Earlier this week in The Washington Post, Harvard's Danielle Allen goes full Godwin on Donald Trump and blends it with concern trolling that's just off the charts.
In verbal contortions that would leave your basic India-Rubber Man constipated, she simultaneously invokes Hitler and undercuts the legitimacy of her own comparison. Later in the piece, after arguing that Trump is massively disliked by all of us, she then admits we are powerless to stop him.
It's up to the Republicans, the one group that actually seems to dig the jackass billionaire. But anyhoo: "Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is accurate. That is not my point."
Here's the start of "The moment of truth: We must stop Trump":
Like any number of us raised in the late 20th century, I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump's rise, I now understand. Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is accurate. That is not my point. My point rather is about how a demagogic opportunist can exploit a divided country.
You know, it takes the typical Hogan's Heroes episode longer to invoke Der Fuhrer.
Let's be clear: the direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is not beside the point of the column. It is the point of the column.
There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but if you invoke Hitler, for God's sake, own it. Otherwise, why bother? Why not talk about Silvio Berlusconi, say, whose late-20th-century rise to political power via a bullying media presence seems like it might inform discussions of whether a signature-steak salesman and serial bullshit artist is going to be nominated for president by the Republicans more than the experiences of an art-school failure who got big before the TV era?
Allen compounds her patently insincere move (which is, in its way, very Trumpian, by planting a highly charged and negative controlling image in the reader from the start of a conversation) with concern trolling of the worst sort.
Republicans, you cannot count on the Democrats to stop Trump. I believe that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, and I intend to vote for her, but it is also the case that she is a candidate with significant weaknesses, as your party knows quite well. The result of a head-to-head contest between Clinton and Trump would be unpredictable. Trump has to be blocked in your primary.
What? In the preceding paragraph, she had announced that "the vast majority of voting Americans think that Trump is unacceptable as a presidential candidate, but we are split by strong partisan ideologies and cannot coordinate a solution to stop him." Soo…it's up to you…Republicans? Leave aside questions of whether a majority of Americans are unfavorable toward Hillary Clinton (they are). Why shouldn't Allen and her Democratic friends do something about it? Switch parties and vote against him in the primaries? Again, because the message is the opposite of the words on the page. The point isn't to block Trump, it's to be able to blame Republicans (just 26 percent of the population, according to Gallup) if and when The Donald beats Hillary Clinton. Again, if Clinton is such a weak candidate that Trump, whom we all hate, could beat her, what does that say about the Democrats' contribution to the mess we're in?
I believe Allen and even kinda-mostly agree with her when she writes:
Donald Trump has no respect for the basic rights that are the foundation of constitutional democracy, nor for the requirements of decency necessary to sustain democratic citizenship. Nor can any democracy survive without an expectation that the people require reasonable arguments that bring the truth to light, and Trump has nothing but contempt for our intelligence.
At the same time, Trump has not in any way, shape, or form shown actual contempt for basic rights or the democratic process in a way that sets him apart from other candidates, certainly not other conservative Republican candidates for president (Cruz and Rubio, for instance, are as hostile to illegal immigrants). Similarly, Hillary Clinton has actually voted for, signed off on, voiced support for,or implemented foreign policy and domestic surveillance that is either as bad or worse as anything Trump has barked about. In terms of actually affecting policy that helps or hurts a real human being, the closest Trump has come so far is giving Omarosa a clear pathway to teach at…Harvard, of all places.
I say this not to pull some sort of nihilisitic "they're all the same" trip regarding the major-party candidates. Rather, I bring it up to underscore how idiotic much of our political discourse is, how cartoonish and self-evidently phony and overblown.
Part of Trump's appeal is precisely his grandiose exaggerations—about Mexican rapists and drug mules who are taking our jobs while living off our welfare, how he's gonna make America "great" again, etc. In this, again, Trump is hardly alone. Ben Carson, bless his heart, opened last night's debate with a quaint story about the country being in an "abyss of destruction" or something and virtually every Ted Cruz sentence packs more spiritual warfare than an hour-long sermon by Jonathan Edwards. Hillary Clinton is herself known for extreme conceptualizations, sometimes even talking about vast "conspiracies" that are holding her back from her rightful ascension to the throne of Heaven (most people would simply call the forces arrayed against her standard politics). Bernie Sanders invokes billionaires the way priests in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man invoke the devil. Since before the Founding, American public figures have always talked in insane, millennialist, End-of-Days terms (there's a whole school of the thought that the jeremiad is the fundamental American idiom). Remember the Daisy ad, anyone?
But the idea that the only right way to combat all that is through an equally unreal and bombastic rhetoric is not simply wrong but ineffective. Bringing up Hitler and then saying that's not what you mean is a pretty bad ploy that only inflames the very people you ostensibly seek to persuade. Especially when the comparison is totally unsupportable, as it is here.
In a related way, I recommend Chris Lehmann's recent piece at The Baffler, where he looks at how the media is constantly rediscovering the lack of civility always and only at the moment when the media is on the receiving end. A snippet:
The prim demand that our media class merits a sort of preferential exemption from displays of mass political passion on the basis of the status they possess doesn't seem especially healthy for a democracy, either. For one thing, the whole notion that American political conflict is a decorous weighing of factual content against crudely deformed rhetoric—and the allied conviction that journalists are particularly skilled in this refined art—is a risible fiction. There's a long and distinguished tradition of rabble-rousing, character assassination, and fabulizing in American electioneering, stretching at least back to the founding of our first party system, and finding lush expression in everything from the slander-ridden Jeffersonian-Federalist dustups of the early 1800s to the scandal-mongering of our own brave new media millennium.