Orwell, Trump, and "Nazis"
In an essay entitled "Politics and the English Language," written in 1946, George Orwell argued that political disorder was inevitably accompanied by a deterioration in the clear use of language. Language, he wrote, "becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish," and the "slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."
One contemporary example of the truth of this statement is the adoption of the word “racist” by the political Left as a stigmatizing catch-all term to describe anyone they wish to disparage. So foolish has this become that the once powerful charge of racism has been reduced to the childish jeer “your mother wears combat boots.” In fact, Hobby Lobby recently received a complaint that a decorative display of a vase filled with cotton bolls was racist because cotton was a commodity gained at the expense of African-American slaves.
But more importantly, the overuse of the charge of racism – or the ugly and inaccurate use, in Orwell’s terms – prevents honest and informed discussion of the actual contemporary problems associated with racism. It renders the charge immaterial.
Another example of the unfortunate corruption of the language is the routine use by the Leftists of the term “immoral” to describe actions that they find objectionable, despite the fact that their ideology denies the existence of a collective moral code. Bill Clinton’s first Surgeon General, Dr. Jocelyn Elders, put it this way when she was asked whether it was wrong for a teen-aged girl to have a child out of wedlock, “No,” she said. “Everyone has different moral standards.” The great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre had a somewhat different take on the issue. He asserted that “the language and the appearance of morality persist even though the integral substance of mortality has to a large degree been fragmented and then in part destroyed.”
But perhaps the most egregious recent instance of linguistic distortion is the increasingly common use by the Left of the term “Nazi” to describe President Trump and his fellow conservatives. Yes, we know, hyperbole is common in politics. Nevertheless, the Nazis’ crimes were so unique in modern human history that the casual use of that term as a pejorative is, as Orwell put it, slovenly and foolish.
You see, run-of-the-mill mass murders and cruel dictators, such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, and Pol Pot, killed people who either threatened them and their political power or whom they believed (often mistakenly) threatened them and their political power. But Hitler was different. Hitler was a eugenicist who slaughtered Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, Asians, homosexuals, and people with disabilities and mental illnesses not because they were a threat to him or his party but in an effort protect the “purity” and survival of the German race.
Of course, if liberals sincerely mean to tar Trump with this loathsome brush, they’re perfectly free to do so. But if they do, they will again be demonstrating foolish thinking. Additionally, in this case, they will be demonstrating their ignorance. Clearly they are unaware or unconcerned that many of their own Progressive heroes embraced despicable policies that were later implemented by Hitler and his Nazis.
For example, when Woodrow Wilson, an icon of American Progressivism, was the governor of New Jersey, he signed one of the nation’s first and most draconian state eugenics laws. And that law was drafted by none other than Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen, who would later turn against his fellow Jewish prisoners and become a notorious killer doctor in Hitler’s Buchenwald concentration camp. Among other things, Wilson’s law created a special three-man “Board of Examiners of Feebleminded, Epileptics, and Other Defectives,” which the investigative journalist Edwin Black described as follows in his classic book War against the Weak, Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race:
The Board would systematically identify when “procreation is advisable” for prisoners and children residing in poor houses and other charitable institutions. The law included not only the “feebleminded, epileptics [and] certain criminals,” but also a class ambiguously referred to as “other defectives.”
Then, of course, there is Margaret Sanger, the Progressive founder of one of the Democratic Party’s most cherished institutions, Planned Parenthood, which destroys upwards of a half million “unwanted” children a year. Of course, the language they use to describe this crime is, in keeping with Orwell’s observation, ugly and inaccurate. To equate “women’s health” with abortion is beyond foolish and beyond insulting.
Now, our point here isn’t to say that the Progressives are (or were) Nazis. That too would be foolish. Our point is that the slovenliness of the language used in political discourse today has, as Orwell predicted, created a nasty vicious circle. Foolish thoughts beget inaccurate language, which, in turn, begets even more foolish thoughts. And so it goes. This is one of the reasons that our political discourse has devolved into little more than shouting matches: full of anger and bile and devoid of substance.