Tuesday, September 04, 2018


When Adolf Hitler IV, the previously unacknowledged great-grandson of the infamous Nazi dictator, revealed himself in Uruguay last year and began writing for Breitbart, he naturally attracted a great deal of media attention -- attention that turned to alarm as Hitler IV's affirmed mission to revive his great-grandfather's legacy caught fire on the European right and Donald Trump hired him as a Special Advisor to the President.

Trump's justification at the time -- "Look, right or wrong this guy has a lotta followers, okay?" -- led to a great deal of liberal hand-wringing, nowhere more so than here at The New Yorker, where Hitler IV soon replaced Trump as the go-to subject of cover art and cartoons and an all-purpose signifier of social decline, as in Hilton Als' essay on the hyper-commodification of the Broadway musical, "Theatre in the Age of Hitler IV."

American conservatives, in turn, jeered that the response of the Left to what, after all, was merely an advisory appointment -- one for which polls showed 87% Republican approval -- was further proof that liberals are more interested in virtue-signaling than in addressing the legitimate concerns of Trump voters.

Let me state frankly that my values and that of Hitler IV are inharmonious. Hitler IV calls for the elimination of Jews; I and many of my friends and colleagues are Jewish. Hitler IV calls for Aryans and "honorary Aryans" to make him Trump's successor, whereupon he would command the U.S. military to subdue the "inferior species" of the world and initiate a Thousand-Year Reich; I would prefer a slightly more active role for the United Nations.

However, I also feel that if we want to persuade those Trump voters who are flocking to Hitler IV that Nazism is not the answer -- that it will improve neither their job prospects nor America's standing among the nations of the world -- we must first pay closer attention to what they are really asking for when they chant "Jews Out!" and sing "Dixie" at Hitler IV's rallies. Is it respect? A sense of empowerment? A world more like the one their own great-grandparents (who, ironically, fought the Nazis) bequeathed to them? Remember, some of these voters supported Obama in 2008; they cannot be beyond the reach of reason.

That is why, when I recently covered a Republican fundraiser and found Hitler IV pressing the flesh in the parking lot, I sneaked past his brownshirts and tried to pitch him on an interview. To my surprise, Hitler IV proposed instead that I conduct a public grilling of him at The New Yorker Festival -- and, ever the showman, also suggested that we announce his attendance just before tickets went on sale "to heighten the drama." As an old newsman, I found this offer impossible to resist and we sealed the deal then and there with a handshake and, because Hitler IV felt "the bare word of a Jew is meaningless," a contract scrawled on a cocktail napkin.

My colleagues reacted predictably -- some spitting in my face, one slashing at my head with an iPad. I tried to explain to those who did not shun my presence that I had no illusions we would change anyone's mind about Hitler IV, but might reveal something about his nature and the movement he led. I brought up Oriani Fallaci's interview with Henry Kissinger; yes, as one colleague reminded me, U.S. foreign policy has never recovered from Kissinger's influence -- but at least, I argued, we know more than we otherwise might about his nature. The braying laughter with which this was greeted convinced me that there was nothing I could say to make them see reason, and so I have reluctantly agreed to disinvite Hitler IV from the Festival. Perhaps there is a better way to reveal Hitler IV's nature than by letting him headline the signature event of a respected publication. Maybe a podcast?

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