June 21, 2021

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The decision of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to retain a mask mandate for representatives who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 is just like the Holocaust, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) claimed in a television appearance Friday. “We can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens — so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany,” Greene said, “and this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.”

It’s not, and Greene has been widely upbraided for her remarks, including by several fellow Republicans. Many of these condemnations rightly focused on how Greene’s words trivialize unthinkable suffering: “Comparing wearing masks to the abuse of the Holocaust is a not-so-subtle diminution of the horrors experienced by millions,” said former Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman (R) in a representative critique.

That’s certainly true, but there’s another problem with the Nazi analogy, too: Once you analogize your enemy to Adolf Hitler, you have all but invited violence. “There’s nowhere to go from Hitler,” observes journalist Matt Taibbi in Hate Inc., his book on political media. “It’s a rhetorical dead end. Argument is over at that point. If you go there, you’re now absolving your audiences of all moral restraint, because who wouldn’t kill Hitler?”

As Taibbi’s brief accounting of recent use of this metaphor reiterates, Greene is far from alone in her indefensible jump to the Hitler comparison. In his days as a Fox News pundit in the early 2000s, Glenn Beck was particularly bad about this. Turning his fire leftward, Taibbi argues that, a decade later, the center-left media’s “conventional wisdom was that [former President Donald] Trump was Hitler” and all his voters were “racist, white nationalist traitor-Nazis.” From either side, the Nazi analogy is a “sweeping, debate-ending dictum,” Taibbi concludes, and in “the fight against Hitler, everything is permitted.”

I suppose one might fairly analogize a present-day genocide to the Holocaust, but in that case, an analogy hardly seems necessary. In domestic politics, however, the Nazi metaphor should be used with extreme parsimony, if at all. That’s particularly true in a time like ours, when our norms against political violence are already under strain. Bonnie Kristian

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