June 20, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
When ‘Truth-Tellers’ Silence Truth
Chuck Todd laundered the GOP's intellectual dishonesty.
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I didn’t really care about Chuck Todd’s historically ignorant, logically incoherent and intellectually dishonest commentary last night on the so-called controversy over “concentration camps” until I learned that liberals are taking the Meet the Press host seriously. Now I have something to say, beginning with: liberals, please. Don’t.
It’s not that I dislike Chuck Todd. I don’t care enough to dislike him. But I do care when handsomely paid objective observers whose job is to inform the citizenry fail to do that. I do care when this class of supposed truth-tellers actively misinforms people. I care even more when they distort the whole truth. I care still more when they are complicit in the silencing of other truth-tellers. That in brief is the outcome of Chuck Todd’s commentary last night. Yet liberals appear to be patting him on the back.
Here’s what happened. US Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (known as AOC) said this week that detention facilities where thousands of immigrant children are being held under inhumane conditions should be understood as “concentration camps.”
“I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘Never Again’ means something. The fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the home of the free is extraordinarily disturbing and we need to do something about it.”
The Trump administration, AOC said, is “authoritarian and fascist.”
“I don’t use those words lightly. I don’t use those words to just throw bombs. I use that word because that is what an administration that creates concentration camps is. A presidency that creates concentration camps is fascist.”
From the Times:
“This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis,” she added, citing an article in Esquire magazine that quoted a historian of the Holocaust who lectures at the University of Virginia. In the article, the historian, Waitman Wade Beorn, said, “Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz.”
So there it is.
She qualified her opinion. These are not death camps, she said. This is not hyperbole, she said. She cited an expert on such things. She believes concentration camps equal fascism. That’s her prerogative. And indeed, anyone knowledgeable in American history knows that “concentration camps” were not exclusive to Nazi Germany.
This madness has real-world impact.
Her defenders cite Franklin Roosevelt. Even as the US fought fascism abroad, the president called facilities in which Japanese-Americans were detained “concentration camps.” But our history is even more terrible. As I wrote in the Editorial Board, Adolf Hitler greatly admired what the United States government did to this continent’s indigenous peoples and how. No, America never gassed them to death, but we allowed them to die by starvation and by disease in things we politely called “reservations.” As I said, these were an American innovation. The Nazis merely “perfected” them.
I don’t mean to rationalize AOC’s remarks, or defend her. (She can do that quite well on her own.) But I do mean to make clear what she said, which was intellectually discrete, historically accurate and morally profound. You can disagree. You could say the Trump administration isn’t fascist. You could say that what it’s doing isn’t fascism. You could say these are not concentration camps or if they are, they aren’t as bad as the Nazi camps. You can say the phrase “concentration camps” is inappropriate. All that’s fair. But you can’t say with integrity that she compared our current border crisis to “Nazi concentration camps.” If you did that, you’d be intellectually dishonest.
Of course, that’s what the Republicans did.
Republicans have used this moment to cudgel AOC into silence by overstating what she said and saying she should never have said that, then demanding an apology for saying what she didn’t say. Sure, that’s maddening and disgraceful, but you know, par. I expect dishonesty from the Republicans. When they are, I’m, like, meh.
I am not meh when people who should know better launder intellectual dishonesty by giving the GOP’s view the veneer of objectivity. That’s precisely what Todd did.
He said AOC should not have said “concentration camps.” He said lots of people died in those camps whether they were death camps or not. That’s fair, I think, but Todd can’t say the following with integrity: “But be careful when comparing them to Nazi concentration camps, because they are not at all comparable in the slightest,” he said before blasting all the Democrats who stood by AOC for playing semantic politics.
You might be thinking: “Well, she shouldn’t be comparing them to Nazi concentration camps,” and indeed, that would be fair. But did she? No. The closest AOC got to comparing them “in the slightest” is when she said: “I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘Never Again’ means something.” That’s something you say when you fear the border crisis could get much worse. After all, Auschwitz was not a death camp from the start. Auschwitz had been a small facility for housing “political prisoners,” kind of like what we’re seeing now.
Yet for all his concern about hyperbole, Todd seems as oblivious as he is self-righteous. Worse, he’s misinforming people, saying AOC said something she didn’t say, then saying she shouldn’t have said it, all the while blasting her party for defending what she didn’t say. In effect, this “truth-teller” is silencing truth.
Even worse, this madness has real-world impact.
While many of the Democrats have defended AOC, Nancy Pelosi, the second most powerful person in Washington, said this week that AOC should not have said what she did not say. And, honestly, I can’t blame Pelosi. Once people like Todd have established what they believe is true there’s no point pushing back, because any push-back “in the slightest” can and will be seen as defending what AOC didn’t say.
As I said in the start, I didn’t really care about Todd’s historically ignorant, logically incoherent and intellectually dishonest commentary until I learned that liberals are taking him all too seriously. Now I have something to say, beginning with:
Liberals, please. Don’t.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.