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Dear Judd And Kumail: You Have No Idea What A Nazi Really Was


In September 1941, the Germans took the city of Kiev. On Hitler’s command, the new military governor ordered the round-up of all Jews in the vicinity and marched them north of the city to a place called Babi Yar. There, Jews were stripped naked and taken into a ravine in groups of ten. Once at the bottom their fate became clear.

Among the cries of children (many already separated from their parents), they were made to lie down atop others who had already been murdered. German soldiers then walked across the bodies in the large pit and meticulously shot every man, woman, child and baby in the head or neck. Then the next group would be brought down and it would happen all over again and again over a period of two days — until almost 34,000 people were no more.

Babi Yar was only the third largest massacre of Jews during the war. But the killing of children — Jewish and otherwise — started in 1939, when German medical professionals were reporting any child with disability to the authorities, and parents started handing them over to special “schools” where thousands were eliminated using drugs and starvation. All of this before the wholesale industrialized killing of humans was in full swing.

Now, if you really believed Donald Trump or Kirstjen Nielsen or Sarah Huckabee Sanders are keen on engaging or endorsing this sort of behavior one day, or anything close to it, you’re a depraved coward for not taking up arms and stopping them. And the only other possible reasons for you to constantly compare them to Nazis are that you’re tragically illiterate on basic history or a hopelessly unimaginative and dishonest partisan — or maybe both.

The word “Nazi” has lost meaning over decades of partisan abuse. Because though there may be thousands of fitting historic comparisons for people to employ, that’s almost always the one they land on. So when celebrities like Kumail Nanjiani or Judd Apatow use Holocaust analogies to smear Republicans, we should probably just ignore them. Neither, after all, have any special insight into these matters and their hysterics are risible. But the problem is that tens of thousands of people who follow them engage in this crime against reality. And that’s a problem.

It’s difficult to take this spurious reasoning seriously, but simply because you think you detect some trace parallels between what Nazis engaged in and contemporary politics doesn’t make them comparable in any important way. The Nazis adopted a bunch of socialist policies, but that doesn’t mean Bernie Sanders is a would-be Himmler.

Admittedly, there is huge space in-between zero tolerance and lawlessness at the border. But none of the positions that have been taken in American political discourse so far portends the Fourth Reich. Switzerland and Japan, to name just two liberal democracies, have far stricter immigration laws than the United States, and neither is on the cusp of fascism. Simply because the arbitrary number of allowable immigrants you’ve come up with differs from that of your political opponent doesn’t make that person a budding sociopath.

If Nanjiani had studied the Holocaust in college he would know that the changes that brought fascism to Germany weren’t really gradual. The pseudo-scientific racial theories that dominated Hitler’s thinking weren’t new, but his rise was abrupt and violent, and could only happen in an environment of indecision and lawlessness. It only took Hitler a few months to gain absolute power after becoming chancellor. After that, war was certain, and happened relatively quickly. While perhaps those points are arguable, it is inarguable that the six million Jews (and tens of millions more) were killed more quickly than any other humans in history were.

Moreover, by 1934 — where, I guess, we’re supposed to be in this silly analogy — the German government had already begun adopting dozens of laws and policies on all levels of government that restricted the civil rights of the Jews. Those Jews, who were German citizens and hadn’t committed any crime, weren’t contemplating running for president or creating PACs or starting businesses or taking their grievances to a high court, they were being thrown out of schools and their vocations and avoiding state-sanctioned violence.

Today, no law exists that targets Hispanic Americans. Not even immigration laws. Hispanics, in fact, constitute nearly 20 percent of the nation’s population. From 1960 to now the Latino population in the United States has grown from 6.3 million to 56.5 million. Jews were already streaming out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, or trying. Here, the opposite is happening. People from Central America sometimes risk their lives to come here for a reason, and it’s not because they are seeking more racial purity.

The president’s scaremongering over MS-13 is overdone, yes. Politicians have been saying dumb things about would-be immigrants and crime for decades. But it doesn’t mean criminality doesn’t exist, either. It does. Drug cartels south of our border are real and dangerous and the Mexican state can’t stop them. There are American victims of that incompetence and corruption. The Midwestern mom who voted for Trump because she’s concerned about gangs is not a future Brownshirt.

If there’s one thing we know about Russians, according to the scholar Judd Apatow, it’s that they have a great affinity for Nazis.

Well, Barack Obama killed American citizens abroad without any judicial process. Obama was wrong, and he also had many authoritarian instincts, but he wasn’t a Nazi, or anything close to one.

If you believe that child separation is inhumane, that’s a completely reasonable argument. I do, too. There has to be a way to enforce border laws and keep families together. But as Obama’s DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, also not a Nazi, explained, there was a necessity to detain some children because there is a humanitarian crisis at the border.

Our own confused laws and lax border security precipitated some of these problem. During World War II, the Nazis kidnapped around 400,000 Aryan-looking children from parents across Europe. We don’t “kidnap” children. Most of the children we hold come to the border unaccompanied. During World War II, FDR forced 100,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps. We have detainment centers where children are temporarily held because a court says the state can’t house these kids with adults for their own protection. This needs to be fixed. It’s not proto Nazism.

More importantly, the American constitutional system — one that is meant to limit the power of the state over the individual — restricts the power of presidents who praise Iranian governments that threaten second Holocausts or North Korean regimes that run Stalinist death camps. Here, those wronged have standing to go to court, and do. Even our most authoritarian presidents — someone like Woodrow Wilson, who jailed political opponents — were in many ways limited by the constitutional process. We may have forgotten this over the past eight years, but the president doesn’t “rule” us. That’s something that those who spent eight years defending executive fiat might want to start thinking about. Bad things happen when principles dictating process are replaced by the vagaries of our emotions.

The truth is that our political debate and legal wrangling around the morality of things like the temporary child separation of illegal immigrants or abortion policy are only signs that we’re not like the Nazis, at all. Not yet. Outside a few dozen White Power yahoos – ones the media can’t get enough of even though in the real world they couldn’t pull together a beer putsch in Hicksville — there is no political space for fascists.

So please get another historical event to exploit because not only are you belittling the horrors of one of the great crimes against humanity, you also sound ridiculous.