It wasn't so long ago that any public display of a swastika or comparison of a public figure to Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler would be roundly condemned by community, political and religious leaders.
Today, the president of the United States is daily compared to Hitler by left-leaning news show hosts, is depicted on protest signs across the country with swastikas and is proudly shown being paraded on banners painting him morphing into Hitler.
Meanwhile, white supremacists — though tiny in number and influence — still openly sport symbols of the 1930s-1940s Germany regime that saw the murder of 6 million Jews.
It is against this backdrop that Chattanoogans woke up Sunday morning to learn that the Walnut Street Bridge and parts of the Bluff View art district had been vandalized with spray-painted swastikas.
As of Monday morning, no suspects had been held in the incident, and no one had claimed responsibility. Chattanooga police are investigating.
In this racially charged and hyperpartisan year, we don't believe anyone spray-paints such symbols without understanding they are a symbol of hate and violence. And more hate is the last thing — the very last thing — we need in Chattanooga or in the country.
For Jews, the symbol of a swastika is a haunting reminder of what happened in Germany and Eastern Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Although the number of Holocaust survivors who experienced prisons and death camps and witnessed relatives and friends herded into gas chambers is rapidly declining through death, their children children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren know the stories and shudder to think that anything comparable might happen again.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who is Jewish, mentioned that uneasy feeling in a statement Sunday.
"While we do not know the intent of those who perpetrated this act, we know that the end result is residents feeling less comfortable in their home," he wrote. "[Our] city is resolved, as it always has been, to condemn anyone who seeks to intimidate, discriminate, or foment violence against any ethnic or religious group."
It is sad to know that the chances are probably about even that the vandalism was perpetrated either by someone with a hate group or someone who wanted it to appear as if the vandalism were committed by someone with a hate group.
The latter group of usually unlinked incidents has rapidly grown across the nation following the upset election of Donald Trump as president in 2016. Perhaps the most prominent of those incidents was the stunt pulled in Chicago in 2019 by Black actor Justin Smollett, who said he was attacked by two white men wearing Make America Great Again hats. An investigation later determined Smollett had paid the two men to stage a hate crime and had filed a false police report.
It makes no difference who did the spray-painting, though. It was wrong.
It also was wrong because public property was damaged. And it wouldn't make any difference whether it's a swastika, the words "Trump in 2020" or the slogan "Black Lives Matter." It's still wrong for anyone — anyone — to vandalize public or private property to make a statement.
It's wrong on bridge abutments, it's wrong on abandoned buildings, it's wrong on properly placed signs and it's wrong on federal buildings. It's wrong for anti-Semites, it's wrong for white supremacists, it's wrong for far left protesters.
Berke said Public Works crews worked on Sunday — and, of course, will be paid by taxpayer money — to remove the symbols. That, in itself, ought to make your blood boil — not that taxpayer money would be used but that there was a need that demanded it.
It is wishful thinking, we know, but we would love to see the chairperson of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, the chairperson of the Hamilton County Republican Party, a representative of the Chattanooga Tea Party, and a spokesman for the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, among other local political groups, and all local elected officials stand together on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse and declare that the spray-painting of such symbols, the use of them on signs and the comparison of any local, state or national official to the Nazi Germany regime will not be tolerated, and that anyone found using such symbols and comparisons in any way would no longer be a part of those organizations. That would be powerful.
We can't tolerate one set of standards across the country for hate speech and say another is wrong. Either they're both right or they're both wrong, and we think they're wrong.
We've used the illustration before, but in this instance we think of President Richard Nixon's rambling farewell speech to his White House staff following his 1974 resignation in disgrace.
"Always remember," he said, "others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."
We've seen far too much of people destroying themselves with hate this year.