The test of Nazism that Trump failed

Editor’s note: Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale and the author of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.” He wrote this column for The New York Times this weekend:

“No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism, the least racist person.” So the president said at a news conference in February. These words left me uneasy. A moment ago, as I was looking at photographs of young men in Charlottesville, Va., who were from my home state, Ohio, and thinking about the message “Heil Hitler” on the T-shirt that one wore, it dawned on me why.

Until we have been tested, there is no sense in boasting of our goodness; afterward, there is no need. After Charlottesville, President Trump faced an easy test, and failed. When presented with an obvious opportunity to condemn the evil that was and is Nazism, he first waited, then equivocated, then read from a teleprompter, then relativized. He spoke of “very fine people on both sides.”

The Nazi groups that marched in Charlottesville, cannot be considered a “side.” When they carry torches, they imitate Nazi rituals. When they perform the call and response of “Trump! Hail” and “Victory! Hail!” they are translating Nazi performances that we know better in German: “Hitler! Heil!” and “Sieg! Heil!” In Charlottesville, American Nazis shouted “Sieg! Heil!” as they passed a synagogue.]

When the supporters of the alt-right chant that “Jews will not replace us,” they recapitulate the Nazi idea of a world Jewry that stifles the master race and must therefore be removed from the planet. When they shout “Blood and soil,” they repeat a Nazi slogan signifying that races will murder races for land without mercy and forever.

These views do not define a “side,” but rather a worldview in which the United States of America, with its Constitution and laws, and with its hard-won daily understandings of rights and responsibilities, would no longer exist.

Hitler and his henchmen strategically defined themselves, from the outset, as a “side,” as the defenders of the system against the other “side,” the left. Hitler came to power denouncing Communism, which then (unlike now) was a force in the world. In power, Hitler assimilated all opponents to the other “side” and had them sent to camps or killed. When Germany’s parliament, the Reichstag, burned, Hitler had already established in his rhetoric that the other “side” was violent, and he used the (false) claim that the other “side” had committed terrorism to bring the German republic to an end.

The president has failed when no failure can be innocent. He has provided American Nazis with three services, for which they have thanked him: He has normalized their ideology; he has excused their actions; and he has given them hope that he will blame his opponents the next time America is struck by terrorism.

The full editorial is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

9 thoughts on “The test of Nazism that Trump failed”

  1. Jeff, if we know our history, we should be very concerned about battles between “brown shirts” and “red shirts.” We all know who the “brown shirts” are, but most on the left want us to believe the “red shirts” are a myth and yet here is a source no other than the NYTimes making our case IF it is read very carefully.

    1. Didn’t the acronym CABPRO used to stand for California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners? Now it seems to stand for “Citizens Aligned for Balanced Political Reasoning and Oversight” which reeks of the right wing “fair and balanced” mantra whereby extreme ideological propaganda should be given equal time to mainstream and accepted ideals and values.

  2. I read Snyder’s book after seeing him talk on Democracy Now! a month or so ago. One of the twenty things he talked about was that the formation of private militias (the SS started as Hitler’s private personal security, an idea trump has floated) with the aid of local police (as in Charlottesville when the police did not intervene to prevent violence) silenced opposition with brute force. And now Sec. of ED Betsy DeVos’ brother, the infamous Erik Prince of Blackwater fame, has proposed a deal with trump whereby for the mere sum of $10B per year, he will privatize and manage the war in Afghanistan. His (and trumps?) own private army paid for with our tax dollars. People need to wake up to the potential doom lurking around the corner and stop it before it happens.

    Yes, there are people out there who see the only solution to the growing alt-right/nazi/white supremacy hate groups as fighting might with might like ANTIFA, but they are not the cause of the problem nor are they the solution. On the issue of violence both are guilty. On the issue of moral equivalency, there isn’t one. The right wing hate groups cannot and should not be tolerated, made excuses for, mitigated, or given credibility in any way, shape, or form…period. They are a blight and cancer on our country and so is anyone who supports them including donald trump if that is the case.

  3. P.S. Snyder’s book it quite an easy read; a small paperback with less than 120 pages of actual text. Some of the chapters only consist of a paragraph or two. It is a must read for all who care more about our country than partisan politics.

    1. Thanks for perspective and book Reco. You folks still up the mountain side with the Tea Party (et., al.) may have “special” challenges. Hopefully they will be on the right side of history. Local and otherwise. Good luck.

  4. I read Snyder’s book as well and found a couple of the recommendations useful. The point that tyrannical regimes block people from having conversations, from making small talk, making eye contact, and welcoming conversation, interesting. Almost every first-hand account I have ever read about Nazi Germany, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China confirms the idea that it is the unlikely and unexpected allies made through social contact that become saviors.

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