2017

Moral Equivalence: Slavery and Nazi death camps

The war being over . . . and the questions at issue . . . having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country, and the reestablishment of peace and harmony. – Robert E. Lee

The General’s words were promptly ignored by those who idolized him. Instead, a campaign formed to instill in the American mythos a revisionist version of the South and Civil War, an image projected by Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind.

It’s in our folklore, an American rendition of the Arthurian legend: Antebellum South, a cultured, charming land of chivalrous knights, courting lavender-scented belles sipping mint juleps. Post-war South: A brutalized but heroic, morally victorious people, personified by the character Scarlett O’Hara, a phoenix arising from its ashes and boot heel of the perfidious North.

What balderdash!

For African Americans, antebellum South was no more romantic than Nazi Germany was for Jews. It was a brutal land, dominated by unsavory, deplorable sorts engaged in human bondage, torture, and ethnic cleansing. The KKK is post-war South’s legacy.

On November 9, 1938, Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller telegrammed German police units throughout the country that “in shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with.” It became known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The police were ordered to arrest not the perpetrators but the victims. Fire companies were ordered to stand down and allow synagogues to burn. The rioting, destruction, and murdering continued throughout the day of November 10. Ultimately, it was a people that was shattered.

Moral equivalence: The debate raging 79 years later is about Donald Trump morally equating neo-Nazis with those who believe all men are created equal. Had Trump reported on Kristallnacht, would he have allowed for some “very fine people” among the rioters? It’s a vexing question not only for and about Trump but for anyone giving him a pass.

In her Washington Post blog, the Right Turn, Jennifer Rubin castigates “spineless” Senator Cory Gardner and “go-along Republicans” for their “moral absenteeism.”

“It is because of passive, cowering Republicans such as Gardner,” Rubin writes, “that Trump feels confident he can ride out his term.”

Here’s moral equivalence: Slavery was an American equivalence to Nazi death camps. The War to End Slavery was as the War to End Nazism, and the Confederacy’s stars and bars battle flag, America’s swastika.

The First Amendment protects the right of dastardly sorts to display obscene symbols like the Nazi and Confederate flags. Free speech is a strength of our liberal democracy, but that democracy is being insidiously undermined by our equivocating president as well as by morally weak, spineless, cowardly Republicans.

The time for Republican tut-tutting over Trump from Clear Creek to Washington is past. Either they stand with the complete Trump or they must do more than declare their abhorrence: Begin the process of removing him from office.

America is grappling with her soul. There’s no time for pussy-footing equivocation.

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