One of the dumb things I thought people on the left did, especially after Trump started leading in the Republican primary polls last year, was compare people to Nazis.
Bringing up Nazis was an understandable temptation, after what Trump said early on about Mexicans and Muslims and anybody else who disagreed with Trump.
But I thought playing the Nazi card was always dumb move. If your goal is to get your opponents to listen to you, or so I reasoned, comparing them to Nazis is a dumb move.
But now, after yesterday, it’s clear that reason went out the window a long time ago. Nobody listens to anybody anymore, unless they say things we agree with. And while many of our fellow Americans are not Nazis, and never will be, it’s also clear that many of us do what many people did in Nazi Germany years ago. We say nothing.
What happened in Virginia yesterday is a disaster for all of us, not only because American Nazis so obviously feel unleashed now, but because so many of us turn away.
I remember now, all too sadly, a Fourth of July years ago.
I was living in Florida then. One of the happy things about that was how a number of my distant cousins from Germany would show up two at a time, and use our townhouse as a base camp to explore Key West or Disney World or South Beach.
We were drinking beer on the patio one hot July 4 holiday. We could hear the crack of firecrackers going off everywhere around us, and sometimes the boom of something larger and illegal.
My Germans looked fascinated…and agitated, especially after they saw the pickup trucks.
We watched as pick-up trucks came by, another one every 20 minutes or so, with young Floridians riding in the bed, and holding big American flags.
We have nothing like this in Germany, one of my German cousins said.
“We would NEVER have anything like this in Germany.”
Why? I asked.
Shame, he said. “Because we are ashamed.”
Because of what happened in the war?
I told him the truck riders with the flags were mostly young people in their teens and early 20s.
Most of them, I told him, could not possibly know what war we were talking about, or even find Germany on a map.
I told him most of those kids were probably headed to a beer party, and not some chest-pounding nationalist rally. They just happened to like American flags, I said — the flag is a prop for them, nothing more.
Still, he said.
We talked for a long time, as the firecrackers popped and as one or two more pickup trucks rolled past, big American flags flying.
Do they teach in Germany about the Nazis, and what the Nazis did to the Jews and everybody else, I asked?
Yes, he said. Not much, but enough to get the idea. And that is why you will never, ever see many Germans waving around German flags. It is shame, he said.
It is shame.
And it is knowing that we could do it again, he said. There are still people in Germany who would take us back there, but they don’t dare speak up now. But if that changes, he said, if people forget, it will all come back.
He told me all that could happen here.
No, I said. Nothing like that could ever happen here.
He laughed at me.