As hard as these past several days have been for people who’d prefer to have a consistently anti-Nazi president, they have been even more trying for those tasked with defending our commander in chief. One of those defenders is Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox News host ousted from the network for the same behavior that somehow did not prevent Donald Trump’s election. O’Reilly now hosts his own podcast, but apparently felt the need to address the controversy over Trump’s response to Charlottesville via the written word.
Trump’s defenders have generally taken three approaches: They have argued that of course Trump hates Nazis but the media is making a big deal over nothing; or that the real issue is Confederate heritage, which deserves real respect; or that in the 19th century many evil racists were Democrats, so there. (The last two arguments don’t really mesh, but never mind.) O’Reilly, however, takes an entirely original and dare I say bold tack. The problem isn’t Democrats or the media. And it certainly isn’t a racist and bigoted president. No, it’s a lack of historical knowledge. As he writes in the Hill:
I have written three books about World War II and am currently researching a fourth. I can tell you with certainty that most people on this planet have no clue as to how German Nazis went about their lethal business. And that includes President Trump and many other politicians both present and past.
Perhaps you’ve heard: O’Reilly is the best-selling author of the “Killing” series, which includes such historically dubious books as Killing Kennedy, Killing Lincoln, and Killing Jesus. This makes him extraordinarily well-positioned, in his own mind, to bring the past to bear on this latest Trump controversy. “If Donald Trump and millions of others had really studied the evil of the Third Reich,” O’Reilly writes, “the Charlottesville political debacle might have been avoided in the sense that zero tolerance for the supremacists could have actually united the country.”
O’Reilly goes on to worry that in today’s America, only Jews know about Hitler’s evil. For everyone else, including the president of the United States, the Holocaust is just a bad thing that happened a long time ago. What most people don’t get is that “the crimes of Hitler's regime and the population that allowed it were so terrible that words cannot come close to description,” O’Reilly explains. “President Trump did not understand that and it has hurt him. He was trying to make other points in the midst of the revulsion of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville.”
Let’s grant part of O’Reilly unstated premise: The president is probably not poring over history books when the grinding work of the presidency ends every evening. But that hardly explains why Trump’s gaffes and errors always happen to oh-so-perfectly reinforce the cause of white nationalism.
Lest anyone think this op-ed is actually mildly tough on Trump, O’Reilly adds that, “The result of the president's remarks has been to give his legions of enemies license to brand him, his staff, and his supporters ‘Nazi sympathizers.’ That is not true, but truth is always the first casualty of hysteria … we have our leadership under sustained, vicious attack and even more ideological strife on our hands.”
Does O’Reilly have a solution to this madness? “If Americans finally begin to learn about and truly understand the past, then something positive might emerge from this awful situation. We can only hope.” Deliverance may be at hand, however: His bio line informs us that the next book in the “Killing” series is out next month.