Beware of what you go looking for; you might see it.
By nature, I look for changing patterns. Changes in weather patterns that would affect gardening, changes in traffic patterns that would affect how I get around, but most of all, changes in the behavior of the human beings with whom I share this society. Once I see, or think I see, a pattern in transition, I do what people—especially older people—do when they sense movement away from the familiar. I draw a conclusion. I concoct an explanation that satisfies me, if no one else, and I extrapolate a future that, given the direction of the changes, seems inevitable. The older I get, the more I do it. Every added year provides that much more evidence of change, and that much more room to extrapolate where the change is taking us. But a fella has to be careful with that. He can be led astray by his own extrapolation—even if what he sees, or thinks he sees, is, step by step, true.
For a column that would have been printed in this publication on September 6, I submitted a piece relating to the rash of Nazi activity that culminated—we can only hope—in the mid-August travesty in Charlottesville, Virginia. And when I say “Nazi activity,” I mean from the entire range of frothing dopes who comprise the far-right in Trump’s America. I wrote, “Nazis … Klansmen … white supremacists … white nationalists … alt-right—you say ‘to-may-to,’ I say ‘to-mah-to.’ Let us be clear: If it walks like a Nazi, talks like a Nazi, and leaves chaos in its path like a Nazi, then it is a f***ing Nazi—no matter what infantile distinctions he likes to claim.”
Going further, I expressed the uneasy suspicion (paranazia) that we may be living amid a great many more of them than we’d ever imagined. As I’ve argued before, one of the most disturbing aspects of the rise of Trump is the distrust many of us feel towards those who would stoop so low as to vote for him. And now, on top of that general sense of betrayal, we have these threatening morons marching up out of the mud with their tiki torches and white power shields. Even worse: “If there’s anything to be learned from Charlottesville,” I said, “it might be that there’s no sure way to tell who is, and who isn’t.”
So far, so good. I honestly believe Charlottesville took decent Americans by surprise. We were aware they were out there, this fascist rabble, but we had not anticipated them being so many, so organized, so motivated, or being indistinguishable from the faces we encounter every time we leave the house.
And how to spot them, when they appear so normal?—that is the question I proceeded to try to answer. Starting from the premise that there is a commonality among all Nazis, I wrote: “If there were one word that is most central to my sense of the whole phenomenon of fascism—more central than ‘racist,’ ‘nationalist,’ ‘arrogant,’ ‘belligerent,’ ‘self-important,’ ‘hateful’—it is ‘machismo.’ Be it Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, the Central and South American fascists, the neo-Nazis in Europe and America, the skin-heads, the Klan, or this new bunch of scurves that put Charlottesville on the map of infamy, my most powerful impression of them is their swagger, their insistence on what studs they are—their ridiculous parody of manliness and their disdain for any sign of sensitivity in kindlier males.”
Still so far, so good. I don’t feel any obligation to provide further evidence that Nazis, throughout history, have had a tendency to be macho dicks.
However, it was around this point in my race to a resolution that the wheels began to wobble. I began a list of (mainly) manly characteristics in shifting cultural patterns that have gone from oddity to mainstream in recent years, and which might—might, mind you—indicate an exaggerated masculinity, and therefore a potential sympathy for fascist sentiments. Before I was done, I had included the ubiquity of baseball caps, over-sized pick-up trucks (“the size of Panzer tanks”), these big-ass beards we see everywhere, the proliferation of tattoos, “the cult of Harley-Davidson,” cargo pants, and the “epidemic of shaved heads.”
Grounded on such flimsiness, I implied this “nest of possible Nazis” in which we find ourselves might well include “the guy who changed the oil in my car last spring … the guy who I was sitting next to at a red light this afternoon … my mailman.”
“It’s just so damn easy now,” I added, “to imagine any, or all, of them with a swastika banner stashed in their trunk, or a hooded robe hanging in the coat closet.”
Ah, but I knew it was wrong when I turned it in. I knew I had gone too far. I knew that somewhere along the path from the first paragraph to the last, I had slipped off the stepping-stones of reasonability and gotten stuck hip-deep in some nasty irrational goo. Yet I couldn’t find the wrong turn. Step by step, it seemed true—still seems true to me in many respects. But how could the sum of so many true-ish increments end up in a place so false? How could an argument so adamantly against those who condemn others based on stereotypical nonsense, finish by implicating my neighbors, based on their grooming habits and the size of their trucks?
Luckily for me, and for you, my editor saved me from embarrassing myself. For only the second time in my 22-year association with Boise Weekly, my submission was rejected—and justly so. “You’d have about every man on the street looking like a Nazi,” I was told. “Bill, this makes you sound like a real asshole.”
It only hurts—a little—that it took them this long to notice.