(In Public Life) Nazis At The Moment

It’s not one thing or another, but the way single incidents revolving around Nazis, swastikas, and the Holocaust aggregate in a relatively compressed moment in time. This past week was a case in point. A school board takes Maus off a middle school curriculum in Tennessee. The governor of Florida refuses to condemn Nazis who show up in his state. In Ottawa, protesters against vaccine mandates carry swastikas. A comedian past her prime says something stupid about the Holocaust and race on national television. The fine points are indicative of our moment, but not themselves all that important.

Unclear and not understood is the sheer coincidence, that one more or less insignificant event having to do with the Holocaust, Nazis, and swastikas followed the other in such close sequence.

Unsettling is their appearance as a group in a serial formation as part of a more generalizable social sickness.

More clear is the sickening sense of a miasma

The miasma reflects the pooling together of discrete moments in time since the swastika’s relatively recent reappearance in (North) American public life. The pooling together around the swastika is political. First on Twitter and then out in the public light of day, Nazis started showing up when Donald Trump began his presidential campaign in 2015, basing it on the foundation of a white nationalist platform. Now we are somewhere in the uncertain middle or maybe near the end of a pandemic a year after the insurrection at the Capitol. At this moment, not episodic is the rightwing drumbeat online, on talk-radio, on cable television whipping up and creating a micro-climate of rage about public health mandates and the well-being of children. Why wouldn’t this rage find itself around the affective trigger of a swastika out there in the world?

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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