For many on the American Jewish left, President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court is the last straw. Like his "zero tolerance” immigration policy, the prospect of ensuring a solidly conservative majority on the high court is viewed with horror by many who see this as the beginning of the end of liberal democracy.
Indeed, Trump’s presidency is so abhorrent to those who deplore his policies that they have ceased to view politics as something on which decent people can agree to disagree.
That’s the only explanation for why even normally sensible people like historian Laurel Leff, whose book about the way The New York Times covered up the Holocaust is still essential reading, would essentially defend the public harassment of Trump administration officials on the specious grounds that Jews who opposed the Nazis in the 1930s were also viewed as not being civil to Germans (The Trump Civility Debate Isn't New. In the 1930s, America Debated Whether It Was Civil to Shun the Nazis.)
Whatever you may think about the enforcement of existing U.S. immigration laws or about the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, Holocaust analogies to what is happening in the United States are as unhelpful to helping us understand what is going on as they are egregiously wrong.
There is a lot to criticize about Trump but, as the battle over the court reveals, most of what he’s done as president are things that any Republican would have done since, to some surprise, he has largely governed as a conventional conservative.
- The Trump civility debate isn't new. In the 1930s, America debated whether it was civil to shun the Nazis
- Donald Trump is still setting up concentration camps on American soil
- In Portland, I witnessed the violence of White Pride in Trump's America
- SCOTUS to America: Your institutions won’t save you from Trump
The left’s apocalyptic rhetoric notwithstanding, after nearly 18 months in office, evidence of tyranny, as opposed to policies Democrats oppose, is scant. Freedom of the press and the right of free assembly continues. If the American people are so outraged about what is going on in Washington, they can vote out Congressional Republicans in November and do the same to Trump two years later.
But that’s not the way it feels to many Americans. Even some mainstream liberals truly appear to believe American liberty is hanging in the balance, and nothing short of active "resistance" is required in order to prevent the country from sliding into fascism.
Part of this can be put down to the fact that Americans no longer read, watch or listen to the same media, a trend that has been worsened by the rise of social media, allowing us to isolate ourselves from all opposing views.
That has fed not merely an inability to listen to the other side but a sense of despair about politics and society and a belief that opponents aren’t just wrong but have bad intentions. That explains both the over-the-top rhetoric as well as the breakdown of civility that allows otherwise decent people to justify insults and harassment of people whose only crime is to hold different political opinions.
But while conservatives may scoff at liberal nightmares, they also ought to sound vaguely familiar.
During the 2016 campaign Michael Anton’s article "The Flight 93 Election," published in the Claremont Review, caused a sensation. His belief was that for many on the right, the election was a last chance to save the republic.
Just like the passengers on United Flight 93 on 9/11, who were forced to charge the cockpit even though the odds of survival were minimal, many on the right believed Hillary Clinton had to be stopped. For them that justified supporting a candidate like Trump, who didn’t share their values, so long as the liberal transformation of the courts and the nation due to President Barack Obama’s policies, was stalled.
Trump’s conservative judicial appointments and other policies have justified the faith of those voters. The right’s fear that liberals were trying to effectively eradicate religious freedom for conservatives is, at least for the moment, assuaged.
But for liberals, this is their "Flight 93" moment.
The debate about immigration has become one in which all border-security measures - and not just the cruel ones - are demonized to justify some of the apocalyptic rhetoric being employed. And now a conventional ideological battle over control of the Supreme Court is being sold as nothing less than Armageddon, as if preventing the confirmation of a fifth conservative justice is all that stands between America and "The Handmaid's Tale" becoming reality.
Think what you like about Trump and the Republicans, but it’s time for reasonable people to stop buying into the lunacy that the sky is falling and that Americans are living in the moral equivalent of the last days of the Weimar Republic. For all of the country’s problems, this sort of Flight 93 analogy and the panic it feeds is as dangerous a fantasy for the left as it was for the right.
In particular, Jews need to resist the temptation to invoke the Holocaust in this discussion because it is an offense to history. But more than that, like a lot of Trump’s rhetoric, such talk coarsens and inflames the tone of political debate to the point where all that remains is unreasoning hate and an all-consuming left/right culture war that is the true threat to democracy.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS (the Jewish News Syndicate) and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin