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Sorry, Whoopi, But That Pence-Is-to-Gays-What-Nazis-Are-to-Jews Analogy is Horrible

A warning against trivializing evil anywhere from Hitler’s Germany to Kim’s North Korea

James Kirchick
February 12, 2018
Carl Court/Getty Images
United States Vice President Mike Pence watches short track speed skating at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.Carl Court/Getty Images
Carl Court/Getty Images
United States Vice President Mike Pence watches short track speed skating at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.Carl Court/Getty Images

Being a world class moral idiot, Donald Trump has an uncanny ability to turn his critics into moral idiots too.

Case in point: Increased tensions between the Trump administration and the nuclear-armed, dynastic despotism of North Korea are leading major media outlets and the president’s partisan antagonists (often indistinguishable) to swoon over the North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. “North Korea’s 200-plus cheerleaders steal spotlight at 2018 Winter Olympics with matching outfits, synchronized chants,” reads a headline from ABC News. (You’d steal the spotlight too if missing a beat in a synchronized chant resulted in death for yourself and your entire family). A CNN dispatch declared Kim Jong-Un’s sister was “stealing the show,” presumably in the same way Adolf Hitler did at the 1936 Berlin games. (“If ‘diplomatic dance’ were an event at the Winter Olympics,” the CNN reporters wrote, Kim Yo Jong “would be favored to win gold.”) The New York Times, channeling the spirit of Walter Duranty, headlined a dispatch, “Kim Jong-Un’s Sister Turns on the Charm, Taking Pence’s Spotlight,” favorably contrasting her “messages of reconciliation” with Vice President Mike Pence’s “old message” of pledging that the U.S. would “continue to ratchet up” sanctions.” In a since-deleted tweet, Washington Post national reporter Philip Bump swooned over the “deadly side-eye” Jong shot at Pence; a Post headline, quoting a think tank analyst, dubbed her the “Ivanka Trump of North Korea.” So fawning and obsequious has coverage of the North Korean slave state been that Buzzfeed, as reliable a shaper and purveyor of woke millennial opinion as any outlet, felt the need to issue a “PSA” informing readers that the emissary of a giant concentration camp is “Not Your New Fave Shade Queen” but rather a “Garbage Monster.”

Speaking of concentration camps, last week on The View, Whoopi Goldberg demonstrated the ease with which Trump administration critics can descend into moral idiocy when she compared Vice President Mike Pence to a Nazi. The controversy began when Adam Rippon, the first openly gay man to qualify to compete in the Winter Games, criticized Pence’s ceremonial role in leading the U.S. Olympic delegation to Pyeongchang. “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon told USA Today. “I’m not buying it.” Rippon added that he would refuse a personal meeting with Pence, which Goldberg likened to “asking a Jewish person to sit down and understand where a Nazi is coming from.”

Take it from this faygele, Whoopi: A gay man meeting with the Vice President of the United States is not like a Jew hobnobbing with a Nazi. To start, the evangelical Christian Mike Pence does not insist that gay-owned shops be boycotted. (Actually, it’s gay activists advocating that some evangelical Christian-owned shops be boycotted, but leave that inconvenient fact aside for the moment). Mike Pence does not allege that a worldwide conspiracy of homosexuals is bent on destroying humanity. He also does not refer to gay people as “vermin.” Nor, most significantly as far as this particular analogy is concerned, does Mike Pence believe that the United States government should track down every single last gay man, woman and child on earth, crowd them into ghettoes, herd them onto cattle cars, ship them off to concentration camps, force them to subsist on starvation rations, and gas them in a process of industrial-scale extermination the likes of which the world has never seen since, well, that thing called the Holocaust.

Mike Pence is hardly anyone’s idea of an advocate for the legal equality and dignity of LGBT people. Far from it. Yet the particular claim upon which Goldberg and Rippon’s antipathy towards the vice president relies—that he supported or “funded” gay conversion therapy at some point earlier in his political career—is simply not true. I addressed this claim in Tablet a year ago. It is based upon a single sentence from Pence’s 2000 congressional campaign website stating that federal funds targeting HIV/AIDS prevention “should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” One would have to be particularly uncharitable to assume Pence was advocating government funds be allocated to the fruitless and harmful effort of trying to make gay people straight; this language about altering “sexual behavior” more likely meant encouraging the use of condoms and safe-sex practices more generally. Regardless, there exists no evidence whatsoever of Pence ever actually saying anything in support of conversion therapy, much less “funding” it. Yet that did not stop the New York Times, in its summary of the controversy, from committing the basic journalistic sin of using the passive voice to insinuate factuality where none is warranted, stating that the language on Pence’s old campaign website was “widely interpreted as signaling his support for conversion therapy.”

It pains me tremendously to criticize Adam Rippon, who is absolutely adorable. (This video, of him explaining figure skating using Legos, makes me melt). But that he and Whoopi Goldberg are both under the impression Mike Pence “funded” conversion therapy indicates the extent to which rumor, hyperbole, and “fake news,” if you will, thrive in the age of Trump. What leads people like Whoopi Goldberg to insist Mike Pence is a Nazi is the same impulse that leads otherwise intelligent people to trivialize the world’s most oppressive totalitarian dictatorship: Scoring political points against the democratically-elected President of the United States. One’s entirely justified hatred of Trump—his demagoguery, misogyny, and prideful ignorance— should not prevent us from recognizing evil.

James Kirchick is a Tablet columnist and the author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington (Henry Holt, 2022). He tweets @jkirchick.