Monday, March 21, 2016

Speaking up

This is me speaking up, right here and right now.

I grew up being told that people, you and me and every single one of us, have an obligation to speak up in the face of a new Hitler.

Being on guard in a country that perpetually denies its own history is difficult. America displays not just the typical national exceptionalism which refuses examples from the history of other nations, but an exceptionalism that divorces discussion of our present and future from our own past. “It could never happen here,” the decades-long rallying cry of the American chattering classes, is an evidence-free optimism that has no rational justification and unfortunately forestalls reasoned discussion of how to safeguard our country from a future some of us now see ourselves hurtling towards.

We must not wait for mass graves and concentration camps with gas chambers. We must be watchful for public figures who seek to create and exploit divisions, who advocate hatred and violence based on those divisions, and who do not welcome limits on their individual power or on governmental power. We must treat those public figures warily, we must look askance at their followers and cheerleaders, and we must work to make sure that they do not achieve political power because a political movement based on those premises is dangerous.

Trump and his followers have formed precisely that movement.

This is me, speaking up, while I can.

The members of my extended family who ultimately escaped Hitler’s Germany recalled how he started out seeming ridiculous to the educated classes even in Germany, whether liberal or conservative. He was an object of derision, a clown, a shouting lunatic who could never achieve power.

But millions of bodies, among them many who knew that “it could never happen here,” were ground into dust beneath the boots of the Third Reich. So inevitably was the national conscience of what had been an enlightened country.

We are not so enlightened a country. We do not have as far to fall, and it will not necessarily take us as long.

Trump and his supporters do not regret the increasing violence at his rallies; they rejoice in it. That should be enough to remove them from serious consideration as a political force, because we are supposed to have limits on free speech precisely to stop demagogues from inciting immediate violence. Our press has chosen to promote spectacle, however, and we are all suffering for it. We are watching a hateful politics rise to power on the promise of a violently-enforced Christian white supremacy, and our electorate is rewarding every increase in extremist rhetoric.

I have been glad to live in a country where I can often worship freely, where I am often free to hold minority political views, where I can often freely associate with anyone I choose, where I can say and write and publish many things that I choose to say and write and publish. And I have been glad to live in a country where those who have different faiths and different opinions and different friends also enjoy those freedoms. Trump and his supporters do not value that diversity. In fact, the only unifying principle of Trump’s movement is a forceful rejection of that diversity. Trump’s domestic and foreign policy choices, when expressed coherently, change with a frequency that is usually only possible in dream sequences. But even if those choices congeal into a semi-solid state—even if his followers all adopt those choices as their own—the founding principle of Trump’s movement is hatred and violence, and the mechanisms of violence and hatred are how they will seek to enforce those choices.

Perhaps we will not elect Trump. But he has poisoned our national well of discourse deeply, his followers have drunk far too deeply, and remediation will take a generational change.

I hope for better than our present for my child and yours.

This is me, speaking up. I encourage you to speak up as well.

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