Identitarian Exclusivity In The Face Of ICE
The abominable horror show that is America’s slide towards fascist oblivion hit the accelerator in the past two weeks, as the Department of Homeland Security and their police force ICE have come under fire as news of the “tender age detention centers” has come to national attention. While ICE and the carceral state have treated America’s immigrants horrifically for decades, this new policy has prompted many to ask a few important questions: is this fascist? Are we becoming Nazi Germany? Are these concentration camps?
Yet, there are many resistant to this claim. For the right, the reason is obvious: despite fitting many of the traits of the Nazi political coalition, they know that being compared to Nazis is not exactly what we call good optics. With these objections come the myriad of tepid logic puzzles and facilanious arguments on the metaphorical details while missing their part in a political project built on the catharsis of cruelty in a fit of mass delusion.
There is also another set in the debate. They do not reject the Nazi comparison due to the pro-kid jail policy being lead by the Trump Administration but rather because the idea of invoking Jewish historical trauma is, to them, exploiting one of the most oppressed groups of people in the western world. It is an argument rooted in a sense of protection for many of their own family members unbelievable suffering under the boot of a fascist state.
The Nazi government and its particular synthesis of apartheid, economic exploitation, and race science has serves as a historical marker of what we are pushing against. It is precisely because of this horror and drama that we should not be afraid to compare the current regime to Nazism. Not just because of the ideological and procedural parallels, but for a society raised on World War II movies and Hitler in “Downfall” memes, this is also incredibly effective and provocative messaging.
Seeking some other opinions of the issue, I found this Twitter thread from writer Ijeoma Oluo on the concept of a “good faith argument” against Nazi comparisons. She makes the point that we should respect people’s trauma in these kind of cases and that someone can still be against the current policy and feel like their historical trauma shouldn’t be used in this argument.
Ijeoma states that we shouldn’t have to bring people’s trauma to make the point that this the Trump detention policy is bad. To me, this is a truism. Of course we shouldn’t have to, but we shouldn’t have to deal with making people relive the trauma of labor exploitation, white supremacy, or homophobia either, but these narratives and lessons are absolutely critical to the act of political organizing. How many of us became engaged with the Black Lives Matter movement through the repetition of stories of traumatic murder of black people by the state?
While I absolutely respect individuals’s personal opinions on the use of Nazi analogies, there is a missing piece to this argument specifically to the American Jewish experience. We Jews have suffered a plethora of persecution in our past. Jewish Americans also have, by and large, integrated into a system of white supremacy by transcending our “ethnicness” and becoming white, like the Irish and Italians before us. We also, by and large, tend to live more bourgeois and economically secure lives, with higher education rates than the average. In general, most American Jews are privileged and comfortable. It is the combination of our trauma and privileged place in American society that demands a higher standard on our willingness to lend solidarity to others.
This is why hearing my fellow Jews place their historical trauma ahead of fighting and defeating a rising hard right political formation enacting horrific violence right now to be more than just an “agree to disagree” moment. If we, the generations of survivors of not just Nazism, but Czarism, imperialism, and colonialism, can’t use our massive political and cultural capital to fight the fash, we are failing and inerting our very real power.
“Never again” has been one of the core tenets of post-war Jewry. Even through religious schism, intermarriage, and the painful debates on Zionism, this sentiment is ever present. Doesn’t “never again” necessitate solidarity with those groups targeted for a similar kind of violence? Why should we silo our story to the ghetto like our ancestors before us? Who does that serve?
Another problem with this argument is the ahistorical reading of who was traumatized by the Nazi state. What about the Roma? Or left-liberal German dissidents? Or the massive number of Soviet civilians murdered by fascists?Jews cannot emphasize our own personal identity’s pain at the expense of a complete historical picture. We were on the edges of the historical narrative for centuries. We know better.
Fascism plays on the norms of liberal institutions in order to seed their destruction. Richard Spencer, America’s premier callow fascist mediocrity, has shown this in his numerous interviews with the liberal press, even recently admitting that he doesn’t actually believe in freedom of speech in his political project. He only is looking to use it to gain power and then set the whole building on fire.
If we emphasize protecting an amorphous sense of trauma at the cost of fighting fascism with everything we’ve got, we are bringing a used baseball batt to fight an army of tanks. We cannot play a game of respectability politics to defeat this brutalising regime. To misquote the ridiculous right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro: fascists don’t care about your feelings.
We have history, righteousness, and, most importantly, the people, on our side, but that doesn’t mean we can just wait around either. Fascism is too destructive and evil to all of us for privileged Jewry to hold our tongues. Our goal should not be luxuriating in our pain, but to take that trauma from the past and turn that into solidarity of the future. This is how we make sure it really is “never again”.