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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Rules of the Road: Slow down at Yield signs, Nazis

     Kudos to my colleagues Lynn Sweet and Frank Main for tracking down Republican candidate for Congress Arthur Jones, flipping over his rock, and hearing what is on the mind of the Holocaust-denied and Nazi. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art
     Reading their piece, I noticed that Jones protested the opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum in 2009. Which means he's an unnamed member of the supporting cast that inspired this column, one of my favorites. Yes, I noticed that Bill Clinton's quote describes much of Donald Trump's base. It was at a time when my column ran over an entire page in several parts, with a joke at the end, and I've kept that structure.


     Today is Adolf Hitler's birthday — it does creep up on you, doesn't it? And here I am without a gift or anything.
     He would have been 120, for those keeping count. It's also the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School.
     Not a coincidence, of course — the teenage killers planned it that way. Hitler is a magnet for the unstable, the weak-minded, the cruel. It isn't hard to imagine why. Talk about a boost to the old ego -- the biggest loser in the world can suddenly have a historical giant as a personal pal, with an entire cast of suddenly subhuman inferiors to scorn.
     You can just see today's celebrants, gathered in windowless rooms, lighting the candles on their homemade sheet cakes (those swastikas are tough to make in icing!) for a quick round of "Happy Birthday to You!"
     What should we, the non-crazy, do to mark this special day? Well, I would be so bold as to suggest that we, too, consider a bit of celebration. Because Birthday Boy once conquered much of the world, his fascism was triumphant. Then Hitler was crushed, thanks in great part to the good old U.S. of A, and his beliefs were exiled into the realm of mental illness. His followers are scattered, marginalized, and the sort of people who don't realize that getting a tattoo on your neck is a bad career move.
     Every year that's still true is a happy birthday, in my view.


     Driving requires split-second decisions—who yields to whom when merging onto the highway, whether to speed up through the yellow light, and of course what to do if there are Nazis.
     It has been a while since I've studied my Rules of the Road, but instinctively, you see Nazis, you slow down and try to find a place to park.

     I had just hopped into the car after four hours outside in the penetrating cold at the dedication ceremony for the Illinois Holocaust Museum, and was not keen to return to the cold rain.
     But Nazis! How often do you get to talk to Nazis? Maybe a dozen of them, in jackboots and black cargo pants, waving red and white swastika flags at the corner of Harms and Golf roads Sunday afternoon. I slowed, leaned over, gazing carefully, locking eyes with a round-faced, heavy lad of about 14.
     Just as I was about to ease the car onto the shoulder, a different emotion kicked in — screw 'em. Who cares what they have to say? Why give Nazis the platform they seek, so they can spout their pathological philosophy?
     I kept going, slowed down, thought of doubling back, kept going.
     On the one hand, you can't make up the kind of twisted psycho spew these people serve up—they indict themselves, if you let them.
     On the other, happy is he who didn't have to go to hell to know what the devil looks like. There is something perverse in shucking two hours of earnest, intelligent speechifying by leaders and politicians, only to turn around and collect the thoughts — to strain the term — of a gang of jackbooted yahoos protesting a museum.
     Besides, confronting a gang of Nazis at the side of the road might not be smart, from a practical point of view. "Columnist in bloody brawl with neo-Nazis." Can't have that.
     What kept me driving was remembering something former President Bill Clinton had just told the crowd of 12,000 people. He explained these Nazis more clearly than they could ever explain themselves:
     "The capacity for evil has to be stirred," Clinton said. "Folks who are ripe targets for the stirring are people who are insecure -- insecure psychologically, insecure financially, insecure politically. They are more vulnerable to false claims by power mongers. . . . The neo-Nazi groups in Europe and other hate groups around the world, if you really look at them, they basically were made up of angry, uncertain, insecure people looking for someone else to blame, cultivating, in their own minds, a phony victimhood to justify hurting others."
     The only word of Clinton's I'd quibble with is "were"—the neo-Nazis aren't a "were," alas, but an "are," as was clear Sunday to anyone passing the corner of Harms and Golf roads. They may be a rarity, but they are still with us, and while they are so far from their Nuremberg glory days as to be almost laughable, what they represent—the idea that the life of Person A is diminished by the polluted presence of Person B — is a philosophy by no means limited to those wearing jackboots, brandishing swastikas and eating birthday cake today.


     Guy and Gary, cold, soaked to the skin but giddy with excitement, return to their Cicero basement and drape their big Nazi flag over the sofa to dry.
     "Well, I think that went extraordinarily well, wouldn't you say?" says Guy, putting up the tea. "I'm glad those Jewish vermin at least saw that we were out there!"
     "Indeed," replies Gary, who suddenly looks troubled. "Although. . . ."
     "Although what?" Guy asks, laying a concerned hand on Gary's shoulder and squeezing.
     "Wouldn't the presence of Nazis down the street dramatically underscore the need for a museum like this in the first place?"
     The two young men gaze at each other.
     "Oh," Guy says. "Those wily rascals!"
     "They tricked us into showing up, and we didn't even know it!" says Gary.
                  —Originally published in the Sun-Times April 20, 2009


  1. "angry, uncertain, insecure people looking for someone else to blame, cultivating, in their own minds, a phony victimhood to justify hurting others."

    "his beliefs were exiled into the realm of mental illness. His followers are scattered, marginalized"

    "“Little Adam Schiff.... Must be stopped!” - Donald Trump

    Since your article the world has changed. These bigots and xenophobes have been given cover by Trump, who now is called on his minions to "stop" an elected official. This is not going to end well.

    1. Yes, Dennis, "given cover by Trump" but more importantly, accepted by Trump.
      The evolution of our species seems to have ground to a halt.

    2. It is beginning to look more like devolution. I am still hopeful it can be turned around. If November goes badly, I may have to change my mind.

  2. So Guy puts his hand on Guy's shoulder? That should be Guy put his "hand on Gary's shoulder and squeezing.". I thought John Tate was proofreading, things are getting lax, hear. All of the neo-nazi's beliefs defy logical analysis. Deny the holocaust occurred, yet regard the final solution as a glorious event. They seem to be oblivious to other attributes of nazi philosophy, like implementing the scientific consensus of eugenics. That includes breeding people like cattle, the sterilization of the feeble minded to improve the human race, not realizing the implementation of such a policy would have a severe impact on themselves and their families.

  3. Talk about a no-win situation... "He would incriminate himself by lying" and he would incriminate himself by telling the truth, not that he's shown much of a knack for that. "Sad!" -- how criminals have no option but to incriminate themselves under oath. Well, except for pleading the fifth, of course, which may well become the leitmotif for many in this administration, at some point.

  4. Fine column, but it predated Trumpian ambiguity, which I consider much, much more dangerous than puerile pretend Nazis. Trump is a shape-shifter, who presents himself as a nationalist to nationalists, a rebel to would-be rebels, a patriot to scoundrels, a healer to the mentally ill. It must be very scary and intellectually challenging to hang on to those tattered coat tails.


  5. Interesting piece by Anne Applebaum in the WAPO about the law recently passed in Poland criminalizing suggestions that Poles played a part in the holocaust. If we have fake news, so, I guess, must we have fake history.


    1. Yeah, the Poles have always been touchy about Polish complicity in the Holocaust. I don't know who they think they're fooling by trying to whitewash it.

    2. Tom you've jogged my memory. I had a Polish acquaintance that enjoyed discussing politics. Over a year ago she was upset because Trump was to be President, but also in her words the President of Poland Andrzej Duda was also a right wing extremist. Looks like she was right.

  6. A year ago January, I said "Spicer is uncomfortable lying. He won't last six months." Sanders looks more at ease with it, but if Mueller as much as looks sideways at her, she'll head for the hills. I can't imagine Kelly putting up with much more. He should be hitting the bricks soon. Nobody who works for Trump will ever take the fall for him. He may not realize it, but he doesn't own any of them.


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