Happy Independence Day to our American Legal Readers! Such interesting times in which we find ourselves this year. As I write this post on our national holiday, my country seems closer to disintegrating than it has in a long, long time. At the heart of the matter lie two competing worldviews for the heart, soul, and vision of the future of the United States of America.
Happy Independence Day to our American Legal Readers! Such interesting times in which we find ourselves this year. As I write this post on our national holiday, my country seems closer to disintegrating than it has in a long, long time. At the heart of the matter lie two competing worldviews for the heart, soul, and vision of the future of the United States of America. Both sides are convinced that their definition of freedom is the only possible meaning of the word. Both perceive the other side as dangerous traitors. And both embody a part of the American spirit, through and through. Unfortunately, these sides are coming to blows. Metaphorical blows, as the culture war heats up. Legislatively, as our lawmakers attempt political solutions. And even physically, as protesters began punching Nazis and a candidate for public office sucker punched a reporter in opening volleys to our uncertain future.
America has an honorable history of punching Nazis. While we were understandably squeamish about joining another World War and hoped that Great Britain could put the smackdown on Hitler’s Germany just fine without us, when we finally entered the war, we (and our allies) did the job right. Many of us have grandfathers or great-grandfathers that answered the call and fought the force that became synonymous with evil. That was back then Americans united to oppose an outside power that threatened not only our international friends, but which engaged in unimaginable atrocities. We are right to be proud of what our grandparents accomplished.
We’re not as united now.
Beyond the epic story of WWII lies the very real struggle of a desperate Germany. Their industrial base taken away from them after the previous war, and forced to pay reparations they could scarcely afford, the German population was ripe for an authoritarian leader to offer a kind of hope. The idea of lebensraum, or room to expand and live, drove Germans to invade other countries and take resources from “undesirables” within their borders.
History moves in cycles. The emptying out of our own industrial base through automation and moving factories overseas has had a similar result in the American heartland. The Midwestern rust belt joined the traditionally Red, economically disadvantaged South and mountain West to give our own, homegrown Authoritarian an electoral college win. And right on schedule, hate crimes and attitudes against minorities rose, the Muslim ban struggled in the courts but eventually prevailed, and efforts to put women in their place (Kinder, Küche, Kirche) roll onward. They’re gearing up against the wrong enemies, but human societies are tribal, and it’s a lot easier to pick on other tribes than to address underlying problems of plutocracy and resource depletion.
In the other corner, we have “the Resistance,” liberals working against the Trump agenda much as the Tea Party worked against Obama. Protecting minority freedom is a deeply American tradition. Just ask Roger Williams, James Madison, or the Americans that liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. It is this resistance whose fist punched white supremacist Richard Spencer in January and again in April.
However, punching Nazis is a whole different thing when both the punchers and the Nazis are Americans. And Nazis, just like anyone else, have the perspective that they are the right-thinkers in the room. Punching Nazis isn’t generally going to make them more reflective, no matter how satisfying it feels to a growing segment of the resistant Left. It only makes them more defensive, raising funds as martyrs, striking back, and bringing Right-wing militia groups to guard their events. People who feel oppressed will begin to identify with them more than they already do.
Everything we do has consequences. If you’re considering punching Nazis, are you physically and mentally prepared to defend yourself against the inevitable retribution? There may be a time when the actions of the Right become as egregiously immoral as those of the German Nazis that our grandfathers defeated in the war. It’s happened on American soil before, soaking it with the blood of 750,000 dead and bringing trauma for generations. The costs of Civil War v2.0 would be significantly higher today, on both sides. It’s going to take a lot more than just punching. Is that price tag currently justified?
So, while you’re watching the fireworks and drinking American beer, pause for a moment to reflect on the United States that we’re celebrating today. There are those who put their political tribes before the country they claim to love. Eventually this may destroy us, but let’s be damned sure it’s necessary before taking that final step. Finding new ways to endure together, though, may be more patriotic than punching Nazis – or liberal journalists.