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In July, congressional Democrats started a bold new re-branding campaign to discuss their vision for America. They call it “A Better Deal,” with big-name backers like Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren.

As comedian Jim Jefferies has pointed out, it’s not the catchiest slogan, but it does offer a strong message: increase worker’s pay, reduce everyday costs and re-tool for a new economy.

However, over the past few weeks, social media burned with a very different slogan: “Punch a Nazi in the Face.”

The message is perhaps inevitable after the horrific events in Charlottesville. On Aug. 11, Americans saw their own countrymen, decked out in neo-Nazi regalia, carrying clubs, shields and AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

White nationalists swarmed the University of Virginia, spewing the same ethnic hatred that Americans have given their lives to defeat. In this climate, anyone could understandably punch a Nazi, and frankly, it’s a slogan that everyone needs right now.

Adolf Hitler in Munich, 1931. The hijack of German society came not in spite of resistance but because of it, the author argues.

Flickr: Recuerdos de Pandora

I hate Nazis. But before you punch one in the face, I want you to consider two things: Who are you punching, and more importantly, why? Can the world you want to live in be created by that fist?

First, if the person you’re punching is an idiot (the kind that jabbers about spicy memes and conspiracy theories), he is probably not a Nazi. That’s a Nazi groupie; a mere foot soldier in the march to fascism.

The under-appreciated fact of history is that fascism, like all political movements, appears rational to those who walk that road. Strong, charismatic leaders drive the fears of voters, alienated by an unstable society, and promise them a return to greatness. The fascist declares that strength can solve all problems and that weakness must be destroyed.

Lessons From Germany

When Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933, his National Socialist German Workers Party closed all party recruitment and placed their members at the top of German institutions. Their grip was absolute, from the highest chambers of the law all the way down to sewing groups and sports clubs. Now granted the reins of culture, the Nazi elite executed the most sophisticated propaganda campaign in all of human history.

The hijack of German society came, not in spite of resistance, but because of it. Fascist movements feed off social chaos by promising society a return to order. As the Weimar Republic collapsed and Hitler ascended, communists and Nazi thugs clashed daily on the streets of Berlin.

One doctor remarked that he could tell the political affiliations of his patients by the injuries they bore. Nazis sported head wounds from broken bar stools, while communists came in with punctured lungs from a stiletto to the chest.

Faced with this anarchy and bloodshed, the bankrupt German government stood powerless to intervene. In fact, when Hitler finally took over, it was a relief to everyone who was sick and tired of the daily brawls.

Authoritarianism is a logical response to societal chaos. And today’s two-party system isn’t solving this chaos; they’re encouraging it.

Let’s be real: Politicians love it when fascists fight communists in the street.

We live in a codependent, two-party system. Every time a riot like Charlottesville takes place, Democrats and Republicans both make millions off fears of the “thugs” on the other side. All the while, public sympathies grow colder to all parties, no matter how noble, until finally the false equivalency between them becomes real.

Violence works great if you’re a political minority. Throughout history, liberal and conservative political movements have used the threat of force to gain political attention and legitimacy. Malcolm X gave a tangible urgency to addressing the plight of African-Americans, demanding their civil rights. But right now, Nazis are the political minority, and they are using violence to steal national attention.

So what’s the solution?

Here’s the good news: Right now, Americans hate Nazis. They’re ugly and loud and racist; and most importantly, they are a fraction of American society.

This will change as groups become emboldened by the recent political climate. But while they remain an ugly minority, liberals must remain less ugly than they are.

The slogan “Punch a Nazi” cannot be the defining slogan of liberalism today.

Liberals should organize at the local level. Contact your local police chief. Vote for mayors and governors who oppose white nationalists in their backyards. Take time to invest in those closest to you.

Donald Trump has signaled his willingness to condemn liberal rioters, as well as his reluctance to condemn white nationalists. If these clashes continue, who do you think the government will crack down on? Who do you think will receive the blame?

I understand the fear and rage that white nationalists cause. I was disgusted by the chants of “Jews Will Not Replace Us” as they marched in Charlottesville. I get the desire to punch a Nazi.

But the slogan “Punch a Nazi” cannot be the defining slogan of liberalism today. It is simply not enough to just fight against the forces you hate; you also have to create a society worth living in.

So go ahead; punch a Nazi. But realize that this guy can’t change your country. Your politicians can.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

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