When I heard that the students at Emory University were sent into a frenzy of terror because some prankster wrote, in chalk, “Trump 2016,” I was reminded how differently we handled such expressions back when I was in school. We had never heard of “safe spaces” or “trigger words” and were expected to handle being confronted with unfamiliar opinions with equanimity. Mind, colleges in the late 1970s were never hotbeds of political ferment. The anti-Vietnam War protests were years in the dim past. But, I remember meeting my first communist when in college as well as my first fundamentalist Christian.


Neither were more than a little odd back then and did not interfere with my majoring in history and journalism and minoring in debauchery.

One day I was at the student center, relaxing between classes, pouring over the assigned reading, when I noticed that a crowd was gathering. I asked someone what was going on. It seemed that we were about to be entertained by a member of the American Nazi Party, courtesy of the student speakers bureau.

Like most people, I knew that the Nazis were evil in ways that surpass comprehension.

They started the worst war in human history and killed tens of millions of individuals, some of them on an industrial scale in death camps. My girlfriend at the time was Jewish and had lost half of her family to the Holocaust, so I had a little more than usual reason to resent the Nazis. However, I was intrigued at the idea that anyone would want to revive that horror, so I stayed around.

The Nazi speaker was a slightly overweight middle-aged man in a brown uniform with the obligatory swastikas.


He was flanked by a couple of Stormtroopers who were similarly attired and tried without success to look intimidating.

I’ll spare you the contents of his speech, except to note that he was of the opinion that a variety of ethnic groups were ruining America and that Hitler had been maligned. How we reacted is something that the terrified children at Emory should take note of.

He laughed at the Nazi. We heckled him and offered cat calls. We followed the dictum of Mel Brooks that one of the best ways to take down evil was with humor, to make it look ridiculous.

Remember, this guy was a real, self-described Nazi, not some conservative called that name by overwrought people who have never heard of Godwin’s Law.

The height of the event happened when a blond haired, blue eyed student from what was then West Germany rose up, as if he had stepped from an SS recruiting poster, pointed his finger at the Nazi, and declared, “We don’t believe in your nonsense in the Fatherland anymore!” He brought the house down.

And so the Nazi and his escort scurried away, smarting with humiliation and shame.


No one had to go to the fainting couch, except maybe swooning from laughing too hard. The media did not show up to record students whimpering about how they didn’t feel safe anymore. The day the Nazis turned up was just another amusing episode in an otherwise ordinary day.  

As a parting though, can anyone with any seriousness conflate a blowhard, bloviating real estate tycoon with Hitler? If we could laugh in the face of evil 40 years ago, the whimpering students at Emory can surely laugh at something one scrawled with chalk.