in sixth-grade (many of my assailants made a point of brandishing swastikas on their binders and lockers beforehand). At the same time, there is something so inherently ludicrous about white supremacists’ crush on The Donald that I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to it. For starters…
1. They are being duped by an obvious con man.
In case you haven’t noticed, Trump is manipulating us. His formula isn’t particularly clever, but it works wonders for him: First he makes a blatantly bigoted assertion in a high-profile forum (press conference, political debate, social media platform, etc.); then he casts himself as a man courageously unwilling to bow to political correctness; and finally he rides the ensuing wave of publicity until his poll numbers start to lag, prompting him to stir up some fresh new controversy.
Although he first utilized this approach during the 2012 presidential election cycle (i.e., his support for the racially-tinged birther conspiracy theories), he has perfected it for the upcoming electoral contest. He first became the Republican frontrunner by making the racist (and inaccurate) claim that Mexican immigrants are drug-dealers, criminals, and rapists. Since then, he has kept his name in the headlines—and thus at the top of the polls—by disparaging women, Jews, Muslims, and just about any other marginalized group toward him there is enough hatred that he could realistically make political hay out of it. If this transparent demagoguery was unsuccessful, he would be doing nothing more than making a jackass out of himself; because it’s working, though, he is also making the weak-minded racists who can’t figure out what he’s doing look very, very pathetic.
2. Their diatribes reek of fear and desperation.
To illuminate my point here, I’d like to deconstruct an article from the popular white supremacist website The Daily Stormer written about… yours truly. Responding to a piece that I composed about Trump’s anti-Semitic comments (initially published here and then cross-posted by Salon), professional racist Andrew Anglin proceeded to refer to me as “Jew parasite Matthew Rozsa” and “a Jewish ethnic activist so twisted he actually believes he can stump the Trump” who “condemns the Donald as an enemy of his evil tribe.” According to Anglin, “the entire concept behind Jews’ obsessive shilling for non-Whites” is that they wish to maintain control over “all of our systems” by eliminating white pride movements, a point he attempts to reinforce with a weak parody of a scene from “The Dark Knight Rises” (which was co-written by David S. Goyer, who is Jewish) that juxtaposes Trump with Bane… the movie’s villain.
Setting aside Anglin’s woeful misunderstanding of “The Dark Knight” trilogy’s political message, this screed is plenty ridiculous because of what it reveals about the psychology of the racists themselves. When they employ epithets and insults clearly intended to offend – from shouting “Sieg heil” at a Trump rally to referring to a progressive columnist as a “Jew parasite” – they expose a telling lack of confidence in their own position. It’s the argumentative equivalent of making fart noises in a classroom while serious students attempt to learn and debate: They may be drawing attention to themselves with their obnoxiousness, but they’re contributing nothing to the actual discussion, and there is something undeniably farcical about their inability to distinguish between shock-based attention whoring and substantive discourse. Similarly, by relying on a simplistic conspiracy theorist mindset for understanding world events, Anglin falls prey to the type of fallacy best summarized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959:
“I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed.. Dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems — freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.”
3. They are fighting historical forces they do not understand… and cannot defeat.
When future historians look back on the Trump campaign, I suspect it will be remembered in the same vein as the third-party candidacies of Millard Fillmore in 1856, Strom Thurmond in 1948, and George Wallace in 1968. Although each of those candidates attacked different groups (Fillmore focused on Irish Catholics, Thurmond and Wallace on African-Americans), all of them were fundamentally driven by base reactionary impulses. Because they believed America should be ruled only by men and women from their demographic background (Protestant in Fillmore’s case, white in the case of Thurmond and Wallace), they hoped that enough voters would share their mindset to stave off the changes brought on by progressive immigration policies, the civil rights movement, and other forces that added more diversity to the American melting pot.
In the end, though, each of them failed precisely because America is more than the sum total of its ethnic and religious parts. At its core, America is an idea, one best captured by Martin Luther King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech:
“When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”
Although King’s words were heavily criticized by racial reactionaries and so-called moderates in 1963, the fact that most Americans take them for granted as eloquent and wise speaks volumes about our rate of progress. Less than half a century after they were spoken, we went to the polls and elected our first African American president. During the span of that man’s presidency, America has legalized same-sex marriage throughout the land, seen the first Hispanic ever appointed to the Supreme Court, and witnessed a wave of protests – from #BlackLivesMatter to the Third Wave feminism fueling Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign – that indicate the social justice ethic is continuing to spread. In short, the ideals captured in King’s speech are the wave of the future, and when white supremacists respond to this with juvenile bawling instead of self-enlightenment, they only establish their own increasing obsolescence.
There is a tragedy in this, of course, but it is healthy to remember that one isn’t necessarily compelled to weep at such things. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “I laugh because I must not cry, that is all, that is all.”