In 2018 Olivia Hawker published a heart-wrenching and poignant novel set in World War II, The Ragged Edge of Night. She then lessened it with ugly and false claims concerning the United States in the "Historical Note and Author's Remarks" at the back of the book.
She had ruminated, she tells us, for some time about writing the book. "It wasn't until the 2016 election that I knew the time had come."
"As I watched the U.S. I thought I knew devolve, seemingly overnight, into an unrecognizable landscape — a place where political pundits threw up Nazi salutes in front of news cameras, unafraid — a place where swastikas bloomed like fetid flowers on the walls of synagogues and mosques — I knew the time had come ..."
"A place where political pundits threw up Nazi salutes ... unafraid..." Well, I would certainly hope they would be able to do so unafraid. The answer to ugly speech is not to ban it but to answer with better speech. Voltaire, far better than Hawker, understood the value of free speech when he said, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
It is interesting that Hawker is worried about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim activity in this country, when it is far more prevalent in the very country in which her book is set: Germany. In fact, hate crimes against Jews and Muslims are more common almost anywhere in the western world than they are in the U.S. A Jewish professor of mine said that the U.S. is one of the best things that has ever happened to the Jewish people. It's not U.S. events in 2016 that should have set Hawker's blood to boiling, but rather events almost anywhere in Europe and in almost any year prior to 2016 (or since).
Hawker joins many others in making the vile comparison between the U.S. today and the Nazis. Many have suggested that Trump engaged is some Hitler-like movement. That is complete folly as I will show below. It is not my aim to either prop up Trump or tear him down. My aim is to unveil the vile nature of the comparison of the U.S. under Trump's presidency to Nazi Germany.
Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany in 1933. Within two years, with most of this happening in the first six months, Hitler had suspended civil liberties, he was given the right to issue laws without a vote of Parliament, opposition political parties had been banned, he was given the right to act as a supreme judge without resort to courts, and he was given the right to ban all opposition newspapers.
Compare the above with what happened here in the first two years after Trump's election. The Democratic Party wasn't banned, but rather gained power, taking back the House in 2018. Opposition newspapers weren't banned, but, in fact, became increasingly vocal in their opposition to Trump.
If someone wants to make a claim that this has been an era of suspended civil liberties, they will have to get in a long line behind the eras of such luminaries as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. As for acting as supreme judge, Trump barely got his last pick for the Supreme Court appointed.
The differences between the Nazi era and our era are stark indeed, so stark as to leave one mystified how they could have escaped the attention of Ms. Hawker. A good guess would be that they didn't escape her attention, they merely escaped her political agenda.
For an interesting article on how far out on the fringe neo-fascist movements are, Google "Slate Star Codex You Are Still Crying Wolf." The author of the article, Scott Alexander is a liberal San Francisco psychiatrist who despises Trump, but demonstrates convincingly that the argument that neo-fascist or white supremacist movements either represent Trump, or are the driving force behind his base of power, is nonsense.
If Hawker even had a case, she weakens it by having to point out why she wrote the book. If the parallels are there, it is far more powerful to let the reader grasp them for themselves than to explain them. That is one reason why books like 1984 and Brave New World are so powerful. They point out the absurdities of their worlds indirectly.
As soon as Hawker tries to explain, she loses her power. When a comedian has to explain a joke, it loses its power. When a novelist has to explain a novel, it loses its power. And when anyone writes in complete contradiction to the historical record, and perpetuates the lie that will not lie down, he or she loses all power.
Phil Kershner is a United Church of Christ pastor in Marine, Illinois. Prior to going into pastoral ministry he was a high school math and history teacher for 17 years. He has a master's degree in history from Loyola University in Chicago and a master's degree in divinity from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He is married to Sandee Kershner and they have two daughters, Ashlyn and Lauren. In late 2018 he published Why The United States is A Morally Good Country: A View From the Center. Read Phil Kershner's Reports — More Here.
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