Hate language and groups should not be normalized

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There’s a familiar expression that I’ve been thinking about over the past week and a half while consuming the news. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Two things really stuck out to me. One was President Trump’s retweets of anti-Muslim videos taken from far-right group Britain First. The other news item was the much-maligned “Nazi fluff piece” The New York Times ran about this dude who’s a regular guy but also a Nazi. Both of these things are bad. That’s obvious but still warranted. What’s not as obvious is there’s some overlap between these two things.

I know talking about a Trump tweet plays into this distraction trap, but it needs to be addressed. Trump’s retweets of these videos were done apropos of nothing. One of the videos purported to show a Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch kid on crutches, but that was debunked – the “migrant” was Dutch himself. The other two videos show terrorists doing bad things, with no context, two non-sequiturs, like a bad “Family Guy” joke (which is a redundant statement). Terrorists are bad. Got it.

Why did he retweet some hot garbage from Britain First (what one far-right scholar called basically a neo-Nazi group)? Just to remind everyone that terrorists are bad? Or to stir the pot of bigotry and remind the hardcore faithful that Muslims are scary, to distract Americans from the fact that his house of cards is about to tumble?

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around all this. The question I want to ask is: Who doesn’t think Trump’s retweets were terrible, offensive, ugly and bigoted?

One answer: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who said, “That’s why we love him.” Only the most obtuse, delusional, unreasonable and oblivious person will see this for anything other than what it really is. He blew the dog whistle and likes to throw his lapdogs a bone – a nice, inconceivably reckless, indubitably bigoted bone. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it.

If it looks like a duck…

There was no credible response from the White House about Trump’s actions, because there isn’t one. Whatever anyone says, it’s just the plausible deniability game people like to play with this kind of thing, and it’s bogus. Nothing I could say would really convince someone who was thrilled with the retweets that they’re wrong for being thrilled about. Ideally, you could engage the most stubborn, extreme person in some kind of rational discourse. But sometimes, minds are already made up. So what’s the point in engaging with the unreasonable?

I guess it would be, on principle, to not let bigotry fester and remain unchallenged. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade, even if everyone already knows it’s a spade.

So, in considering that profile in The New York Times about the Nazi next door and the subsequent backlash it generated, I thought the only way to do this sort of piece is to not let the Nazi’s comments go unchallenged.

The article describes the subject, Tony Hovater, as a dude who goes to Applebee’s, cooks pasta, likes “Seinfeld” and has “Midwestern manners that would please anyone’s mother.” The piece doesn’t do much more than that. None of his views are challenged.

The article also says of Hovater: “He is adamant that the races are probably better off separated, but he insists he is not racist.”

OK, that sounds like cognitive dissonance to me. That would’ve been a good spot to press him for further clarification.

When Hovater speaks highly of Hitler and says, “He really believed he was fighting for his people and doing what he thought was right” – that might’ve been a good spot to chime in. But these abhorrent opinions got to sit and luxuriate, unperturbed in the most recognizable newspaper in the world.

The author, Richard Fausset, to his credit, admits he missed the mark in a follow-up reflection he wrote. But one has to wonder why he even wrote something like that. To show that Nazis are people too, that they buy groceries and bake muffins and have “Twin Peaks” tattoos on their arms? To show how “normal” they are? I got it; he’s a human. But he’s not really normal. Because of the Nazi thing.

If it looks like a duck…

Asking someone with an extremist, bigoted viewpoint, “Why do you believe what you believe?” and expecting an intelligent answer rife with wisdom and bereft of cognitive distortions and delusions is going to be an anticlimactic affair. To ask someone why they retweeted anti-Muslim videos or to ask someone why they think Hitler had some good ideas almost seems pointless. Some people don’t want to see the error of their ways.

The only thing to do is to call out this kind of crap every single time, to “un-normalize” Nazism or Muslim fear-mongering. Because none of this should ever become normal.