This article has been written in my mind since the moment Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. I wanted to write it before now, but I think it would have been discounted in the run-up to the general election as election theater and strategy. It very much is not that.
I’ve wondered since before I was a teen what it would be like to have been my father growing up. My father was born in Hamburg, Germany, July 23, 1927 and that side of my family is Jewish.
When he was five and a half years old Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. The Nazis influence and antisemitism in Germany of course did not begin with Hitler’s election. From his earliest years, my father had to contend with growing up in a country with a political party and movement that virulently discriminated against him and scapegoated him and people like him for all the problems in the country going back to the loss of the first world war fifteen years earlier. At age five and a half that party and movement came to power and began to pass laws that enshrined in law Jews as inferior people with ever decreasing rights.
The German state itself, under the Nazis, hated my father, my family and other Jews. Jews were forced to leave their homes and apartments and live near each other in depressed areas of the city that became known as ghettos. My father was required to leave his school and go to a Jewish school. Jews were required to wear yellow stars of David on their clothes. The state, it’s leader and its movement and party hated Jews. There was no question about that. That hatred would ultimately end in the deaths of over 6 million Jews. The Nazis also hated many other groups of people. They hated LGBT, Roma, Slavs and various other groups and they killed many of those people too. My father and his family were sent to concentration camps in 1941 a few months after his thirteenth birthday. His mother, father and brother were killed in the camps along with almost all the rest of the extended family I would never get to meet. My father was starved on 600 calories a day, tortured and worked nearly to death 18 hours a day 7 days a week under unhuman conditions in the freezing weather of the Baltics with inadequate clothing for the climate and this was during ages 13-17. My father told his story in the German magazine Welt back in 2011 https://www.welt.de/regionales/hamburg/article13544356/Rueckkehr-an-den-Ort-der-Kindheit.html
From my earliest readings about the Third Reich in my pre-teen years I wondered what that would have been like for my father. I tried to imagine it. How can one imagine that level of hate, persecution and torture? I concluded as a kid that I should stop trying to imagine what it was like to be in the camps because that kind of hell you have no chance of imagining, but the run up to that happening, the decent of the state into raging over the top bigotry towards you, what would that be like? I spent a lot of time thinking about that. I felt secure and lucky that I would never have to experience such a thing. The naivete of youth.
I thought about this with Trump because Trump rose to the position of winning the Republican nomination by attacking blaming a lot of the country’s problems on Latino immigrants and by attacking Muslims. Trump was also cited early in his real estate career for discriminating against African Americans, refusing to rent them apartments in his buildings so his racism and bigotry goes beyond Latinos and Muslims. In terms of Latinos, just earlier this year Trump issued verbal attacks against a Latino judge who was born here as someone who could not be impartial because he was a Latino. The other side of my family is Latino. Yes, among other nationalities and backgrounds I am Latino and German-Jewish. Let’s also not forget that an important part of Trump’s base is the alt-right who are basically Neo-Nazis, KKK members and other White Nationalists who hate Jews, Latinos, LGBT, African Americans and various other people. Trump and his supporters would try to counter my bringing up the alt-right in connection with him by saying that he has repudiated some elements of that group on occasion. Sure, but there have also been plenty of moments where it seems he and his campaign deliberately reached out to them and that includes his adult son tweeting out a picture which included alt-right icon Pepe the frog.
These groups will now have a President in the White House. Trump and his surrogates can try to deny it but they are a significant part of his base. This part of Trump’s base recently tried to reassure people by holding a press conference in early September where they expressed their affection for Donald Trump and expressed their hopes for a white homeland. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/09/09/alt-right-leaders-we-aren-t-racist-we-just-hate-jews.html this will help you understand what they are about:
The three alt-right leaders who gathered in D.C. this afternoon made two things very clear: They think white people are genetically predisposed to be more moral and intelligent than black people, and they do not want to share their envisioned utopian ethno-state with folks of the Jewish persuasion. There’s some disagreement in the alt-right on what they refer to as “the Jewish question.” But the big take-away was that Jews are suspicious.
Jared Taylor, who founded the white supremacist American Renaissance site, explained the alt-right as predicated entirely on the belief that some races are inherently superior to others—the movement, he said, is “in unanimity” in rejecting “the idea that the races are basically equivalent and interchangeable.” There are genetic differences in race that make some races more ethical and intelligent than others, he said. That’s what the alt right is all about.
“They also differ, as a matter of fact, in the patterns of the microbes that inhabit their mouths,” he said.
Thus, he continued, we shouldn’t expect black kids to do as well in school as white kids.
This philosophy, nationalism plus racial superiority, added to economic conservatism which isn’t indicated above but is part of the alt-rights belief system, is classic Nazism.
Do I still need to wonder as a mental exercise what it would be like to be my father existing in a country where the leader of the state and the movement that elected that leader hates him and people like him? I don’t think so, I think we are there. We have a President and movement that hates Latinos, Muslim and Black people and that movement also hates Jews. The only reassurance we have that Trump doesn’t hate Jews is that he refers to his Jewish son in law which is perilously close to the “I can’t hate Jews/Black People/etc because I have some as friends” cringe-worthy kind of statement.
No, I think I’m right where my father was in 1933 with the added bonus of being hated for two plus parts of my heritage, not just one. Don’t forget that the Concentration camps and Death camps that we think of when we think of the Holocaust didn’t open until 1940-1941 (I’m discounting the earlier incarnation of Dachau that began housing prisoners after the Nuremberg laws in 1935 as not being part of the holocaust per se until later). That kind of discrimination was 7-8 years away in 1933. Few Germans in 1933 foresaw that things would go so far.
Things might not get that bad, sure. A guy who spent the entire campaign scapegoating vulnerable minorities may not turn out to be the kind of guy who follows up that scapegoating with action. Or that action may not be so severe. I don’t find that kind of thinking reassuring.
Some of you may argue we have three branches of government and a Constitution and that would stop things from becoming too bad here. That sounds good, except, the next President, now Donald Trump, will get to appoint three Supreme Court Justices. He can mold the court in his image and the court decides what is Constitutional and what isn’t. And the congress? Do you think the Republican congress would stand up to a President Trump? They might at some point if Trump tries to go too far too fast but I bet in the beginning, you will see a lot of racist legislation aimed at Muslims and Latinos that the Republican congress will happily pass.
If Trump moves in that direction I think it will become the boiled frog syndrome with congressional Republicans. The Republican congress will pass what it considers to be minor and acceptable racist and bigoted legislation against Muslims and Latino immigrants desired by Trump and it will get worse and worse from there and expand to other ethnicities. By the time the Republicans in congress realize what is happening they will have gone too far. The water temperature will have been turned up slowly until the frog boiled before he knew what was happening.
Sound farfetched? Is Trump not that bad? Well, a lot of Germans would have thought so in 1933 too. Those who lived through it and are still alive will tell you that. My father in the above linked article briefly discusses how his family had tickets to leave Germany and go to Shanghai but then decided things wouldn’t get so bad and that his father mused that Hitler would be stopped by the British before long.
Of course, if you are familiar with the internet and its culture, the use of a reference to Nazis in an article is the same as begging someone to accuse you of violating Godwin’s law https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law . Godwin himself however noted that if you are talking about actual Nazis, which the alt-right definitely contains (See http://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2016/09/29/neo-nazi-writer-virtually-every-alt-right-nazi-i-know-volunteering-trump-campaign/213423 ) then Godwin’s law isn’t actually violated. Godwin also acknowledged that it can be appropriate to use Nazi references with Trump (See the above wiki article). If you don’t understand the Godwin’s law reference just move past it in this article, it isn’t that important.
Getting back to my point about Trump and bigoted positions and policies. Something else is coming too and much faster than legislation-enabled bigotry. In Russia, right after Putin passed the anti-gay laws three and a half years ago, anti-gay bigots in Russia felt empowered by the support in the government and the frequency of attacks by bands of bigots in Russia against the LGBT community there immediately went up by several orders of magnitude. That’s what happens when bigots feel empowered by the government, they act on that empowerment. Will we see that here? I have no doubt about that whatsoever. Once Trump is installed as President, I expect attacks on Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, Jews and LGBT to begin or accelerate. Trump has already said that he completely sides with the police in the disputes with the African American community so you can use your own imagination of how those kinds of issues will be repeated with more frequency. If you are a person of color, don’t even look crosswise at a police officer post January 21 because it will be open season on you and yes, more than it already seems like it is now.
The alt-right has tried for years to gain a foothold in the mainstream of American politics and now they and their hatred are here, thanks to Donald Trump.
Van Jones on election night on CNN described Trump’s election as a nightmare. That those of us who teach children not to be bullies, not to be bigots and to do their homework now must to contend with a President elect who is the opposite of those values and we are faced with the task of explaining that to our kids. Jones said he has Muslim friends texting him asking if they should leave the country and that he knows families of immigrants that are terrified tonight. Jones said this election was a “Whitelash”, a Whitelash against a changing country and a black President. I think he is right about all of that and the bigotry, bullying and disdain for knowledge about the job that it represents. Where I disagree with Jones is that Jones said it is the responsibility of Trump to come out and reassure all the people he insulted and offended, etc. That reassurance wouldn’t mean anything. Trumps bigotry against Muslims, Latinos and African Americans is too central to his candidacy and now Presidency and they are too central to who he is as a person. They are what he is about. Any such reassurance would be a lie in my opinion. I am upset at what Trump represents but I don’t want to be told reassuring lies about it either.
Should Muslims and undocumented Latino immigrants leave the country as Van Jones discussed? “For their safety” is the presumed ending to that question. How about Blacks and Jews? I can’t honestly answer that question. In the 1930s my family in Germany wrestled with that question and they made the wrong decision. How do you know when it is going to get that bad and when it is too late? I’m certainly not going to try to tell anyone else. I know that I personally will be watching very carefully how things develop, how bad the bigotry against Muslims, African Americans and Latinos gets and whether it expands beyond those groups. I would love to say I was going to try and do something about it, but Republicans will have a stranglehold on all branches of the federal government and control most of our state governments, and I remember from the Bush administration how unresponsive Republican administrations are toward concerns from citizens, particularly Democratic ones.
Here is part of the reason why I am so pessimistic, Trump doesn’t have much else in the way of polices beyond his bigoted proposals. That’s what he campaigned on and who he is. Everything else Trump talked about is silly nationalistic rhetoric. Put it another way, to discount my concerns, you would have to believe that 70% of what Trump talked about are things he cares nothing about and he instead has this brilliant set of policies he wants to implement that hid from view during the campaign even though some of the major knocks on him were his lack of ability to do the job and the dearth of real policy proposals.
So sure, we elected a bigot and energized the White Supremacist/Neo-Nazi alt-right bands of bigots but things may not get that bad. Sounds great. How many days until election 2020?
p.s. This will be the first of several articles that discusses the disaster that a Trump Presidency represents.