On July 29, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement on Twitter that read, “As we mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, [the State Department’s] JUST Act Report highlights countries’ efforts to provide a measure of justice to Holocaust survivors and their families. We must #NeverForget the unspeakable crimes of the Holocaust.”
Condemning the unfathomable horrors on the Nazi Holocaust and empowering its survivors is universally regarded as the morally appropriate stance. On its face, there is nothing controversial about Pompeo’s statement. Hitler’s regime took racism, nationalism, xenophobia, and other destructive ideologies to their ghastly conclusions; ruthless military conquest, sadistic torture, and genocide. But as morally uncontroversial as the simple act of denouncing the Holocaust appears, we must examine how the actions of individuals relate to their rhetoric.
To “never forget” the Holocaust seems to have a deeper meaning than simple remembrance. Is Pompeo suggesting we merely contemplate these horrific crimes on a regular basis in order to prevent ourselves from forgetting the fact that these events took place? This is certainly part of the equation. But another common notion related to the Nazi Holocaust (and genocide more broadly) is the phrase “never again.” In this context, a crucial aspect of “never forgetting” the monstrous war and genocide that resulted from the poisonous ideology of Nazism is to recognize the foundations and to prevent the seeds from taking root in the future.
Scapegoating immigrants and minorities was a primary tactic Hitler used to justify his atrocities. To begin with, we must acknowledge that Mike Pompeo is a leading political figure in an administration that has attempted to ban adherents of the Muslim religion from entering the United States. Furthermore, in its current form, the U.S. federal government is an organization that operates concentration camps on the U.S./Mexico border, where families are detained in cages without trial, where children are routinely sexually abused, and where the shocking conditions people are subjected to are clearly dehumanizing violations of international law. Pompeo’s powerful position of authority makes him culpable in these forms of state terror that are motivated by xenophobic nationalism.
Secretary Pompeo’s boss, President Trump, has recently used Nazi symbolism in a campaign to demonize his perceived political enemies and is currently sending heavily armed federal agents to kidnap civilians and transport them to secret locations in unmarked vehicles. Trump has assassinated a foreign leader and sold weapons to the genocidal Saudi regime to be used against helpless civilians in Yemen, a country that has spiraled into the worst humanitarian crisis in modern times. Throughout his life, Donald J. Trump has engaged in blatant racism — from the racial discrimination at his New York properties to his ad calling for the execution of the (innocent) Central Park Five to his popularization of the racist “Birther” conspiracy theory.
To compare the actions of the Trump administration to the actions of Nazi Germany would thankfully be an exaggeration. But the problem is that a comparable foundation exists. These ideological elements — xenophobia, racism, nationalism, militarism, criminalization of dissent — are all glaringly present in this administration. And these foundational elements are indeed influencing policy. Mike Pompeo is deeply, personally complicit in the gruesome policies that result from these beliefs and is therefore a primary purveyor of profound acts of terror against minorities and other marginalized groups. It is for this reason that Mr. Pompeo’s statement on the Nazi Holocaust rings completely hollow.