People say lots of crazy stuff. Particularly right-wingers struggling to find analogies that might explain why their present day indignities, would-be oppressions or efforts to be understood place them in the descent of history’s inconic victims – enslaved Africans in the Americas, gassed Jews in the Holocaust, to name only the most frequent examples.
I got to thinking about this more after I heard right wing star Dr. Ben Carson claim that ‘political correctness’ and its paramilitary enforcement arm, “the PC police”, have made America “very much like Nazi Germany”, so much in fact that we’re living in a “Gestapo Age”.
When I first read this it struck me as more of your standard right-wing performance, something between trolling and a form of extreme faux-victimization self-indulgence. In other words, The Crazy.
But this one sat with me for a bit longer. The problem in Nazi Germany, to put it generously, was not harshly enforced mores against using denigrating language to describe marginalized or minority populations. It was rather the systemic, state-driven denigration, victimization and eventually extermination of classes of people who the regime believed were undesirable or polluting the country’s dominant racial makeup.
Women prisoners lined up for labor assignments at Auschwitz
This is blindingly obvious for anyone with a shred of historical knowledge or basic human decency. So in the case of Dr. Carson’s remark, I couldn’t let it go as just more Tea Party-esque hyperbolic nonsense. It struck me more as a mix of dishonesty and myopia bordering on genuine evil – simultaneously dishonoring millions of dead and persecuted (not only Jews but gays, gypsies, slavs) while also pumping up the powerful with fantasies of oppression and threat that can lead them to do genuinely awful things.
It’s likely worth noting that Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism has played a not insubstantial role normalizing on the right a cluster of ideas and interpretations that range from just historically ignorant to morally reprehensible. And that no doubt plays a role here.
As a general historical matter, when mainly powerless people have grand ideas about their oppression, conspiracies against them, etc., it’s not that big a deal since they have little ability to act. Things are very different when people who are actually very powerful are gripped with the fantasy of their own powerlessness and oppression.
Congressional Candidate Jim Brown
Then today comes this. A Republican congressional candidate in Arizona has been forced to apologize for comparing social welfare and social insurance programs to slavery.
“Back in the day of slavery, slaves were kept in slavery by denying them education and opportunity while providing them with their basic needs …” wrote Jim Smith in a now deleted post.
“It is my sincere belief that over entitlements are a means of em- slaving [sic] the people by robbing opportunity while taking care of basic needs,” he added.
Again, this is simply more of the Crazy we see on an on-going basis. But let’s not walk too quickly past the idea that slavery was a sort of localized social welfare state in which “basic needs” where met but at the cost of denied opportunity for education and “opportunity.”
I don’t think there’s any need to belabor the point that slavery was considerably more intense and dehumanizing than anything remotely like what Smith decides. Smith would appear to be a complete imbecile. But you cannot divorce this nonsense from the public discussion or race or social welfare in the country. That’s frankly why we go to some lengths to publicize this stuff. Frankly, it’s not that far removed from when a prominent Congressman talks about “inner city” poverty and cites a ‘scholar’ most known for arguing that African-American mental deficiencies account for poverty, lack of educational attainment, higher rates of incarceration and more.