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MYERS: Analogy and the fitness of things

Six years ago during the Reid/Angle U.S. Senate race I wrote a column that called for less casual use of the Hitler analogy. Now we are seeing even heavier use of that analogy against Donald Trump, which suggests a lot of people don’t really know much about Hitler, because Trump would more fittingly be analogized to George Wallace or Strom Thurmond. Here is that earlier column:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle is really in the big time, now. Last week someone called her a Nazi.

At OpEdNews, a website that claims to be a progressive site though a lot of its content seems pretty reactionary, a writer named Mark Alvarez-Anderson wrote in a literacy-challenged essay, “Angle is a little reich winger and the consummate trash talker.”

Reich winger?

This hateful language is becoming all too common. In the Washington Post on the same day, Dana Milbank wrote about the tea party movement’s incessant use of the Hitler analogy. Milbank also wrote, “Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News since Obama’s inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obama—as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck’s nightly ‘report.’ ”

Last August, a Nevada woman named Pamela Pilger (not to be confused with an Ohio medical writer) gave herself immortality of a sort. At a meeting on health care in Las Vegas, a Jewish man named Samuel Blum was describing the Israeli health system and she yelled “Heil Hitler” at him. Pilger’s name now gets 13,000 Google hits. That’s likely to be how her life is remembered.

Analogies from the period of Hitler and his Nazi Party never seem to go out of style. Negotiating with those the U.S. opposes is described as appeasement. Leaders opposed by our government are described as Hitlers.

The first President Bush justified the first war against Iraq by calling Saddam Hussein “Hitler revisited.” In justifying his bombing campaign in Kosovo, Bill Clinton said, “What if someone had listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolf Hitler earlier?” His secretary of state, Madeline Albright, said, “Munich is my mindset.” The second George Bush justified the second war against Iraq by answering critics who wanted to let sanctions and negotiations work: “We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided’.”

Al Gore called the fight against global warming equivalent to the fight against fascism.

Conservative writer Jonah Goldberg: “In profound ways, the Nazi antismoking and public health drives foreshadowed today’s crusades against junk food, trans fat, and the like.”

Hitler, fascism, Munich are comparisons that work almost nowhere else. No less an authority than Winston Churchill warned against such analogies: “Those who are prone by temperament and character to seek sharp and clear-cut solutions of difficult and obscure problems, who are ready to fight whenever some challenge comes from a foreign power, have not always been right. On the other hand, those whose inclination is to bow their heads, to seek patiently and faithfully for peaceful compromise, are not always wrong. … How many wars have been precipitated by fire brands! How many misunderstandings which led to war could have been removed by temporizing!”

Those like Beck who traffic in these kinds of comparisons trivialize the horror of Naziism and the suffering of its victims. In 1972, when President Nixon’s agents were caught after they broke into the opposition party’s headquarters to repair wiretaps, Sen. George McGovern said it was “the kind of thing you’d expect under a person like Hitler.” A friend of mine wrote in UNR’s Sagebrush that if everyone’s a Hitler, it suggests that he couldn’t have been all that bad. That’s a good lesson to remember.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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