CBS Broadcasting’s resident curmudgeon Andy Rooney once observed: “I hate to say it, but I had a great time in World War II.”
No matter what all the Miss America contestants burble regarding their lofty goals for eternal World Peace, it may be that the average person longs – consciously or otherwise – for a refreshing, purifying, clarifying round of Good Guys versus Bad Guys.
One group that reliably does not secretly wish for war has always been the men (mostly men) who have actually participated in physical combat: a messy, confusing, impure affair; never carried out to a script; and always designed by the enemy to really, truly kill you and your two best buddies, sometimes by gruesomely imaginative methods, and always for keeps.
I will not debate here whether or not the typical human being is predisposed towards war, as philosophers, sociologists, theologians, and others-not-Andy-Rooney have theorized. Or whether we are at least predisposed towards conflict. I will note, without fear of credible rebuttal, that the typical human being — and perhaps above all the typical political being — is strongly motivated to view him or herself as a Good Guy. And in the case of politicians, they are by definition creatures who are part of an “Us” that requires a “Them.” A “Them” to be voted against. Those Bad Guy “Others” who justify the actions of a politician’s own right-thinking, superior, power-deserving group.
So, “We” are “Good” and “They” must be otherwise. Bad. Simple and logical. It’s the same impulse that, in a more benign form, causes otherwise perfectly normal people to come to actual blows over some sporting event.
In my opinion, the current young’uns, those who are young Baby Boomers and subsequent generations, long for their own righteous struggle.
Many of us never had a chance to march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge or to jeer George Wallace. But we know for sure that we would have been on the right side of that fight. And quite naturally we long for the moral clarity of fighting loathsome segregationists and the KKK.
Probably the single most ultimately satisfying triumph of Good over Evil in our own cultural memory is World War II. But the great majority of us now alive did not see or experience that war in real time or real life – which is a blessing. But… But…
Decades after the end of World War II, the keenly self-aware Andy Rooney remarked of war, with a mixture of honesty, disquiet, and nostalgia: “If you weren’t killed or wounded, it was an exhilarating time of life.”
I think that the current crop of Democratic Young Stars and Presidential Wannabes are becoming addicted to the exhilaration of their own War Against Trump.
But here is the thing, the crux, the problem: When all that you have is a hammer, every tool is treated as if it’s a nail. When the two most satisfying, morally clear fights you know of are the archetypes of the Civil Rights struggles and World War II, then every enemy looks like Bull Connor or Adolf Hitler. Every issue tends to be seen as analogous to the endemic, malevolent racism of Jim Crow or to the grotesque horrors of the Nazis.
The War Against Trump is World War II (whether it is or not), with Trump cast as Adolf Hitler. (Amusingly, Trump as “Hitler” then casts the most dogged of his own self-declared enemies as the most unstoppable, the slogging “Big Red One” 1st Infantry, infamously led by the bombastic General George S. Patton, Jr.)
The progressives seem to have become unable to look at a situation that bothers them (or that may benefit an opponent) outside of the paradigm of either “It’s Racist!” or “It’s the Nazis!”
Did a few kids steal a couple bottles of wine from a grocery store in Oberlin, Ohio? Well, it would be convenient if the villains in this scene were Bull Connor and a vicious German shepherd. However, lacking that option, the fifth-generation owners of a local candy shop will do: They must be vile racists, with a long history of racial bias and racial profiling, who unjustly accused innocent [black] students of shoplifting. Don’t bother other students or the Oberlin College deans with any facts – it feels so lovely to be righteous and Good, and to fight against those evil Others… the malicious, racist purveyors of baked goods and assorted sweets.
When it comes to the Democratic party, former Vice President Joe Biden (known to slap down a race card or two himself), has found that the progressives eat their own. All that was necessary to bring out the Jacobins was for Mr. Biden to praise himself for his long-ago legislative work, carried out in a civil manner with two professional colleagues who held personally repugnant views. Such a history of cooperation is, according those who prefer themselves to Mr. Biden in the 2020 Democratic Presidential contest: Racist!
Working across the aisle is not “cooperation”; it is “collaboration.” And remember what happened to collaborators after World War II ended? If the collaboration was minor – for example, that of a girl who had attached herself to a German boyfriend – the collaborator might be dragged into the streets to be heckled, shaved bald, scratched, and spit on. If the collaboration was worse, the punishment was much bloodier and deadlier.
The long list of racist incidents and policies that are not truly so (Jussie Smollett, I’m looking at YOU! Kim Foxx, likewise!) of course diminishes legitimate claims of racism. And the list of politicians, academics, journalists, celebrities, and people who should generally know better, all of whom have compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, and compared his policies to those of the Nazis and the Third Reich, is itself so long that the list has achieved a state of banality. I yawn to read House Whip James Clyburn froth and warn that “[Trump] and his family are the greatest threats to democracy of my lifetime.” (Clyburn was born five years before the end of World War II and four years before Hitler’s death. Hyperbole much?)
Naturally, the usual suspects have set their hair on fire about Trump being Adolf Hitler. CNN’s Don Lemon recently took his Trump-is-Hitler fatuity to such an extreme that even Chris Cuomo had to admonish the guy, on-air. The only mildly interesting sideshows come to light when arguably responsible adults, such as Harvard Law School’s Lawrence Tribe, join the frenzy. Mr. Tribe recently indulged in a comparison of Hitler’s and Trump’s shared “physical and behavioral resemblances.” (What? He left out Charlie Chaplin?)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is no student of government or history. (She thought that she would be “inaugurated” into Congress and couldn’t wait to start “signing bills.”) But she does understand enough about history to appreciate the one compelling battle in which there was a thoroughgoing Bad Guy against whom to mount a genuine Resistance.
Thus it isn’t surprising that A.O.C. glibly and quite seriously called ICE detention centers “concentration camps.” Several handy hints for the Congresswoman when she might be attempting to distinguish between an ICE facility and an actual concentration camp: (1) Did the detainees arrive voluntarily, after crossing deadly swaths of arid land to reach the facility? Or were the inmates transported to the camp against their will? (2) Does any part of the daily routine involve hours-long roll calls in sub-zero cold, deaths resulting? (3) Can any inmate be casually shot for approaching the barbed wire? (4) Does the facility provide baby formula? Or are the infants generally burned in specialized brick ovens?
Some politicians may lack an adequate education, and they therefore fall back on easy metaphors such as the Civil Rights Movement and The Greatest Generation / The Axis Powers. Some other politicians and leaders may be lazy, so they likewise rely on the same facile metaphors. For others, perhaps it is just outright impossible to resist imagining that they are the brave young men who are storming the beaches of Normandy – and who survive, of course. Heroically.
I hate that this is true, but it is: I am sorry and alarmed to say that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her buddies seem to be having a great time in World War II.