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It was surreal. President Biden began his State of the Union speech by invoking the Nazi threat. More than eighty years ago, Biden reminded us, Franklin Roosevelt rallied the nation, as “Hitler was on the march,” and “freedom and democracy were under assault.” Today, the president warned, the fascist enemy rampages anew, not only on the world stage, but in America herself. This time the tyrant is Putin, while the dagger at the “throat of American democracy” is insurrection. “What makes our moment rare,” Biden intoned, “is that freedom and democracy are under attack—both at home and overseas at the very same time.”

On their face, Biden’s claims are wildly irresponsible. He implies that Donald Trump and his supporters are not mere political opponents, but Hitlerian foes and traitors. With rhetoric like that coming from a sitting president as he speaks to the nation, it’s no wonder that our politics is bitterly divisive and our society polarized. What is the greater threat to democracy: a ragtag mob in the Capitol, or a major political party that defines political opposition as treason?

The allure of this way of talking seems irresistible to liberal elites, even as it damages the body politic. Hitler, fascism, Nazism: There’s rarely an issue of The Atlantic or a week of editorials in the New York Times that doesn’t mine the 1930s for analogies. It’s as if we were living a collective version of the film Groundhog Day. It’s always 1939.

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