When Nazis wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois (a mostly Jewish Chicago suburb with lots of Holocaust survivors) in 1976, they were dismissed as a bunch of idiots. Their right to march was challenged, and defended by the ACLU which was roundly criticized for taking the case. (The Nazis wound up not marching but held a rally in downtown Chicago instead.)
It was different in Charlottesville, NC last year, when they staged a rally that turned violent. (The photo above, was taken by a reporter there.) I’ve often wondered how an educated, fairly tolerant society like 1930’s Germany gave rise to the Nazis, and in the past have taken comfort in knowing it couldn’t happen here. But Hitler was able to prey on the insecurities, anger and fear of the people to divide and manipulate them. It didn’t happen overnight, but over several years he and his supporters consolidated power and launched arguably the most destructive regime in history. They got people to believe lies, mistrust the press and focus hatred on a vulnerable minority. Still, it seemed to me that an educated society would be able to see through the lies and reject this type of demagoguery.
Sadly, I think I am beginning to understand.
There’s a couple of books I’m reading that draw a parallel to what’s happening now. The Despot’s Apprentice and How Democracies Die both point to what Trump is doing with the support (or at least tacit approval) of Republicans in Congress, coupled with a small but vocal part of the populace.
It’s beyond frightening.
In what has clearly become the most divisive presidential administration in our entire history, each day brings a fresh example of how low Trump and his toadies can go. We as a society are becoming so used to this freak show that what was outrageous a year ago seems fairly tame today.
I was driving home from work yesterday and saw a bumper sticker on a pickup truck, which itself makes what it said almost too much of a cliché. It said “This truck doesn’t stop for anti-Trump protesters.” I’m assuming he thought it was funny, but It was obviously referring to the horrific incident in Charlotte earlier this year where a hate-filled white supremacist drove his vehicle through a crowd of protesters, killing a young woman. I had to speed up a bit to see what lowlife piece of work would proudly display something so awful on their truck; it was a fairly young guy like anyone you’d see at the table next to you in the coffee shop, but the thing that struck me was how casually we’ve thrown away common decency. As I said, he may have thought he’d get a cheap laugh from those who agree with his views, but think about it: he’s saying that he’d try to kill people who hold a political view different from his. I find the KKK and neo-Nazis of the world despicable and hold them in a great deal of contempt, but I wouldn’t try to kill any of them by running them over with my car.
But this guy displays a sentiment that casually dismisses any humanity of those he disagrees with, and says he’d drive his truck over them if he could. Not all that long ago, no decent human would ever admit to wanting to kill those people he disagrees with politically. Yet this guy is headed home from a week’s work to park his truck in his garage and maybe have a cookout with friends.
I think that the Republican’s claim that Democrats are responsible for how divisive our politics have become is a complete smokescreen. How can anyone say that Trump, with his juvenile name-calling and unhinged Twitter rants hasn’t degraded our political system and divided our society? And what kind of people still stand up for him?
As I said, I’ve often wondered how an educated, fairly tolerant society like 1930’s Germany gave rise to the Nazis and their unthinkable crimes against humanity. It terrifies me that I can now imagine it happening here.