“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Me: Trump is a fascist. We have to do stuff
Other Me: Oh please. Listen to yourself. Remember when Bush was a fascist? Cheney? It’s not an alternate spelling for “Republican,” you know? Weren’t you the guy who said, “democracy means that approximately half of the time everybody is going to be governed by people that they really, really don’t like.” Of course, that was when Obama was president and you were telling people to get over it.
Me: But this time is different. He really is a fascist. Muslim bans? “My authority will not be questioned”? I mean, we’re one step away from sieg heiling when he walks in.
Other Me: Yeah. It took you 30 seconds to get to Hitler this time. Remember when you wrote a whole column about not comparing stuff to Hitler? You coined the terms argumentum ad nazium and dicto simplicihitler and relentlessly ridiculed people who couldn’t think of another way to disagree with politicians than to compare them to the Third Reich. As you said yourself, until he starts shoving people into ovens, he’s not Hitler.
Me: I didn’t mean Hitler 1943. More like Hitler 1936. You know, the guy in Triumph of the Will who wouldn’t shake hands with Jesse Owens.
Other Me: Let me give you a hint: fascists believe things. Consistent things. Like actual ideology. Trump is just a channel for a bunch of unrelated grievances that people have with Democrats, liberals, the media, Starbucks, and health care. Trump isn’t focused enough to be a fascist. He’s more like a walking comments section.
Me: Have you ever read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here?
Other Me: I’m you, genius. You know what I have read.”
Me: OK, so you remember Buzz Windrip. Lewis’s president. He was pretty much the same thing—just a stupid channeler of discontent who came to power by making glaring generalizations about immigrants and “America first.” But he became a tool in the hands of much more sinister figures who were ideologically allied with Hitler and Mussolini.
Other Me: Again with the Hitler. Can’t we just agree to give that one a rest?
Me: Now stop that. The “don’t say Hitler” response is just as knee-jerk as the “this guy is Hitler” response. If you want to look at ideological patterns, you have to use the examples available. You can look at how ultra-nationalist governments have come to power in the history of the last 100 years without saying that somebody is like Hitler in every way. I mean, Lewis was writing in 1935. Hitler wasn’t “Hitler” in 1935. A lot of people in America and Europe admired what he was doing, and there are triggers in human nature that he knew how to pull. It isn’t hyperbole to look at those triggers and see how somebody might be pulling them today.
Other Me: Yeah, so how are you different than all of the Tea Party Yahoos who said Obama was a fascist in 2008. And 2009, 2010, etc. You wrote a whole damn book about how they were wrong. And now you are saying pretty much the same thing as they were.
Me: Not really. They were wrong. I’m right.
Other Me: You KNOW that’s not good enough. Everybody thinks they are right and everyone else is wrong. This is human nature. Confirmation bias. You know this. You have written, like, a hundred blog posts and articles about it. Like this one. And this one. Everybody says that they are right and everybody else is wrong. This is just chimpanzees throwing poop in a zoo.
Me: I’ll give you all of that. But that doesn’t mean that every position is equally right, or equally good. There really are bad ideas, and some people’s ideas are better than others. The existence of biases doesn’t mean that all equally biased positions are equally wrong. Some ideas really are dangerous. Some people really are Hitler. You can be perfectly biased and perfectly right at the same time. And besides, I have to think that I’m right. If I thought I was wrong, I would want to change my mind. You can factor out all of the “yeah, I could be wrong” stuff you want. But at some point, you have to decide that you are as sure as you can be about something and then try to convince other people to think like you do. That’s how democracy works.
Other Me: Then why aren’t you trying to be persuasive? You know how to be persuasive. You teach this stuff. Nobody is persuaded by sarcastic comments. Nobody is persuaded by irrational hyperbole. And you know perfectly well that nobody was shamed out of voting for Trump. If anything, the way that liberals treated potential Trump voters is precisely the reason that we ended up with the guy as president. When you lead with “your candidate is a fascist,” there is pretty much no way that you are going to win somebody over to your side.
Me: I’m not convinced that people are actually rational. You’ve read Thinking Fast and Slow and The Righteous Mind. People come to decisions quickly and then use logic to justify their decisions.
Other Me: Well, then drop all of that high-sounding, middle-school civics stuff about entering into dialogue and winning people over to your side. Or maybe you could give people some credit and treat them like, you know, people. Generally, people are willing to listen to arguments if they think that you take them and their ideas seriously. Have you tried, you know, not freaking out about the existential fact of Donald Trump being president and instead trying to make rational arguments about why X, Y, or Z are either good or bad things to do?
Me: Well yeah. But the whole point of Trump’s attacking the media is to vitiate any final arbitrator of truth claims and therefore delegitimize all fact-based epistemic closure.
Other Me: Do you have any idea how stupid that sentence sounded to anybody who has never taken a graduate seminar in the humanities? The fact that you talk like that is a big part of the problem. But you are also a hypocrite. I mean, you couldn’t have been happier when Obama denounced Fox News and talk radio? But now that he is denouncing your guys you are getting all polysyllabic and mighty.
Me: Oh, come on. There is a huge difference between Rush Limbaugh shouting on air that Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim whose main goal in life is to destroy America and CNN reporting that Trump’s National Security Advisor resigned amid a controversy about his contacts with a Russian ambassador.
Other Me: There is a big difference to you, but look how you are framing it. You are placing what your guy did in the most friendly context you can imagine and what the other guy did in the most hostile context you can imagine. It would sound just as bad the other way, which is why Fox News and talk radio have such big ratings. Hypocrisy is when you apply one standard to yourself and another, different standard, to somebody else. And it seems to me that this is exactly what you are doing when, say, you complain about Trump governing by executive orders when you were fine with Obama doing the same thing.
Me: But the other side is engaging in hypocrisy when they do the opposite. They were furious when Obama issued executive orders, and now they are thrilled about what Trump is doing. I don’t think that you can really meaningfully talk about hypocrisy in a political context, since people are always going to see their own side one way and the other side another way. For example, I think that presidents do have the right to issue executive orders, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t accountable to Constitutional courts.
Other Me: Yeah, but when Obama got reversed, you said stuff like “he tried to exceed his authority and he got his hand slapped. That’s how the process works.” When Trump did, you said, “OMG!!!!!! HITLER!!!!! FASCISM!!!!!!! WE ARE ALL GONG TO DIE!!!!!!!!!!!” And when people used this kind of language with Obama you called them deluded wing-nuts.
Me: I never use multiple exclamation points. Not. Ever. And also, “deluded wing-nuts” is redundant.
Other Me: You know what I mean
Me: And Trump really is a fascist.
Other Me: So I’ve heard.