When the Associated Press dropped a breathless piece contending that the Trump administration was “considering” and “weighing” using 100,000 National Guard troops to help round up illegal immigrants, all the usual hysterics erupted. Soon, the White House denied it had ever considered the memo (and so far there is no reason to believe they are lying). Then we learned the memo itself doesn’t even say anything about “100,000 National Guardsmen” rounding up illegal immigrants. Now, we can theorize about who leaked the story, but it looks to be the epitome of Donald Trump’s Yogi Berraism about a real story being fake news.
Anyway, none of this stopped the shameful Hitler and Nazi analogies from immediately clogging up social media. Comparing the election to 1933 Germany is now a big part of our national discourse. People who should know better habitually make correlations.
This isn’t “Springtime for Hitler.” These gross equivalences belittle the memory of millions who died in unimaginably horrifying ways. Moreover, exaggeration and historical illiteracy undermines the very cause these people claim to care about, unless that cause is desensitizing people to the terror of the Holocaust.
First, they came for the undocumented. https://t.co/8sTCgi7eXW
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) February 17, 2017
Jamil Smith, a writer for Rolling Stone, was just one of the high-profile journalists to use this intellectually lazy analogy. “First, they came for the undocumented,” he tweeted. (In the next tweet about the memo draft, he contends, “Whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter,” which is emblematic of much punditry today.) He is, of course referring to Martin Niemöller’s famous poem:
First they came for the Socialists [sometimes written as communists], and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
People love to use the poem as a cudgel against anyone who fails to match their own hyperbole on pet political issues. Implied, of course, is that those who do not share their outrage are ignoring an event that is in some ways akin to the Holocaust. It’s a convenient formulation, because, after all, you’d be hard-pressed to disprove events that haven’t yet transpired. And if, for some reason, Trump’s term doesn’t actually turn into a Hitlerian nightmare, then they’ll tell you it was because they took Niemöller’s warning to heart and stopped the impending evil.
First of all, even if the authorities — even if the National Guard (which I think would be an incredibly horrible idea) — were to start deporting illegal immigrants, not one of those unfortunate people would ever be sent to anything resembling the ovens of Treblinka and Auschwitz. Not their children. Not anyone else in this country. Most often, in fact, deported illegal immigrants are going back to Mexico, where they can apply for legal entry into the United States. Every year, more than a million people become American citizens. So we are hardly in the early staging plans of “total measures.” In fact, we function under immigration laws that were written by representatives of the electorate, and the constitutionality of those laws are determined by the judicial system.
If your argument is that all deportations are, in and of themselves, the actions of a proto-Nazi regime, then I would ask: why aren’t you comparing Barack Obama, who deported 2.4 million people from 2009-2014
2014 alone, to Himmler? Or I would say stop appropriating the horrors of history for short-term political gain and come up with a better analogy.