Yesterday, it was a violation of Godwin’s Law to say that Donald Trump is a Nazi sympathizer. Today, it’s a statement of fact.
Here’s the video where he says this, starting one minute in:
Note his lack of interest while he’s reading his prepared text, the bored tone of his language, until he gets to the words (or ad-libs) “on many sides.” Then repeats it. No, the fatal attack in Charlottesville wasn’t the fault of actual swastika-wearing Nazis. It was the fault of many sides.
He’s being pilloried today for his language from many sides, indeed, but not in terms that are nearly harsh enough. There were Nazis demonstrating. He is sympathizing with them by not calling them out. Ergo, Nazi sympathizer.
How, in any context, could this not be the most immediately salient aspect of this man? Incompetent Donald Trump. Warmonger Donald Trump. Corrupt Donald Trump. All of these are, and must be, superseded by Nazi sympathizer Donald Trump. It’s now the first line of his obituary: “the president who expressed sympathy for Nazis.”
But here’s the problem: we’re not allowed to say this. I have little doubt that some people who saw the headline of this post decided not to read it because “Nazi sympathizer Donald Trump” is too incendiary. I clearly must be a wackaloon to write it. Never mind that it’s now factual.
This is why it’s important: there are damn few people willing to wear swastikas and parade in front of cameras. But there are many people who happily call themselves alt-right. The guy who “built the platform for the alt-right” is, as of now, in the White House advising the president. (There are rumors today that Bannon’s about to be fired, not because he’s a Nazi sympathizer, but because he leaks to the press.)
We haven’t been in danger of having a measurable Nazi political movement in the United States since the 1930s. We never will be. But we’re currently experiencing a powerful alt-right political movement, and alt-right is a term invented by Nazis to deliberately rebrand themselves. Maybe there are many people who call themselves alt-right who would never have joined the Nazis; maybe they’re just that gullible and naive. That doesn’t make it unfair to call the alt-right Nazis, because it’s also not required for us to go along with their branding effort.
There are many pretty things being said by Republicans today, but so far, I haven’t heard the beginnings of a whiff of any action to impede, restrict, or remove the president from office. These statements are designed to take the heat off of his Congressional abettors. Without action or followup, they are meaningless.
And here’s why this matters: we’ve known all along that the guardrails are off on our democracy, and we’ve repeatedly questioned if there’s a red line that Trump can cross which will cost him the support of the Congress he needs to stay in office. Yesterday, he crossed a red line we didn’t even know was necessary. If there’s no action, then don’t kid yourselves: there is no action Trump can take that will cost him his power.
The corollary: there is also no longer anything hyperbolic about envisioning what Trump might do. Cancel elections? Declare martial law? Call upon his armed supporters to take to the streets? (He’s already asked the military to become activists on his behalf.) All of this was hyperbole yesterday.
But today, we know Donald Trump is a Nazi sympathizer, and there are no guardrails.