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OpinionColumnistsCathy Young

Playing Nazi card weakens any hand 

British-Iranian journalist Christiane Amanpour during the Fulbright Prize

British-Iranian journalist Christiane Amanpour during the Fulbright Prize for International Understanding awarding ceremony in Berlin on Jan. 28, 2019.  Credit: NurPhoto via Getty Images/NurPhoto

Even as President Donald Trump continues his toxic tantrum against the legitimate results of a national election, one of his critics in the media has managed to go after him in a way that only gives ammunition to his defenders — ones who dismiss all harsh criticism as "Trump Derangement Syndrome." Last week, veteran CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour explicitly compared Trump to the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

Amanpour’s remarks were made in the introduction to her foreign-affairs show. Evoking the memory of Kristallnacht, the horrific pogrom against Jews that took place 82 years ago on Nov. 9-10, 1938, Amanpour told her audience, "It was the Nazis’ warning shot across the bow of our human civilization that led to genocide against a whole identity, and in that tower of burning books, it led to an attack on fact, knowledge, history and truth. After four years of a modern-day assault on those same values by Donald Trump, the Biden-Harris team pledges a return to norms, including the truth."

Don’t get me wrong, this is certainly a good time to decry Trump’s assault on civilized norms, including truth. The fact that the president of the United States and his team are filing frivolous lawsuits to delay the certification of an election he lost — and making egregiously false, already debunked public claims about election fraud — is beyond appalling.

But it’s also preposterous to even have to point out that it doesn’t begin to compare to Kristallnacht.

Kristallnacht — or "The Night of Broken Glass," its German name deriving from the crystal-like heaps of glass from shattered windows — was a massive pogrom against the Jewish community in Germany and Austria. Mobs led by Nazi paramilitary groups vandalized Jewish-owned businesses as well as Jewish homes while the police were directed not to interfere. Hundreds of synagogues and Jewish cultural institutions were destroyed. Officially, the death toll in two days of violence stood at 91, but there were hundreds more deaths in subsequent days — from injuries, suicide, or scattered attacks after the pogrom.

In a way, Kristallnacht was the beginning of the Holocaust: some 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. And it was followed by measures that stripped away what civil rights Jews had still had under Nazi rule.

Kristallnacht was certainly an assault on civilized values. It was an assault on truth insofar as the Nazi authorities tried to censor reports on these horrific events and blame them on the Jews themselves. But first and foremost, it was an assault on Jews (a word that did not appear in Amanpour’s commemorative remarks) and on the Jewish community.

One could argue that, in a broad sense, Trumpism’s appeal to national greatness and nativist hostilities to "alien" groups taps into the same type of resentments as Nazi propaganda. But jingoism and xenophobia have existed in plenty of societies, often in vicious forms — far worse than anything in Trump’s America. Nazi Germany serves as a warning. But invoking Nazi atrocities as a direct analogy to the United States today is a rhetorical leap too far. It cheapens the suffering of victims — and it undercuts the argument against Trump by making it absurdly hyperbolic.

To be sure, conservatives who decry Amanpour’s rhetorical excesses sometimes engage in similar hyperbole when they claim that American Democrats are about to take us down the path of totalitarian communism, as if Joe Biden were one step away from morphing into Joe Stalin. But excess on one side doesn’t excuse excess on the other. Let’s all tamp it down, and not allow Trump to lead us into derangement.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.

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