Two Years Later: The Dangers of Dismissing Donald Trump’s Hateful Rhetoric
I wrote the article below back in November of 2015. I pitched it to a number of publications; only one replied, the editor stating that any comparison between Donald Trump’s rhetoric and that of 1930s Adolf Hitler “is hyperbolic and not something we would consider.”
Donald Trump this morning extended his assaults on minority populations to transgender people, announcing that “the United States Government will not accept or allow…transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This follows months of incremental assaults against LGBT and other marginalized populations that are too numerous to list.
In 2015, Trump’s words were just words, and they were dismissed as such. When Trump alleged that Mexican people are “racists and murderers,” he was excused by the people of the United States. When tapes of him boasting to an entertainment reporter that he has sexually assaulted women were released, he was excused by the people of the United States — and by his own wife, who shrugged off the remarks as “locker room talk.” People began to quote Martin Niemöller’s poem “First they came for the Socialists…” as this man continued his assault on veritably every minority segment of the States, dividing a formerly united nation. Pride comes before the fall, dividing comes before the conquering.
Trump’s remarks were dismissed as just words, no harm. And then his silence was dismissed as just silence, no harm, when he refused to reject the endorsements of white supremacists.
In November 2016, white supremacists gathered in a Washington, D.C. government building and lent Trump their support via a Nazi salute and a “Heil Trump!” chant:
Richard Spencer, the man leading the Nazi-esque celebration above, was interviewed by ABC News reporter Juju Chang following the election. During the interview, he told her that he feels the election of Donald Trump was “a kind of miracle” that will help to make his agenda a reality — his agenda being to eliminate all nonwhite people from the United States. Spencer told Chang that, yes, that includes her, and that as Chang quotes him, it could be “horribly bloody.” He called Trump “the alt-right hero.”
On the night Donald Trump was elected, pedophilia-endorsing Milo Yiannopoulos, whom Trump had hired to run a “Gays for Trump” rally at the GOP convention, put up an Instagram photo of himself with the caption “Welcome to the Trumpenreich.”
As of today, the U.S. population is upwards of 325 million people. Every day, countless articles are published feigning alarm at Donald Trump’s most recent comments, wondering how far they will go. As those comments transform into policy and political actions, not one of the 325 million people in this country has taken any significant action to check his power. Each incremental unchecked action leads to another, less incremental action. As pundits continue to ask how far this will go, we must all acknowledge that we already know the answer. History documents how far regimes like our regime go, even as their aggressive actions to limit and then revoke their own citizens’ rights, freedoms and protections become bolder and then, ultimately, unstoppable. All of us, every one of us, is complicit in this unholy transformation of our nation — just as complicit as the people who genuflect to Trump in alarming boardroom footage, and just as complicit as Trump’s own daughter, whose role is to say the opposite of what her father does, always smiling sweetly as a living catalog model.
Our Congress is supposed to balance executive powers to prevent the type of tyranny from which our ancestors declared their independence. Instead, our Congress is advancing it.
Our judicial branch is supposed to safeguard our constitutional rights. Trump has declared war on our nation’s federal judges.
Our press is the unofficial “fourth estate,” the last safeguard of our rights and liberties, of governmental transparency failing all else. Trump has, of course, declared war on the free press. The saddest part of that is that it probably does not matter one iota, given that the press has rolled over, agreeing to play by the rules of an overreaching executive branch and almost exclusively offering exhaustive analyses by pundits that go nowhere, tell us nothing new, and observe the degradation of our nation as if it is a team sporting event. It’s not. When this country converts into the oppressive authoritarian nation to which all arrows of fortune are pointing, our children are going to suffer in ways unimaginable to any living American, save, possibly, some survivors of the second world war’s infamous work camps, concentration camps and, yes, our very own internment camps.
Trump’s rhetoric is no longer alarming; it’s delivered as expected every morning via the social media platform that got him his office, and then by his steadily expanding cabal of dangerously genuflecting staff. His rhetoric is no longer just rhetoric; it’s becoming law. First, he came for the Mexicans. Then he came for the Muslims. Today, he came for the transgendered people. Your name is on the list not too far down the line. But who among us — you, I, anyone else — knows what to do, or can even think of doing anything, when the President of the United States tweets casually about using nuclear weapons, or compares himself to the victims of the Holocaust because of scrutiny by federal agencies?
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to "leak" into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?</p>— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/819164172781060096">January 11, 2017</a></blockquote>
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I offer this essay again, nearly two years after it was deemed hyperbolic, and six months into Donald Trump’s reign over the Divided States of America. At this point, the essay has outlived its usefulness. It’s no longer a warning, just a simple outline to help people make sense of the chaos that is shaking what was once The People of the United States of America into factions vying to be the last standing as one after another is identified, targeted, and taken out. This is happening, and denial has not served us well.
For your consideration.
— From November 2015 —
Yesterday, I came across a 2012 BBC editorial that asks “how was it possible that a character as strange and personally inadequate as Hitler ever gained power in a sophisticated country at the heart of Europe, and was then loved by millions of people?” This is a question that has been reverberating within my mind more and more recently–but about someone other than Hitler. As I kept reading, I got chills:
His inability to debate was taken as strength of character and his refusal to make small talk was considered the mark of a “great man” who lived apart from the crowd…
…”The man gave off such a charisma that people believed whatever he said,” says Emil Klein, who heard Hitler speak in the 1920s…
…Not everyone felt this charismatic connection, you had to be predisposed to believe what Hitler was saying to experience it. Many people who heard Hitler speak at this time thought he was an idiot.
…”He shouted out really, really simple political ideas. I thought he wasn’t quite normal.”
With these points in mind, I can give myself permission to state the worries that have been running through my head–at the knowing risk of coming across to many as an alarmist. Not having transcripts or video of Adolf Hitler’s speeches handy, these observations conjure not a bygone era, but today, with U.S. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s bizarre, idiotic, and hateful comments about Mexican people being rapists, obsession with building a great wall “with a beautiful gate,” and vapid pronouncements about how he will “make America great” and plans to do “something terrific, terrific” garnering increasing public support.
At what point does the public examination of Trump’s vitriolic and condemning rhetoric in the U.S. presidential debates escalate from descriptors such as “bombastic” to “threatening” or even “dangerous”?
Political commentary isn’t my standard fare, but I am becoming concerned–very concerned–about the political climate here in the United States. I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime, but I have learned about something like it, and the similarities trouble me greatly.
My 10th-grade year in high school was traumatic, and not only for the typical gay teen drama. During this year, my English class read the memoir Night, in which author and humanitarian Elie Wiesel details the horror of surviving Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Throughout the harrowing narrative, Wiesel describes not only how he managed to live through these experiences, but how in the process his God and his faith in humanity died. To complement the reading, our class took a field trip to the then-new U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The year was 1993–the same year in which Steven Spielberg released his magnum opus Schindler’s List.
I am in touch with reality enough to know that, having been born in 1978, I can only know the devastation of the Holocaust secondhand. Yet, the deep immersion into that inconceivably terrible event during my youth had a lasting effect on me. As years have gone by, we’ve witnessed genocide-motivated crimes against humanity through the news media, but none has been presented with the singular focus with which the Nazi holocaust has been ingrained into American culture. Reasons for this are probably many: The scale of the killings during the holocaust is (thank God) unparalleled. Many would argued that the Rwandan genocide was all but ignored because the victims were too dark-complected to be of as great concern to the Euro-centric Western world, and those people have strong evidence to support these arguments.
It’s also likely that the Holocaust has become so deeply ingrained in the American psyche and integrated into our history because, first of all, we can call ourselves the winners of World War II–and history books tend to focus on their writers’ wins far more than on their losses. But also because the United States of America took in Jewish refugees of the war, and those refugees and their descendants have been integral to making the United States what it is today. It’s impossible to conceive of 20th-Century Hollywood without the influence of Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Likewise American literature. So with these individuals being some of our most gifted storytellers, it makes sense that their stories would become known to the American people at large–and especially when their story is one of such high stakes.
All this is to say that the people of the United States of America are largely familiar with the Holocaust and World War II. Even for non-readers and non-academics, it is impossible to turn on the History channel or so many other cable networks on almost any given day without running into a program reflecting on the Holocaust and the Nazi regime.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana
“When you know better, you do better.” -Maya Angelou
Many of us likewise have at least one of the above quotes emblazoned into our psyches, and we believe these wise words. And yet, both saying assume that we recognize terrible people and events as they are happening. So another useful saying comes into play: “Hindsight is 20/20.”
The truth is that most of us assume that people’s natures are better than the worst-case scenario, or that society collectively makes wiser decisions and certainly takes saner actions than are required for atrocities such as the European holocaust to occur. And the truth is that most of us are wrong about that.
The Holocaust Memorial Museum dedicates a page of its website to early warning signs of the impending genocide–and with 20/20 hindsight, it is no surprise that there were many. Yet, the German people did not suddenly wake up one morning with radically different views and a desire to gas and burn millions of people. So what happened? People ignored the warning signs:
1. Territorial expansion: Germany invaded Austria and implemented anti-Jewish legislation
2. Discrimination spreads: Following Germany’s lead, other countries implemented discrimination against Jewish people
3. Refusal to accept immigrants: The U.S., along with many other countries, expressed sympathy for the Jewish people of Europe but refused to accept refugees (with the exception of the Dominican Republic)
4. Systematic persecution: The Nazi party opened the first concentration camp
5. Legal discrimination: Jewish people were required to adopt Jewish names and register them federally
6. Forced emigration: Germany and Austria forced Jewish citizens from their countries, requiring everyone who left to pay a fee and surrender property
7. Neighboring nations surrendered and allowed German laws to spread across Europe
8. Targeted violence: The German government burned synagogues and homes, and Jewish people were arrested and killed by federal forces
9. Economic exclusion: Germany prohibited Jewish people from owning and operating businesses
It is probably natural for rational and decent people to think that this couldn’t happen again, and certainly not in our country where it never happened in the first place–but we can’t let pride cloud our vision.
Actor George Takei, an American of Japanese descent, recently has been outspoken about growing up in an internment camp, and increasingly outspoken in the aftermath of the Paris bombings. “The internment happened because there ‘was lack of political leadership. Political leadership failed. And the same thing is happening now,’ Takei told CNN.”
It is easy to think that the United States of America is too good and fair ever to support these sorts of activities–easy especially given that our government is less than forthcoming about the truth. For 50 years, the U.S. Census Bureau denied accusations of having used its household data to identify and round up Japanese Americans for internment (based on a German SS model of identifying Jewish people this way), but ultimately had to admit its complicity when the statute of limitations on its confidential information ran out less than a decade ago. With the disclosure of this information, we know better. Does that mean we will do better?
Not if Donald Trump has anything to say about it–and he has a lot of disturbing things to say. To some, Trump’s comments are just what they feel they need to hear right now, but it is useful to remember that this sentiment is exactly how Hitler won over Germany.
“@JamesPWilson1: @realDonaldTrump When you become president, we will avenge all of the innocents who isis killed”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2015
Hitler has been so rightly vilified in our history books that he takes on a kind of supervillain status which makes comparisons to an actual living person seem preposterous. But the truth is, Adolph Hitler was just one troubled human being with a great power to persuade. So is (inexplicably) Donald Trump. Weeks ago, Trump was a joke because he had nothing of any real consequence to say: “I will do something…terrific! I’ll be terrific! I’ll make America great again.” Like so many others, I laughed at the idea of Donald Trump running for president because he was vapid, unselfconsciously pompous, and made such foolish exclamations that he didn’t seem to have a prayer. Now Donald Trump says these things:
“Our leaders are stupid, our politicians are stupid, and the Mexican government is much sharper, much more cunning. [So] they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them, they don’t want to take care of them.” –GOP debate, August 2015
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” — Trump’s presidential campaign announcement
“We better get tough with RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS, and get tough now, or the life and safety of our wonderful country will be in jeopardy!” — Twitter, November 2015
“13 Syrian refugees were caught trying to get into the U.S. through the Southern Border. How many made it? WE NEED THE WALL!” — Twitter, November 2015
At my most generous, it’s impossible to deny that Donald Trump is a true racist and a xenophobe–not just the kind that curmudgeonly complains from his front porch, but the kind who wants to change laws to punish people for being something other than white and wealthy. At my most paranoid, it’s impossible not to think that Donald Trump has the capacity to let his ego drive this country toward a great atrocity. If we take each of the holocaust warning signs from above, Trump checks off many and his rhetoric indicates he would be willing to check off even more: He wants to expand our country’s influence abroad, violently, by “bombing the shit out of Syria.” He wants to deny innocent refugees from that country, while bombing the shit out of them, any safe harbor in any other place. He attributes ISIL’s violence to all Muslims, expanding on the anti-Mexican bigotry with which he began his campaign. Among the most troubling, he responded “absolutely” when asked whether he thinks Muslim Americans should be forced to carry federally issued ID cards and be entered into a national database; while he now backtracks on this, when an NBC reporter asked him how this would be different from the Nazi Jewish registration process, the best answer he could give was “you tell me.” I know that most people will regard a comparison of Adolph Hitler and Donald Trump to be a huge leap, but the facts are there. I hope, truly, that Trump is all talk–but his talk is terrifying. His talk is loaded with all the potential energy that it would take not only to launch World War III, but to transform this country from our historic beacon-of-liberty status to its polar opposite: a contemporary Nazi-era Germany. Trump, like Hitler, can only be partially blamed for the hateful sentiments he is spreading. The real responsibility lies within the masses of people who follow these lunatics. I came along long after Hitler, and there are too many sources with too many theories to speculate what drove him to becoming a living and breathing version of extreme mental illness. Trump’s cause seems simple: It’s his ego. Early in the campaign, he proved that he would say anything that got him a headline, and he’d repeat anything that caused his poll numbers to go up.
Great poll numbers all over and beating Hillary Clinton one on one. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2015
A glance at Trump’s Twitter feed on any given day reveals that “winning” is still his motivation. Trump’s only vested interests are (as stated) realizing the United States’s global superiority again and (as demonstrated) being first in the polls so that he can call himself a leader, and in his effort to do so, he panders to all of us and tells us we should be first. The ways by which he wants to do this have become inexplicably and frighteningly contagious among the American people, and taking the actions he proposes would be adding gasoline to the fiery words the man is spewing.
Donald Trump is a recollection of what I learned in the history was the greatest atrocity of the past, not a beacon of hope for the future of the United States. The only place his presidency would lead us is straight to hell.
I challenge anyone to read this short essay from the Holocaust Memorial Museum and deny the parallels between the pre-holocaust warning signs and Donald Trump’s current election platform. I feel sick even suggesting it, but with the Japanese internment and federal agencies’ complicit involvement and subsequent denial, we have ample evidence to be aware that we are not too good or too smart to fall into the evil trap of ethnic profiling and persecution. We must heed the warning signs before it’s too late.
— Back to 2017 —