As we were catching up on reading the last few weeks, we noticed this hysterical screed by Damon Linker at The Week. Before JAG decided to go on Holiday, Plautus answered Linker, and was mostly generous in response to him, while making clear the lunacy of the comparison.
His column begs for a vigorous answer, after all, he has made a vigorous non-sequitur of an allegation.
Linker’s column is essentially, you know there’s these Nazi’s who had an intellectual thinker supporting them named Heidegger. There were many smart people who supported Hitler. There are many smart people supporting Trump. That is not to say that the people at JAG are Nazi’s, but they sure do have a lot in common with the Nazis. And did I tell you that even Hitler’s supporters thought Hitler was kind of crazy at times and his supporters, you know, still supported him? JAG is like that too! Of course Linker writes many of the offensive lines after saying, “now to be clear” they (JAG) aren’t really national socialists, but they damn sure have a lot in common with them! Or how about the “now to be clear” Trump is not Hitler, but he sure does have a hell of a racist white power following!
Where to begin? This is what passes for deep thought these days, and it’s fairly representative of today’s pundit and chattering class. But Linker joins a long list of people who, dare we say, resemble the German press in the 1930s, which was hysterical for national socialism—and that was not from the Nazi press that Linker is so infatuated. No, Linker’s piece is hysterical in the opposite direction. It is like he has read nothing of World War Two, nor seen this, nor read this. Seriously, Trump can’t be Hitler because, well, he has not done the things Hitler did, and lest we be irresponsible like most pundits these days, Hitler did not impose his authority and pour it into dictatorship immediately but as a drip drip drip until it was too late to do anything about it. But what’s history really when you have a political agenda? Oh that’s right, at least he writes that Trump is not exactly Hitler so that makes the analogy ok.
Linker believes that Trump engages in identity politics, and that fact makes him and his supporters—which includes, apparently, Steven Hayward!—useful idiots to Trump’s raciology. In fact, he knows that Trump is engaging in identity politics in order to defeat the multicultural identity politics of the left, but that this is a failure because, he is not trying to defeat the left’s muticultural tyranny.
That’s some soothsaying!
The problem with Linker’s analogy to Nazi Germany, and that Trump is in some way an unwitting replica, is that he does not even speak in the same manner as a Nazi in regard to race. Indeed, he is not blaming this race or that race for our economic woes. No he blames Obama and Clinton. I’m sure that was just an oversight by Linker, and he did not mean to equate Nazi rhetoric with Trump’s rhetoric.
We’d like to ask Linker just how does he think Trump (or anyone for that matter) should combat the left’s identity politics? While Trump is using the left’s racial language, he is doing so to rebuff their racial policies. He is the first Republican in decades to even go after the left on race, so that must be why Goldberg and Linker are so astonished. While it is also true that Trump points out race, he does so because that’s the way the left talks—heck that’s the way pundits left and right talk in the present. To point out the left’s inherent, dare we say, racism, Trump uses their language to divide the room in order to make space for an argument regarding equality.
Linker rejects all of this and invokes the king of Schtick, Jonah Goldberg, as his authority:
As Jonah Goldberg pointed out in National Review, this reading of Trump’s intentions is absurd. There’s no evidence that Trump had any ideological motive at all in attacking Curiel in ethnic terms. He was merely lashing out in anger and frustration against the judge in a case he’s in danger of losing — which is something he’s done many times before. And to the extent that an ideological implication could be teased out of Trump’s actions, it was the diametric opposite of the one Decius and Hayward claim to discern.
Trump wasn’t attacking identity politics. He was practicing it, without apology.
Again, this is some soothsaying! So now we’ve reached a point where Trump cannot point out race when the left employs the language of race all the time to make its arguments about race. Just what would messgrs Linker and Goldberg have us do in defending equality? Raise the white flag it appears (yes I get the subtle joke I just made). In other words, Goldberg and Linker have accepted the terms of the left on race. Bully for them. Trump is certainly not doing what they sooth he is doing because, gasp, he disagrees with the left on race. Yet, Linker and Goldberg don’t claim Hillary is Hitler, or like Hitler, or has followers who are Heideggarians. I am tempted to say, “now let’s be clear,” the omission is telling.
Linker and Goldberg agree in essence, with the left on race, and they believe the battle cannot be had even on their own territory. Linker admits at least that much. They agree with the left on race because they are astonished, just like the left when Trump raised the specter that someone’s race may actually cause them to identify with a cause, or idea, or a political end, because of it. In other words, like Hillary Clinton, Linker and Goldberg want it both ways.
One final thing: Linker is just plain wrong about Heidegger. While he is right that Heidegger never repudiated Nazism (or did he?), he omits much else. Harry Neumann used to speak about Heidegger often in class. We even read a bit by him. However, the one curious thing Heidegger said at the end of his life was that, “only a god can save us” now. It flies in the face of the volk and Ich Woll. Linker makes a logical leap into fallacy when he screams through Heidegger’s apparent “idealistic” views of the Nazis like he’s read spark notes for Being and Time.
Everyone is susceptible to idealistic notions. Even authors who make arguments about idealism and [insert evil comparison here]. Neumann used to lecture about the difference between someone who is a “thinker” and someone who is a “political philosopher.” He spent his life when I knew him making the comparison as clear as he could. Harry Jaffa was a “political philosopher” because he was interested in the political, and believed in a standard of right and wrong, good and evil. The “thinker” Heidegger, Neumann would say, did not. Or maybe he did, as Neumann said, realize that, “only a god could save us now” because he realized his entire life’s work was an attempt at atheism, which is humanely impossible.
It is quite fantastic to the absurd (and that’s the kind of way saying loony) to claim that JAG was/is the second coming of Heideggarian idealism because at least JAG was not into “thinking,” it was into “political philosophy.” One would think that would be self-evident. But in order for self-evidence to have persuasive weight, the terms in question must be understood.