Perhaps the most important rule in crisis communications is that when you are in a hole, stop digging.
Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens is not familiar with this rule.
Owens was being raked over the coals online on Friday after Buzzfeed dug up a video in which she seemed to make the classic white supremacist argument that Hitler started off good but eventually went too far. That’s not flipness on my part; it is really more or less what she said:
“But if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany.”
That first sentence is pretty much what Neville Chamberlain was hoping as well. You don’t often see conservatives agreeing that Chamberlain had the right idea.
Having caught wind of the firestorm, Owens thought it best to clean up her comments with this short Periscope video:
Candace Owens just finished a periscope on this with “I stand by my statements” so https://t.co/JFv0mcLgpr
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) February 8, 2019
If you can make it through those four minutes without funneling molten lava directly into both of your ears, you will hear Owens spew out what can only be described as word goulash. Somewhere in there, she makes it clear that she thinks nationalism is just a label that can be applied however one sees fit. Since one of the most famous practitioners of nationalism in the 20th century pursued a version of it which she disagrees with, she feels fine dismissing him as a homicidal maniac who didn’t care about the German people (after all, he killed German Jews) and therefore didn’t care about his nation.
In reality, nationalism is a specific ideology with a specific architecture that has been recognized and defined by historians and scholars after decades of study. More importantly, what matters in this discussion is not how Candace Owens would like to define nationalism. It is how Hitler and the Nazis defined it. And their definition was, much like Donald Trump’s, based partly on overturning an existing international order (in the Germans’ case, the one set up after World War I by the Treaty of Versailles) that limited German ambitions.
The other part of Germany’s nationalism, which Owens ignores, was the ethnic component, which required them to cleanse Germany of all ethnicities that Nazis considered undesirable. They were doing this inside the country long before World War II actually broke out through the Nuremberg Laws, pogroms like Kristallnacht, setting up camps such as Dachau, and so on. So when Owens says that it would have been fine if Germans had Made Germany Great Again while staying within their own borders, she is implicitly endorsing the ethnic cleansing the nation undertook before it turned to expansion of its territory.
It would be nice to ignore the level of dumbness on display here. But Owens is a commentator who often appears on Fox News. Her organization, Turning Point USA has been building a national brand on college campuses that they would like to take international. In fact, she made her Hitler comments at a kickoff for the organization’s new British outpost, Turning Point UK. As if Britain isn’t suffering enough at the moment.
And Owens has a fan in the White House:
Candace Owens of Turning Point USA is having a big impact on politics in our Country. She represents an ever expanding group of very smart “thinkers,” and it is wonderful to watch and hear the dialogue going on…so good for our Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2018
The Democrats’ 2020 nominee could get a lot of traction by committing early on to a goal of eradicating stupidity in America in her first term.