Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway:


“I can comprehend, and do, that lots of people don’t believe climate change is real, but is there some great benefit in me listening, again, to those who refuse to listen to the global community of scientists and see the evidence before our eyes? 

A lot of why the right doesn’t “understand” climate change is that climate change tells us everything is connected, everything we do has far-reaching repercussions, and we’re responsible for the whole, a message at odds with their idealization of a version of freedom that smells a lot like disconnection and irresponsibility. But also climate denial is the result of fossil fuel companies and the politicians they bought spreading propaganda and lies for profit, and I understand that better than the people who believe it. 

If half of us believe the earth is flat, we do not make peace by settling on it being halfway between round and flat. Those of us who know it’s round will not recruit them through compromise. We all know that you do better bringing people out of delusion by being kind and inviting than by mocking them, but that’s inviting them to come over, which is not the same thing as heading in their direction.

The editor [of a piece in the LA Times] spoke of facts, and he spoke of values. In the past four years too many members of the right have been emboldened to carry out those values as violence. One of the t-shirts at the #millionMAGAmarch this weekend: “Pinochet did nothing wrong.” Except stage a coup, torture and disappear tens of thousands of Chileans, and violate laws and rights. A right-wing conspiracy to overthrow the Michigan government and kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer was recently uncovered, racists shot some Black Lives Matter protestors and plowed their cars into a lot of protests this summer. The El Paso anti-immigrant massacre was only a year ago; the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre two years ago, the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally in which Heather Heyer was killed three years ago (and of course there have been innumerable smaller incidents all along). 

Do we need to bridge the divide between Nazis and non-Nazis? Because part of the problem is that we have an appeasement economy, a system that is supposed to be greased by being nice to the other side.

Appeasement didn’t work in the 1930s and it won’t work now. That doesn’t mean that people have to be angry or hate back or hostile, but it does mean they have to stand on principle and defend what’s under attack. There are situations in which there is no common ground worth standing on, let alone hiking over to. If Nazis wanted to reach out and find common ground and understand us, they probably would not have had that tiki-torch parade full of white men bellowing “Jews will not replace us” and, also, they would not be Nazis. 

Being Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists, transphobes is all part of a project of refusing to understand as part of refusing to respect. It is a minority position but by granting it deference we give it, over and over, the power of a majority position.

In fact the whole Republican Party, since long before Trump, has committed itself to the antidemocratic project of trying to create a narrower electorate rather than win a wider vote. They have invested in voter suppression as a key tactic to win, and the votes they try to suppress are those of Black voters and other voters of color. That is a brutally corrupt refusal to allow those citizens the rights guaranteed to them by law. 

Having failed to prevent enough Black people from voting in the recent election, they are striving mightily to discard their votes after the fact. What do you do with people who think they matter more than other people? Catering to them reinforces that belief, that they are central to the nation’s life, they are more important, and their views must prevail. Deference to intolerance feeds intolerance.

Years ago the linguist George Lakoff wrote that Democrats operate as kindly nurturance-oriented mothers to the citizenry, Republicans as stern discipline-oriented fathers. But the relationship between the two parties is a marriage, between an overly deferential wife and an overbearing and often abusive husband (think of how we got our last two Supreme Court justices and failed to get Merrick Garland). 

The Hill just ran a headline that declared “GOP Senators say that a Warren nomination would divide Republicans.” I am pretty sure they didn’t run headlines that said, “Democratic Senators say a Pompeo (or Bolton or Perdue or Sessions) nomination would divide Democrats.” 

I grew up in an era where wives who were beaten were expected to do more to soothe their husbands and not challenge them, and this carries on as the degrading politics of our abusive national marriage.”

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