Rubbing shoulders with Nazis - on a slippery slope with skates

A Liberal Dose


 On the first week of February last year, my column was about a Tennessee school banning the graphic novel Maus, a Pulitzer Prize winning work about the horrors of the Holocaust. The school board’s excuse was  there were a couple of illustrations of naked mice in a concentration camp scene, and that it was therefore “dirty.” In the first week of February this year I wrote about literal Nazis, in Cookeville, protesting an adults-only drag show, chanting antisemitic phrases, and saying they were there to “protect children.” The progression from last year to this is both horrifying and completely predictable. Even more horrifying - where will we be this time next year?

While I am disturbed by the Nazis, I am perhaps more disturbed by the people who willingly protested alongside them. “Why shouldn’t they” someone said to me, “since they have the same goals? It doesn’t mean they support all the other Nazi goals.” For one thing, I don’t care what you’re protesting - if Nazis, Klansmen, or other white supremacists come and stand beside you,  I expect you to immediately leave and go protest somewhere else. Alliance with Nazis, for any reason under any circumstances, is not morally acceptable in my opinion, and I hope not in yours.

But not in some people’s. And that’s where my fear lies. You see, I know very well how fascism, Nazism, and authoritarianism take hold in societies, as do most of my fellow history professors. It is never a majority of the people. It is an active, violent, hateful few… whom the majority accepts, normalizes, and allies with on “little” things, until it has gone too far to turn back. The more you accept Nazis in your midst - on your side - the more solidarity you establish with them, and the more you feel justified in resorting to their tactics. I’m sometimes accused of implying that all Republicans are Nazis. I don’t believe that for a minute. But when Nazis keep showing up at your parties, and you keep allowing them to stay, the more, fairly or not, it tars everyone on your side.

Let’s talk about how the Nazis rose to power. One way they got support from more conservative Germans was by attacking the “hedonistic” and “immoral” attitudes prevalent among young Germans in the 1920s. Cabarets, “weird” art, more openness to LGBTQ lifestyles, adult-themed movies… all things Nazis pointed to as the corruption of innocent youth and thereby weakening of society. Now, one can believe all those things and not be a Nazi… but if you let Nazis speak for you on those topics, you are going down a dark and dangerous road.

What else did Nazis do? Ban books, try to limit thought and expression, and control what was taught in schools. This is why conservative politicians’ efforts to do those very things is so frightening. Banning Black History courses… any discussion of race, or the consequences in modern society of slavery, the Holocaust, and Native American repression, in the classroom until teachers and professors are terrified to broach the subjects… and white supremacists wreaking havoc in the streets… it’s all part of the same phenomenon. Common ground, not just with Nazis, but with Nazi ideas and ideals, and it’s getting worse and worse.

Our own state representative has proposed a bill to rename a Nashville street named after John Lewis to Donald Trump Boulevard. Does Mr. Sherrell know that Lewis was one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders of the 1960s, and that he participated in some of the first sit-ins in Nashville? Whether done out of ignorance or contempt, such an action - at the beginning of Black History Month! - is a testament to the need for more education on Black History.

Whether claiming there are “good people on both sides” or just ignoring the Nazis on your protest line - from Charlottesville to Ralph’s Donuts - it is dangerous.And I won’t hold back from saying so.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.    


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  • JanetAshburnMusich

    Troy, I for one am not against teaching history to our children. What I am against is the one sidedness of it. All sides need to be taught and not be twisted with the instructor’s point of view and opinions. Let the parents teach morality, ethics, and accountability.

    Janet Ashburn Musich

    Thursday, February 9 Report this