My most deeply rooted ideological conviction is a deep distrust of coercive government. Since my teens I have been a libertarian-leaning conservative, an outlook molded by my knowledge that the horrors of the Holocaust were engineered by government — by a totalitarian regime empowered to act with impunity and supported by a vast, intrusive bureaucracy. That some government is necessary I accept, but too much government, in my view, will always be a graver threat than too little. Power tends to corrupt, Lord Acton famously observed. The Holocaust is the ultimate demonstration of how murderous the corruption of a too-powerful state can become.
A related conviction is my intense antipathy to glorifying politicians. I realize that public support is vital in a democratic republic, yet there is an intoxicating derangement in crowds that gives me the creeps. The surging, enthusiastic adoration that political figures as different as Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Sarah Palin inspired in their followers filled me not with admiration, but with something closer to alarm. More sinister by far, to my mind, was the cult of personality that formed around Donald Trump. In no way do I liken American democracy today to what occurred in Germany in the 1930s. All the same, I have never been able to see images of mass rallies, even rallies for causes I admire, without a sense of foreboding.
Equally menacing is an obsession with race and racial distinctions. Hitler’s Germany deemed “Aryans” the highest race and Jews the lowest. In their fanaticism on the subject, the Nazis demonized Jews, denied them legal rights, deprived them of their livelihoods, drove them from their homes, and finally destroyed them by the millions. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I consider all racial categories fundamentally illegitimate. I abhor the labeling and sorting of Americans by race. “Classifications and distinctions based on race or color,” argued the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in a 1947 brief, “have no moral or legal validity in our society.” That has always been my position. It makes me heartsick that 50 years after the civil rights movement, America’s leading institutions have become more race-obsessed than ever.