Fellow Travelers

Per Godwin’s Law, the longer an internet thread persists, the greater the chances of someone invoking Hitler or Nazism to “settle” the issue. A popular corollary asserts that the invoker is considered to have lost the argument through his or her specious hyperbole.


© Ragesoss http://tinyurl.com/5v8qvhb

Godwin’s adage would be more amusing if it weren’t so ecumenically applicable. Since der Führer so clearly favored nationalism, racism and authoritarianism, one might be excused for assuming that comparisons to Hitler come primarily from damp lefties wringing their wraithlike hands about warmongers and charter schools. Not so.

In fact, the further we slide down history’s chute away from the actual slaughter carried out by Nazi Germany, the more groups feel entitled to characterize anyone with whom they disagree as not just wrong but actually Hitlerian in their malice. In an increasingly secularized age, when even hard-core Christians (though perhaps not all Muslims) recognize the messaging futility of constant references to Satan, Hitler makes an all-purpose stand-in for the devil. He’s our utility player of invidiousness.

Perhaps we need someone to fear so badly that we’re reaching back beyond our discredited Cold War foes for the old reliable adversary. More likely, it’s faux-intellectual shorthand for “you’re so wrong, your mother called Mulligan.

“And nanny-nanny boo-boo, too!”

Perhaps the only people not madly waving their arms and shouting that the trench coats are coming are Jews. While I take no position on the messianic age, I’m willing to bet Israelis could reliably spot another Hitler if he marched up. Perhaps the rest of us could just shut up on the Hitler comparisons. It’s about as tactful as unmarried men ranting on against abortion next to a woman who just miscarried for the third time. Let’s try to show a bit more grace, shall we?

But we won’t. Garrison Keillor, a man often subtle and amusing, will go on broad-brushing conservatives as “nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes.” Really, Gar? Golf course development is the moral equivalent of Kristallnacht?

Glenn Beck will go on comparing a black President who won the popular vote and pushed a limited health care provision through Congress to a German demagogue who liquidated millions — and, um, supported nationalized health care. Oh, dear God… it’s true. Obama is Hitler.

Black Panthers who support Him exhibit no qualms about stooging around polling booths, swinging truncheons to chivvy along less enlightened voters. On the redder edge of the spectrum, Tea Partiers swagger up to Presidential addresses bearing tactical rifles, chic l’hommage to the Beltway sniper. In America, we cherish our right to make public jackasses of ourselves — and if you don’t use your rights, you lose ‘em… right?

If the citizens in the middle never raise their voices, the center cannot hold. Far from moderating civil discourse, our robust, always-on connection to 24-hour newsertainment squelches reason under the polarizing screeches of pundidiocracy. Reasoned dialogue is to Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher as dinner with friends is to pumping live hornets through a gastrointestinal tube.

There is danger in mistaking loudmouth fabulists for thoughtful social critics. Turkey is lousy with Holocaust deniers (hey, at least they don’t go around leveraging Hitler as an all-purpose slur); the Balkans nurture skinheads who throw Molotov cocktails and bricks into queer pride parades; Australia sweeps its aboriginals out of sight — and never is there a shortage of rationalization for rank lunacy, perversions of history or human cruelty. In these United States, where we have all those reprehensible splinter views and a thousand more and every laptop is a bullhorn, we can always say we were just following orders because there’s always someone to issue them and it’s just so darned comfortable to take succor from predictable patterns. It’s less painful than thinking — unless you’re one of those unworthies who get frozen out of the pattern.

And so we go ‘round the bend, from pique to anger to mobilization to direct action, sliding down a greased rail to that last station where we meet the bully boys:  Black Panthers, Brown Shirts, Skull & Bones fratties and all those dark, romantic pirates who sail the blood red seas of the id.

It seems true, as the old saying goes, that if you veer far enough to the left or far enough to the right, you come around to the point where force is justified. There are plenty of like-minded people there to assure you that you’ve transcended the political pansies who “meet, eat and retreat” and that it’s time to take action into your own muscular hands.

We have a short but rich tradition of that here, a bustling club filled with citizens of action. Patrick Henry, Davey Crockett and Audie Murphy are charter members, but the entrance criteria must have dipped from time to time. How else could J. Edgar Hoover, John Hinckley and Timothy McVeigh have slipped in?

In the rush of excitement that accompanies sudden epiphanies of violence, it’s easy to forget that battles are only fought by the young and strong. They’re orchestrated by the old and canny, professional sociopaths who stay in the rear with the beer, making up war stories, raking up profits and concentrating their power. For them, rousing the rabble with blood in their eye is the sentimental equivalent of gambling on a chicken fight. Osama bin Laden is not known for flying his own planes and according to his police record, Dick Cheney only shoots other Americans — but both stood ready to mobilize the gullible for war against the cataclysmic, unholy peril that would surely ensue if their edicts were not followed.

They’re coming to get us! Prepare to fight them in the streets! Stop looking at my offshore accounts…

If the people surrounding you are ready to die for 72 virgins, shoot cops, beat the Devil out of their children, execute abortion doctors, burn down horticultural centers, club down their critics or close down the schools, quietly excuse yourself and leave the room forever.

Those people aren’t just crazy dangerous. They’re mindless suckers who signed over their soul to the first demagogue who lit their brain up with the sweet cleansing fire of hatred. If those are your fellow travelers, why are you still on the bus? The guy driving it is interested in his final destination, not yours. Righteous rage may make you feel human and alive, but to the bus driver you’re a fungible unit of exchange: your life and freedom for his power and prosperity.

Somewhere in the political bazaar may be a stand overflowing with your flavor of fruit. Take note whether the proprietor is jumping up and down in a clown suit, screaming at you to BUY! BUY! BUY! or standing there quietly, exuding quiet confidence in his product and ready to talk when you are.

If enough of us stop to talk, the quiet murmur of dialogue might just push screeching pitchmen out to the edge of the marketplace of ideas.

That’s where they always belonged in the first place.

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  1. punditocracy

    Like. So. HARD. I really should give it more words than that, it deserves them, but it’s after the witching hour, and eight hours and change there’ll be a moving van in my present….

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