Reflections on another Wall

At Checkpoint Charlie

The date November 9 has huge significance in Germany. It was the date of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany in 1938. 51 years later Ronald Reagan was shouting “tear down this wall” in Berlin.

In other news, 27 years later, November 9, 2016, Donald Trump was made US President threatening to put a wall up on the US-Mexico border.

Interesting that Steve Bannon, in 2004, released his directorial debut, a film about Reagan in which he describes the former President as “an outsider, a radical, with extreme views.”

Later on, Bannon would be the political philosopher of Trump; those words might have been said about him (by his supporters and his adversaries).

Though one was a wall breaker, the other a wall builder.

While few would dare make a comparison between Trump and JFK (though, fwiw this piece does), for wall enthusiasm they do have shared interest.

On August 3, 1961 when the Berlin Wall very quickly went up Kennedy felt a huge sense of relief. He said: “Why would Khrushchev put up a wall if he really intended to seize West Berlin?”

“There wouldn’t be any need of a wall if he planned to occupy the whole city. This is his way out of his predicament. It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”

Though that’s not how Phillipe, the Berlin tour guide from Spain I was following around last weekend, remembers it.

“I think Kennedy said “I would prefer a fucking wall to a war”.”

Maybe he was thinking, as I was, about former Mexican President Vicente Fox who tweeted that Mexico will not pay “for that fucken wall.”

When Phillipe was showing our tour the Reichstagsgebäude he made the point that the transition to totalitarian Germany was very quick. “Within three months of the election of Hitler Germany was no longer a democracy.

“Hitler”, he told us “hated Berlin. The name sounds like Lenin, Stalin. It sounds Slavic, not German”.

And of course differentiating what was German — “Germanness” — was Hitler’s main course of action.

“What Hitler aimed to do straight away was to make Jews feel like Jews. Jews in Germany at the time wouldn’t have necessarily said I’m Jewish and a German, they would have said I’m German, or I’m a German Jew. The nationality came first. Hitler wanted to change that. Hitler wanted to ‘Jewify’ Jews after 1938”.

This got me thinking. I genuinely used to think calling Donald Trump a fascist rather crass, particularly for those people who have lived under fascism.

Then, when in Berlin, I thought about how quickly fascists move. We don’t have a lot of time to reflect before the whole world looks different (think how pessimistically we are compared to how [overly-] optimistic we were with Obama).

As Phillipe said, within three months of Hitler’s election Germany was no longer a democracy. Within a few days Trump’s executive order effecting a travel ban was dubbed a “Muslim ban”.

Is he making sure Muslims in the US feel like a spotlight is following them?

There’s a silver lining.

Just because Trump is dangerous, perhaps totalitarian-minded, this doesn’t mean the structures around him allow him to do as he wishes. The court challenges to his knee-jerk travel ban allow us to sigh relief.

Bookmakers slashing the odds of Donald Trump being impeached, too.

We have these things at least.

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