“Everyone I disagree with is a Nazi!”

When anyone you disagree with is a Nazi, then the term “Nazi” loses all meaning. It is tempting to point and laugh at the “Fat Sex Therapist” who says that fitness instructors are Nazis, but this mentality is representative of a real problem in our politics that is much more pervasive than we want to admit. We too often see those we disagree with as evil, not just someone who holds a different opinion or is even wrong.

On the merits, the “therapist” is wrong, but it is understandable why society’s attitude toward overweight people produces a backlash from people who struggle with their weight. Of course people should not be bullied or ostracized because of being overweight.

But advocating for better treatment of overweight people does not mean that fitness instructors are bad people – especially those who are working with (wait for it!) consenting adults to improve their health and have not bullied or mistreated anyone. To equate them to Nazis shows an extreme intolerance, an ignorance of history, and a lack of empathy for the real victims of the Holocaust. No one is loading overweight or obese people on trains and sending them to death camps to be starved and then shot or gassed.

Does the “body positivity” movement have some good points to make? Sure. But that message is lost when you start comparing people to an evil genocidal regime that murdered millions of innocent people, including women, children and the elderly. Most importantly, let’s not pretend she is in any way unique.

Too many liberals label anyone they disagree with as “alt right” or fascists, racists, hate-mongers or whatever other insult comes to mind to justify dismissing opinions out of hand rather than engaging in an exchange of ideas. Too many conservatives are also too quick to dismiss any liberal as a baby killer or a Communist, anti-Christian, etc. Plus, we even condemn those on our own side who are not sufficiently pure. Liberals who are more moderate are corporate shills or traitors or enabling fascists, while conservatives who are not sufficiently harsh are “deep state” or traitors or #NeverTrump cucks.

The ability to recognize that there are people who disagree in good faith is rapidly disappearing. Believe it or not, there are many liberals who hold views diametrically opposed to mine, but are sincere in their beliefs and do not hate the other side. The best way to find those people is “in real life,” because the Internet (and social media especially) tends to amplify the loudest and most obnoxious voices.

This, of course, does not mean everyone you disagree with is sincere and principled. While it is possible to be sincere and principled but wrong, it is also possible to act in bad faith, with dishonesty and hyperpartisan hypocrisy. There are people who act not out of ideology, but out of a desire to destroy someone on the other side – to “own the libs” or to “own the cons.” I am not saying those people should not be called out and exposed. A healthy civil discourse often requires exposing bad actors.

But our basic orientation should be that those who disagree with us disagree in good faith, and even if they are wrong they are not bad people. They may indeed be bad people, but there is no harm in operating with the assumption of good faith until the other person proves otherwise through his behavior and rhetoric. Part of the reason I am writing this post is a reminder to myself that I fail here far too often.