A recent article appearing in the conservative National Review provides some measure of the right wing’s increasing desperation over Bernie Sanders’ surging popularity. The author accuses Sanders of being a “national socialist.” That term is the English translation of the German phrase Nationalsozialismus, the acronym for which is “Nazi.”

Is he kidding?  

Let’s set aside the fact that Sanders’ father was a Polish Jew who fled his homeland just before the outbreak of the Second World War and whose remaining family members were murdered in Nazi death camps.  How is Sanders’ brand of socialism in any way “nationalist”?

According to author Kevin D. Williamson, it’s all about Sander’s position on trade policy.  Sanders believes that American corporations need to stop shipping jobs to low-wage countries in Asia and Latin America and start supporting American labor. This somehow makes him a “nationalist.” Sanders is a self-professed socialist. Nationalism + socialism = “national socialism,” ergo, Sanders must be a Nazi.

To be fair, Williamson doesn’t actually label Sanders as a Nazi. Nor does he disagree with the idea that economic and trade policies should be formulated with the best interests of American workers and their families in mind.  Yet throughout his article, Williamson uses the term “national socialism” repeatedly, turning Sanders’ message of economic justice into a meme of “Us vs. THEM.”

The concept of  “Us vs. Them” was one of the pillars of the Nazi Party. Nazism was an attempt to redefine the concept of socialism, discarding the ideas of Karl Marx. Although labeling itself as “socialist,” national socialism in Germany completely rejected the idea of “class struggle.”  At the same time, it also rejected principles of the competitive free-market system.  The Nazi Party’s method of achieving its agenda was to unite select members of society into a single, homogenous group that demanded conformity and unquestioning obedience (the German term is Volksgemeinschaft, or “People’s Community”). This group was then set against a perceived “enemy,” artificially created by the State, using outsiders and minorities as scapegoats. Nazism rejected economic equality, while staunchly defending the rights of corporations and corporate power.

This all may sound disturbingly familiar – but it surely doesn’t resemble any of the issues on which Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders has been speaking out.  If anything, Democratic Socialism is the very antithesis of National Socialism. Democratic socialism seeks to structure economic systems and social institutions for the benefit of all, not just a few elites.

The fact remains that “national socialism” is a loaded term with a host of frightening connotations. Kevin Williamson is neither ignorant nor stupid, but he knows that many voters are. He is taking a page straight out of Karl Rove’s playbook: whatever you are guilty of, accuse the opposition of the same before they call you out on it. This distracts the public from the real issues and makes the opposition look culpable.

Nice try, Williamson – but no cigar. The American people are waking up, and it’s too late to put them back to sleep.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.