Writer Edgar Allan Poe said, “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Hitler is one of those words, and fascism is another. This week, the media ushered in a series of new Hitler references to describe the conditions of migrant children at the border. To convey the conditions of children detained and separated from their parents, some media outlets labeled the detention centers concentration camps. Despite the problems that exist at the border and the flawed immigration policies that continue to evade the reform capacity of legislators, words are political. Trump and Hitler are fast becoming synonyms despite the appalling misuse of history as the reference point.
This is not new. Opponents often label Trump’s political ascendance as a form of modern fascism akin to Europe in the 1930s when leaders like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin ushered in unique forms of totalitarianism enforced by eugenics, mass purges and genocide. Just this week, Hollywood producer Judd Apatow called Trump a Nazi. The new context in which fascism is used undermines the terror common in the era between WWI and WWII when fascism emerged in multiple forms across Europe and later Asia. The extremism of fascist regimes stemmed from the desperation of the era when depression, mass poverty and unemployment defined the times. Stalin went so far as to starve the Ukraine into submission, and Hitler bestowed on the children of opposition leaders entirely new identities that erased the legacy of the parent. Add to this eugenics. Hitler’s state run breeding program, Lebensborn, bred the SS with “racially pure” women. Although started in 1935 to combat the high rates of abortion in the interwar period, approximately 20,000 children were born and raised by the state in the ten years of the program’s operation. And the state used genocide as a solution to problems. Nazism killed approximately 20 million people, Stalinism 40 million and later Maoism, 60 million of which about 40 million starved to death in the 1960 famine caused by the state led program to kill the sparrows, a program that produced an ecological disaster just 58 years ago. The literature of the era revealed that writers were acutely aware of the censorship and inhumanity of fascist regimes and produced macabre narratives like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Homage to Catalonia and Animal Farm.
It is a tremendous historic injustice to neutralize Hitler and the term fascism by redefining it in a modern context to mean something it does not. It is disturbing the detention of children at the border, but the treatment of these children pales in comparison to the ovens and gas in Hitler’s death camps, the starvation of the Ukraine and purging of opponents by Stalin and the government orchestrated famine by Mao. Trump has no intention of exterminating immigrants, annihilating his enemies or using ICE as a Gestapo-style organization to rid the nation of illegals. The fascists of the thirties used inhumane techniques to dehumanize and kill opposition, and their legacy of man’s inhumanity to man is erased when the media irresponsibly throws out Hitler and concentration camp references to describe children of migrants detained at the border. Moreover, it is a huge disservice to the lives of those murdered and to those who survived the evils of twentieth-century fascism to equate Trump- or even the government policy that has created this mess- to the horrors of that era. And, in any city in the United States on any day there are children alone, abused, hungry and in need. All children, whether at the border in a detention center or next door need protection, and Congress has the capacity to eradicate failed policies. But, words like fascism, Hitler, and concentration camps neutralize the terror of the past and do little to change current failed policy.
At present, shame, the protest chant of those taking the fight to the actual leaders of homeland security and the presidential cabinet, is shameful because of the extreme civil disobedience tactics employed by the protesters. The Nazi’s used the Nuremburg Laws to ban intermarriage with Jews and codify Nazi racial theories. Physical violence and property destruction and appropriation augmented the power of the state as the dehumanization of opponents justified the state’s inhumane treatment of those targeted. Civil disobedience is a right in this nation, but civility is an expected parameter in this age of anti-bullying educational programs, gender and sexual identity politics and sensitivity training, insanely high suicide rates and social media addiction. There is a clear expectation that citizens of the United States lead the way in acceptance, tolerance and justice and serve as an example to people across the globe. To have protesters spit on, degrade, attack and bully targets of the “shame” campaigns is as despicable as the detention of children in tent cities at the border. How to restore civil discourse in an age of identity politics and me first is the question of the hour, but it is critical to remember that words carry small oceans on their backs. And, for those protesters shaming leaders in aggressive ways that incite violence and violate decorum, caution, Adolph Hitler said, “Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination. This is the war of the future.”