Call it the argumentum ad nazium, or maybe the dicto simplicihitler, but it has become one of the most common forms of argument in American political discourse, and it really needs to stop.
I am speaking, of course, of comparing stuff to Hitler. Let me be perfectly clear about this: George W. Bush was not like Hitler. Mitch McConnell is not like Hitler. Nancy Pelosi is not like Hitler. And Barack Obama is not like Hitler. The contraception mandate is not Kristallnacht, sequestration is not the Beer Hall Putsch, and Fox News is not Triumph of the Will. We can have perfectly acrimonious debates about all of these hot-button issues without ever cracking open The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich or Eichmann in Jerusalem.
But we don’t. Liberals don’t. Conservatives don’t. And the occasionally famous science fiction writer Orson Scott Card—the author of the beloved science fiction classic Ender’s Game and about thirty other works of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror—especially doesn’t. Readers of Card’s column in the Rhinoceros Times of Greensboro, North Carolina have known this for some time. The rest of us were alerted to this fact today in a Slate article by David Weigel summarizing one of Card’s recent columns—a “thought experiment” about how Obama might destroy America.
Those who spend time listening to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh will not find anything notable or new in Card’s article. It contains most of the usual charges: that Obama “pals around with Islamicist(s),” that he is “by character and preference, a dictator,” and that he is “the dumbest president in American history.” (If I ever get three wishes, one of them is going to be to have a two-hour discussion with Card about the genius of Millard Fillmore.)
But, as I say, these kinds of charges have become fairly common in some segments of our society. Similar charges were made about George W. Bush in 2005, about Andrew Jackson in 1828, and about Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Anyone who wants to be president must be prepared for some segment of the population to level these sorts of accusations. It has never not happened.
But Card goes much further in imagining just how the dumb, Islamicist dictator might go about trashing the Constitution and destroying the United States. It turns out that he will do it just like Hitler did. Here are a few excerpts:
How far might he take his dictatorial disposition? Is there any plausible way for him to remain as president for life, like the dictators he so admires and envies in Russia, China and the Muslim world?
. . . . .
Having been anointed from the start of his career because he was that magical combination – a black man who talks like a white man (that’s what they mean by calling him “articulate” and a “great speaker”) – he has never had to work for a living, and he has never had to struggle to accomplish goals. He despises ordinary people, is hostile to any religion that doesn’t have Obama as its deity, and his contempt for the military is complete.
. . . . .
But the plan goes deeper than this. Barack Obama, like Hitler and the Iranian dictators, announced his plan, though the media (as with Hitler) has “forgotten” it.
Barack Obama needs to have a source of military power that is under his direct control. Like Hitler, he needs a powerful domestic army to terrify any opposition that might arise.
Obama called for a “national police force” in 2008, though he never gave a clue about why such a thing would be necessary. We have the National Guard. We have the armed forces. The FBI. The Secret Service. And all the local and state police forces.
The trouble is that all of these groups have long independent histories and none of them is reliably under Barack Obama’s personal control. He needs Brown Shirts – thugs who will do his bidding without any reference to law.
And on it goes, for about 3000 words. Obama will create a secret police force, manufacturer a series of crises, suspend the Constitution, and declare himself dictator-for-life. Just like Hitler did.
These assertions, of course, are not subject to rational or factual dispute because, as Card assures us throughout the article, he is just playing a game—writing a scenario of what could happen because, well, he is a science fiction writer and that is the sort of thing that he does.
But the terms of the thought experiment do invite criticism on literary grounds, which (as a fully bonded and insured literary critic) I am happy to provide: it isn’t very good. Rather than create a compelling, plausible, or even believable scenario, Card simply puts Obama’s face on the rise of Adolph Hitler. As my friend Russell Fox pointed out in his blog today, “Card, once a tremendous fantasist, is trotting out some fairly lame and well-worn paranoia here. . . . If you’re Orson Scott Card, professional writer, couldn’t you at least come up with something a little more original?”
But he couldn’t. Or at least he didn’t. Rather, one of America’s most original storytellers fell back into one of the most unoriginal stories available in American political discourse: the uncritical interpolation of one’s political opponents into the narrative of Nazi Germany—which has become the only narrative of political evil that the majority of Americans seem to be able to understand or agree upon.
But it is the wrong narrative. It is historically incorrect, as the political conditions in America today are nothing like they were during Weimar Germany. It is morally reprehensible, because it trivializes the experiences of those massacred in the Nazi genocide. And, perhaps worst of all for someone like Orson Scott Card, it is intellectually impoverished and demonstrates a serious lack of imaginative ability or critical understanding.
Comparing stuff to Hitler is cheap and easy, which is why so many people do it so often. And it is probably not fair for me to expect more from Orson Scott Card than I do from Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. But I do. He has been, throughout his career, a storyteller to be reckoned with. But if he cannot come up with a better narrative for people he disagrees with than “Obama is like Hitler,” he should probably not be trusted any longer with anything as important and powerful as a story.