Monday, April 20, 2020

Holocaust Trivialization Leads To Holocaust Mockery

A recent news story reports on two Minnesota high school students who released a TikTok video titled "Me and the boys on the way to camp." It was making fun of the Holocaust.

Elsewhere in the country, Republican and conservative leaders have gotten very trigger-happy comparing coronavirus restrictions to the Holocaust. An Idaho state representative insisted that stay-at-home measures were "no different" than Hitler sending Jews to extermination camps. The Colorado House Minority Leader said that Governor Jared Polis' (who is Jewish) efforts reflected a "Gestapo-like mentality".  We all saw the pictures of right-wing protesters in Michigan holding signs saying "Heil Witmer" [sic] with a swastika on them (referring to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer). There are other examples.

These are not the same thing. But they are related. The latter is a form of Holocaust trivialization, where it gets employed in opposition to political moves that fall clearly and obviously short of concentration camps and mass extermination.* The effect of Holocaust trivialization is to make the Holocaust utterly ordinary and mundane; unremarkable save for how it can pack an emotional punch in ordinary and mundane political debates. And once the Holocaust is ordinary and mundane, one can do ordinary, mundane things with. Leverage it in attack ads. Use it as a bit of effective (if perhaps hyperbolic) rhetoric. And, of course, mock it. Ordinary and mundane events in the political sphere are legitimate subjects of parody and mockery. It is the Holocaust's status as something distinct from the ordinary, in a separate class, that justifies keep it insulated from such insults. Take that away, and why shouldn't it get its share of snipes and jabs? There is a direct line from trivializing the Holocaust to mocking it. The kids in Minnesota and the elected officials in the GOP are not doing the same thing -- but there is a familial lineage.

The past few years have seen the GOP talk a very big game about what great friends they are the Jews. They say it every election season, of course, and they always put on such a display of hurt and confusion when that friendship isn't reciprocated. Well, here's part of the reason why. Given the slightest opportunity, they'll cheapen our genocide in service of a destructive, paranoid, and frankly inane political agenda. They won't care in the slightest the damage it does to the Jewish community. Hell, I doubt they even notice it. But we do.

* Here is what I wrote, incidentally, on comparisons of  immigrant detention camps in the U.S. to the Holocaust. I did not and do not like them, though in that case at the very least there is non-frivolous basis for the comparison (though not on the axis of systematic extermination) which made me feel as if litigating the comparison was of subsidiary importance to keeping our eye on opposing the underlying policy. By contrast, there is no remotely plausible basis for comparing stay-at-home protocols aimed at fighting a pandemic to Nazism. It can do nothing but trivialize the Holocaust.

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