What does a post by Robert Reich and a meme placing a well known Republican's 7-year-old daughter's face in a gas chamber have in common? A very real fear of political violence at the hands of Trump's dangerously unstable supporters.
Robert Reich posted the following conversation on his Facebook feed Friday afternoon:
Yesterday I spoke with a former Republican member of Congress whom I’ve known for years.
Me: What do you think of your party’s nominee for president?
He: Trump is a maniac. He’s a clear and present danger to America.
Me: Have you said publicly that you won’t vote for him?He (sheepishly): No.Me: Why not?
He: I’m a coward.
Me: What do you mean?
He: I live in a state with a lot of Trump voters. Most Republican officials do.
Me: But you’re a former official. You're not running for Congress again. What are you afraid of?
He: I hate to admit it, but I’m afraid of them. Some of those Trumpistas are out of their fu*king minds.
Me: You mean you’re afraid for your own physical safety?
He: All it takes is one of them, you know.
Me: Wait a minute. Isn’t this how dictators and fascists have come to power in other nations? Respected leaders don’t dare take a stand.
He: At least I’m no Giuliani or Gingrich or Pence. I’m not a Trump enabler.
Me: I’ll give you that.
He: Let me tell you something. Most current and former Republican members of Congress are exactly like me. I talk with them. They think Trump is deplorable. And they think Giuliani and Gingrich are almost as bad. But they’re not gonna speak out. Some don’t want to end their political careers. Most don’t want to risk their lives. The Trump crowd is just too dangerous. Trump has whipped them up into a g*ddamn frenzy.
Most of us who internet are very familiar with Godwin's Law -- the online adage asserting that the longer an argument continues, the more likely it is someone will equate the opposition with Hitler, Fascism, or the Nazis. Violating Godwin's Law invariably means you've lost the debate because you've gone too far.
But what happens when the comparison is not just valid but absolutely necessary? And what happens when we refuse to accept that reality?
Reich's conversation seems to be a textbook example of how Fascism takes hold of a political party. But because we are well trained to understand that no matter how much we hate something, it probably isn't as bad as actual Nazism, we ignore it.
But we aren't talking about Hitler's fully realized Nazi Party here, we're talking about the Brown Shirts, the aggressive behavior towards minorities, and the inflammatory rhetoric from the leadership.
There are stories circulating about the horrible treatment of minorities, especially Jewish newspeople by Donald Trump fans. There are others detailing Hillary Clinton being hanged in effigy, and her death enthusiastically spoken of by speakers at Trump rallies.
David French's story, however, shows us that there is no safety for anyone who opposes Trump -- including those in his own party. French is an Army Veteran, a conservative columnist, and had once considered a third party run against Trump. French was awarded a Bronze Star and is a constitutional lawyer. And none of that mattered.
He spoke with Vox magazine after he published the terrifying treatment that his family has received because he dared break ranks. They are in fear for their safety, just as the anonymous former official who spoke to Reich mentioned. He said:
“I saw images of my daughter’s face [an Ethiopian girl French adopted] in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her,” French writes. “I saw her face photo-shopped into images of slaves. She was called a ‘niglet’ and a ‘dindu.’”
Her face was photoshopped into slave images. She was called every racial slur imaginable. I was accused of “race cucking” the white race, an absurd term in the alt-right world, which simply says I’m engaging in inappropriate race mixing. They would tweet at me saying my daughter was going to grow up and kill me. And that was just round one — it got much worse.
They found my wife’s blog on Patheos, which is a religious website, and they began to put images of murdered African-American men on the comment board. Fortunately my wife didn’t see it — she was out of town at a veterans’ benefit in DC. I looked at it and began to frantically scrub the website before she or my children could see those images.
Sadly, some of my neighbors and friends saw the pictures, and they began to be concerned for our safety and for their own, because they live right around us. So that was round one.
This was not because he was going to run against Donald Trump. This was just because he opposed Trump as the GOP nominee. After it got out that he was talking to well known Republican Bill Kristol about a possible long-shot run against Trump, it would get worse. Much worse:
Then round two happened when I talked to Bill Kristol about the possibility of mounting an admittedly long-shot independent run against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And the trolls came in force once again with all the same sorts of images. They launched a series of taunts at me that they were having sex with my wife, which was particularly hurtful and harmful because my wife is a survivor of sex abuse.
And then it got worse as things moved from Twitter to email. We had a very deeply disturbing email death threat, and then just a couple of weeks ago my wife was talking on the telephone with her father and a person broke into the call. It sounds crazy, but it happened. A man started screaming profanities at her and my elderly father-in-law about Donald Trump. We immediately contacted law enforcement, and they’re trying to figure out what happened.
So that’s sort of the Reader’s Digest version of a pretty sordid and terrible last year of our lives.
Rejecting a comparison to Nazis rests on the premise that nothing is really that bad. That in a comparison between Trump and his un-merry band of agitators and the early pre-Nazi movement, we would have to make too many assumptions. The above stories, however, are not based on assumptions, but incredibly disturbing facts.
One could assume that they are not leading us in that direction. One could also assume that Trump is not as insane as his loud, dangerous followers. One could assume that his wild popularity in conservative circles has nothing to do with fear of reprisals by those same follower (but we know it does).
One could try to assume that the protections in our constitution will prevent them from taking rights away from Americans. That they couldn't appoint enough judges, or veto legislation that they disagree with or don't understand. That they couldn't really start a world war over an insult. We could assume we are safe.
But it requires far fewer assumptions to believe we've seen this happen before. And this brings us to the answer to Godwin's Law: Occam's Razor: Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
To believe that a group filled with actual neo-Nazis and people who worship the Nazi Party would not act like Nazis requires a hefty set of assumptions. To believe, if given the chance Trump is promising them, they would do exactly what they say they want to do requires almost no assumptions at all.