The Trump victory was stunning not only for its contravention of conventional polling but for the vicious culture that suffused the winning campaign. Just to set the historical context, Bill Mosley reminds us of the unpleasant parallels between the Thirties in Europe and current events.
The Washington Socialist <> December 2016
By Bill Mosley
Within the first 10 days after the 2016 presidential election, more than 700 hate crimes targeting the victim’s race, religion or nationality were reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a spike in incidents of violence and harassment of minorities worse than the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The hate crimes included physical assaults, verbal attacks, and graffiti featuring swastikas and references to Donald Trump.
The reason? Bigots were emboldened by the election of Trump, whose victory they interpret as validation of their white-supremacist worldview.
Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was read as “Make America White Again” by the legions of racists and nativists who flocked to the polls to vote for a candidate who promised to bar Muslims from entry to the United States, as well as to build a wall the entire 1,900-mile length of the Mexican border while deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants. Trump’s victory (in the electoral college if not in the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton won) sent a signal to followers of the “alt-right” that they have carte blanche to physically assault minorities; scrawl racist graffiti on places of worship; and harass persons of color, Muslims and Jews in social media.
Trump’s response to the attacks? A limp “stop it” on CBS’ 60 Minutes when pressed by reporter Lesley Stahl. If he really wanted to rein in his supporters, he would deliver a special televised address to condemn the attacks and pledge to work with the outgoing Obama administration to ensure that the rights of minorities were respected.
But of course, Trump will do no such thing, for the attacks play to his advantage. They serve to intimidate his opponents, sending the signal that opposing or protesting the new administration could have severe consequences. With Stephen Bannon, mouthpiece of the racist, anti-Semitic Breitbart Report, on his way to the White House as a senior advisor to Trump, it’s no wonder that white supremacists and religious bigots believe that their day of triumph has arrived.
The specter of a national government (or in this case, a government-in-waiting) quietly sanctioning attacks against minorities while publicly disclaiming responsibility is frighteningly reminiscent of Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” the Nazi-sanctioned attacks against Jews that raged across Germany the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938. In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer noted that this violent pogrom against German Jews was characterized by Nazi leaders as a “spontaneous demonstration,” but in fact it was initiated and orchestrated by Hitler’s top aides, principally propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and Gestapo leader Reinhard Heydrich.
As described by Shirer, Kristallnacht “was a night of horror throughout Germany. Synagogues, Jewish homes and shops went up in flames and several Jews, men, women and children, were shot or otherwise slain while trying to escape burning to death.” The attacks damaged or destroyed nearly all of Germany’s approximately 200 synagogues and 7,000 Jewish-owned stores, as well as many Jewish cemeteries. And the victims continued to pay after the night of violence ended: Thousands of Jews were immediately hauled off to concentration camps, and those left behind had to cover the cost of the damages. The immediate death toll was believed to be under 100, but this did not account for the thousands of victims who later died in the camps.
Leaping to compare modern political leaders to Nazis is not to be done lightly, and the scope of our post-election violence and vandalism pales in comparison to the German anti-Semitic frenzy. There also is no evidence that the Trump camp is orchestrating the current spate of attacks. But it doesn’t have to. When a campaign scapegoats Latinos and Muslims for the nation’s problems; when the candidate applauds supporters who assault minorities at his rallies; and when Trump brings white-nationalist figures into his inner circle – no explicit direction is necessary. The message is clear.
Yet so far, there is a major difference between Germany’s Kristallnacht and its slower-moving American offspring: Here, there is resistance. There is a real recognition of the danger of Trump’s message and the harm he could do once he occupies the White House.
The resistance is evident in the walkout of high school students in the District of Columbia and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. It is shown in the announcements of a number of city governments – including those of Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Chicago and Washington, DC – that local authorities will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities in helping to deport undocumented persons despite Trump’s threats to withhold federal aid to so-called “sanctuary cities.” It appears in the numerous accounts of citizens stepping up to defend minorities who are threatened or attacked by white-supremacist hoodlums. Protests against Trump and his message of hate are spreading like dandelions across the country. Here in DC, several hundred people – including members of Metro-DC DSA -- turned out on Nov. 19 to demonstrate against the National Policy Institute, a white-supremacist think tank meeting in the Ronald Reagan Building.
As long as most Americans stand firm in favor of an inclusive society and against those who attack their neighbors for their race or religion, Trumpism cannot triumph. The United States remains a democracy, if an imperfect one, and Americans – unlike Germans under the Nazis – retain the right to speak, write and protest against the malign crowd moving into federal Washington. But remember: Germans had similar rights – until 1933. Speak up now, while you can.
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