For the last year and a half President Donald Trump’s critics have cornered the market on inappropriate Holocaust analogies.
There’s a lot to criticize about Trump. But, contrary to the apocalyptic rhetoric of many on the Left, the Trump administration is not the moral equivalent of the last days of the Weimar Republic.
Though Trump may talk as if he’d like to be a monarch, American liberties, including the freedom of a press that he regards as an enemy, remain intact. The same goes for the rest of the U.S. Constitution. Those liberals who confuse their disgust for Trump - as well as their opposition to the sort of normative conservative stands and appointments that any Republican would have made - for a rerun of the Third Reich are doing their cause no favors.
But now it’s the turn of Trump’s supporters to play the Holocaust card and the result is, if anything, even more absurd. But Dinesh D'Souza’s new faux documentary "Death of a Nation," which will hit the theaters this month, is more than just another example of extremism that fouls the American public square.
The film links contemporary Democrats to the racist south of the Civil War era, as well as comparing Trump to Abraham Lincoln, while also claiming that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were forerunners of modern liberalism. He explains further on his website: "The Democratic left has an ideology virtually identical with fascism and routinely borrows tactics of intimidation and political terror from the Nazi Brownshirts."
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As such, it is another step into the abyss in a polarized political culture in which both sides not only distrust and refuse to credit each other with intentions but also engage in demonization.
What’s worse, D'Souza’s latest piece of cinematic agitprop is likely to garner even larger audiences than his past hit jobs on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
As one of Trump’s court of sycophants - the president issued him a pardon for his conviction on campaign finance law violations - his noxious libels of Democrats and liberals and foolish praise of Trump will have more influence than the rabid attacks of their left wing foes.
The trajectory of D'Souza’s career is a sobering commentary on the path to extremism. An immigrant from India, he served as a contributing editor at a conservative journal published by the prestigious Heritage Foundation and then spent two years as a policy advisor in the Reagan White House. His subsequent books contributed strong, if controversial, critiques of liberalism while supporting the notion of American exceptionalism.
But in the last decade, his views became more extreme while he eschewed the intellectual milieu of think tanks to enter into the presumably more influential world of documentary filmmaking. Inspired by the way Michael Moore’s documentaries bolstered the Left, he has produced a series of movies that sought to play the same role for conservatives.
Based on his best-selling book, his 2012 effort, "2016: Obama’s America" was a mirror image of the way today’s liberals talk about Trump - a portrait of a nation on the brink of tyranny. Intellectual conservative magazines panned his psychoanalyzing of the 44th president as a parody of reasonable critiques of Obama, wholly based on subjective speculation and bereft of proof. But more Americans watched it than read publications like National Review.
What followed was a hit job on Hillary Clinton that did even better at the box office and now, with his paean to Trump, D'Souza may have produced a film that will have an even bigger audience.
Like most effective pieces of propaganda, there are nuggets of truth in D'Souza’s latest movie.
It’s true that the Democratic Party was the political shield of slavery and Jim Crow racism. But that tells us nothing about contemporary Democrats.
There was a collectivist aspect to the ideology of the Nazis, who did call themselves "national socialists." The Left’s belief in government power also has elements of compulsion and prioritize social justice over individual liberty that can sometimes echo the perils of past utopian movements that evolved into murderous totalitarianism. The fact that some on the American left today complain that conservatives are "weaponizing" the First Amendment to defend free speech and religious liberty is also troubling.
But to essentially label Hitler a liberal is historically illiterate as well as deeply offensive. The problem goes beyond the way he debases the mention of the Holocaust. Today’s Democrats are not Nazis any more than they are Confederates.
The issues that divide Americans are real but to pretend that the debate is solely one between good and evil or freedom and fascism is no less toxic when it comes from the Right as it does when it is advocated by an intolerant Left.
For all of his faults, Donald Trump has given conservatives as well as many supporters of Israel, much to cheer about. But he’s no more the second coming of Abraham Lincoln than his foes are latter day Hitlers.
As much as we can mock D'Souza’s foolish claims, his ability to migrate such ideas from the fever swamps of American politics to mainstream audiences should trouble everyone. Moreover, the implicit endorsement of a president - who is still loved by the tens of millions of voters - will give D'Souza’s smears more of a hearing than they deserve.
While conservatives rightly decry the left’s extremism, they can’t be silent about D'Souza’s new smears. The looming success of his new film is one more step deeper into the gutter from which there may no turning back for either side.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS (the Jewish News Syndicate) and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin