The Trope Of The “Making Of A Nazi Trope”

Trump’s joke was that if he murdered someone on Fifth Avenue, his supporters wouldn’t care. And for some, that’s likely true. Can the same be said for Michael Avenatti, at least for the moment?

What made this curious is that Ken has been calling out people who threaten defamation suits for years, invariably to the applause of those who despise the blustering assholes who try to silence criticism. But this time was different.

The only difference is that the blustering asshat wasn’t some random jerk, but the lawyer-of-the-moment, Michael Avenatti. And so the unduly passionate turned on Ken. A Trump Troll? What else could he be, there being neither intelligence nor integrity in the battle for social hegemony.

This reaction to anything perceived as negative to the tribe is common. It’s how fools respond. But of course, this won’t turn Ken to the dark side. It is, however, a reminder that no rational person wants to be a member of this idiot’s tribe either. And that’s the nuance vehemently denied.

Bari Weiss tried to explain it, only to start a flurry of similar reactions giving rise to its very own trope: If you call someone a Nazi, they become a Nazi. It’s a reductio ad absurdum trope, but serves to deflect from the point, that frivolous and knee-jerk attacks on anyone who fails to adhere to your orthodoxy do not persuade them to join your tribe, but drive them away.

Conor Friedersdorf tried to add some nuance to the discussion as well.

Weiss’s concerns did not imply the need for any great progressive concession—merely describing people like Sam Harris accurately would suffice to address them.

Yet they were met with anger and mockery.

Among the many dismissive retorts:

  • “Anyone who moves further right bc they’re called alt-right was headed there anyway.”
  • “I remember when conservatives called themselves the party of personal reaponsibilty. Now they’re the party of ‘Its your fault somehow that I choose to be human garbage.’”
  • “‘If the left would just stop being so left, then the right wouldn’t feel the need to be so right’ is a SWELTERING take”
  • “I get that logic. Someone once insulted me in grade school by saying I waddle like a penguin. Now I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life naked in the Antarctic, plunging into the icy depths to catch fish, and warming eggs underneath my crotch everyday.”

An observer could be forgiven for supposing that the progressive left has always rejected the notion that promiscuous labeling can push people toward extremism. Yet progressives have long championed a variation on that same position.

And as day follows night, Conor’s point was proven.

“Greater concern”? In the scheme of comparative evils, there is no evil worse than the one you hate, and thus no discussion to be had. After all, evil must be thwarted by all means necessary. Even if that means being no more honest, no more intelligent, no better.

No, Ken White won’t turn into a Trump troll because some blithering idiot called him that. But he surely wasn’t endeared to the idiot’s cause because of it.

The desperate denial of this slightly subtle point doesn’t serve to change the point, but to prove it. No one is going to become a white supremacist because some fool on twitter calls them that. But there is a better than decent chance they will realize the social justice mob is irrational, its positions nonsensical and hypocritical, and a club they don’t want to be a member of.

What eludes the screamers is that there is a middle. A vast middle of people who are principled, who reject the simplistic stupidity of the mob and want nothing to do with it. They will never join the other tribe, no matter how often they’re the target of infantile ad hominems, but they will never join your tribe either.

As it happens, all of this social justice shrieking has made one thing clearer than it has ever been. There is far more in common between the right and left in the middle than there is with the insane fringes of either side. There is a commonality based in reason where centrist conservatives and liberals can talk, can agree, can agree to disagree but still share ideas without being called a “Trump Troll.”

Both Bari Weiss and Conor Friedersdorf are smarter and stand atop bigger soapboxes than a trench lawyer, so it’s worth listening when they have something to say. It doesn’t mean you have to agree, or agree entirely, but to dismiss them, or ridicule their points with simplistic tropes, is to demonstrate that you either lack the intellectual capacity to grasp their message or are so hellbent on your tribal ideology that you can’t bear to consider any point that might undermine your beliefs.

Thus, there’s a litmus test in here. One of intelligence and integrity. One of tolerance. To pass the test doesn’t require agreement, but acknowledgement that screaming racist and misogynist, and “Trump Troll,” isn’t going to score any points. You’re just substituting one trope for another. You’re just a useful idiot for one tribe or the other. Nothing more.

22 thoughts on “The Trope Of The “Making Of A Nazi Trope”

  1. Dave

    Are you perhaps being too optimistic here in talking about a rational middle? No doubt there are people who put reason ahead of tribe, but I think in the population as a whole, intelligent, principled people who put those principles ahead of tribe are a small minority, perhaps too small to really matter when it comes to politics in our democratic system. People are primarily tribal, average intelligence is, well, just average, and even very smart people tend toward tribalism because they are, well, people.

    I still think it is worth appealing to the rational over the tribal (hope springs eternal), I just wonder if it is about as audible or effective as shouting into a jet engine.

  2. PseudonymousKid

    Dear Papa,

    What’s reason? With my Dad’s own cherished “principle” in doubt, I’m not so sure anymore. It’s a real crisis. Though, it is all your fault for calling me a drooling idiot. Sorry for having to blame you, it’s a generational twitch.

    You say tolerance and intelligence and integrity. It’s really just civility. Can you stop foaming at the mouth long enough to be coherent? Demands don’t work, persuasion does. Simple enough.

    Much love,

      1. PseudonymousKid

        “Commie?” Am I just another Nazi? You’re supposed to help me with my identity crisis, not confuse me even more. Civility is palliative. The alternative is worse.

        1. SHG Post author

          The alternative to civility isn’t necessarily incivility, but unmoderated honesty. It can hurt sometimes, but you’re tough enough to take it. After all, I said symp, not wimp.

  3. Nemo

    In the words of the late, great Ronnie James Dio, when you listen to fools, the mob rules. I’ll leave decisions regarding video links to the Owner, but I think the movie sequence is a good fit for what’s happening now, as a war on the social level, if nothing else. Chaos reigns.

    P.S. Do I get extra credit for being brief this time? 😉

  4. Karl Kolchak

    I’m not sure I buy the argument about the “fringe” being the problem. The identity politics crowd are mostly Hillary Clinton supporters, and she is very much a politician of the middle. Identity politics is quite often used by liberals as a weapon AGAINST the left rather than on its behalf (the whole absurd concept of sexist “Bernie bros., for example).

    My own politics are to the left of Sanders, yet I disdain the SJW and PC crowd every bit as much as I do the Trumpies. It isn’t “the middle” that is unaligned with either group, it is people who can think rationally, and yes, I do believe there are some rational conservatives, even if I rarely agree with them.

    1. SHG Post author

      Most people assume they reflect the norm. I’m not sure left of Bernie qualifies as the middle.

    2. Ken Mackenzie

      Just as there are always fools on both sides of a public debate, plenty of them are found in the middle too. Many assume the status quo must be right and wise. Others end up near the middle because they can appreciate two sides to an argument. That last group are the rational middle, but by no means all of the middle are rational. Part of the case for 1st amendment freedom of speech is that some outlier ideas will have merit. So there are rational people at the fringes as well. Karl’s claim is to hold a rational outlier position, left of Mr Sanders’.

  5. Mark Schirmer

    Scott, we keep looking at the exremists as persuadable. They are not. Most have some deep psychological need to think they have become part of a tribe that will save the world ( the Holden Caulfield phenomenon). Their identity rests one their moral certainty and the nonbelievers’ obvious evil. You vainly look for rationality in a secular evangelical religion. And that you will not find. Think about these folk (left and right) as cult members. They may have legal training, scientific training, rhetorical or psychological training. They may hold advance degrees or professional licenses. But only by viewing them as cultists can an outsider make sense of their views, intransigence, and rhetoric. In my opinion.

    1. Ken Mackenzie

      People grow. They’re confronted by responsibilities, like work, and allegiances, like family, that challenge their tribal beliefs. There are many people who grew out of communism, Randish libertarianism, and Mormonism, for example. Doubt creeps in. Minds change, sometimes slowly, often quietly. You rarely see it acknowledged in the space of a single comment thread, but reasoned argument is persuasive. It influences even the extremes.

      1. SHG Post author

        Occasionally, even exposure to ideas different than the crowd, or knowing that one can break from the orthodoxy of the tribe, is enough.

      2. Mark Schirmer

        Ken, I hope you are right. My sense is that we need to weave facts into counter stories – stories running counter to those that animate the crazies.

      3. Mark Schirmer

        Ken, I hope you are right. My sense is that some are not persuadable. Others need counter stories – fact- based stories to replace the simplistic stories that frame their worldviews.

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