24 November 2015

I Am Afraid of Donald Trump

In 1930, a lot of people thought an Austrian guy named Adolf was a buffoon who couldn't possibly take power and do any damage. His mannerisms were comical and his murderous fantasies would never go anywhere.

In the 1970s a lot of people thought an actor named Ronald who'd been in a movie with a monkey was a joke as a presidential candidate.

Ronald was elected and began a series of actions that turned American politics hard to the right. For one thing, his deregulation of broadcast media enabled Fox "News" to air misleading reports and outright lies under the tagline, "fair and balanced reporting." In that phrase, only the word "and" is accurate.

Fox and their yellow-journalist ilk are serving the same purpose that newspapers of that name served in the US in the 1920s, when people were comparing Jews to rats and Jim Crow laws were in full effect.

And in 2015, a lot of people think Donald Trump is a buffoon who can't be elected, but he's at the top of a pile of buffoonish candidates for the Republican presidential nominee.

And his rhetoric sounds like it's coming straight out of Nazi Germany.

His followers beat up a man at one of his campaign events who yelled, "Black Lives Matter." That sounds like Brownshirts.

He's been telling people he wants Muslims to wear identity badges. That sounds like Hitler.

He's been telling people Mexicans want to come to the US and take "our women."

He told Carly Fiorina to "quit interrupting" during the most recent Republican candidates' debate. Hitler's plan for women? Kinder, Kuche, Kirche: Children, Kitchen, Church.

If Trump is elected, he wants an America with only white men in power. He wants a society ruled by fear and suspicion. Stasi, anyone?

And he has a lot of supporters.

So did Hitler. A lot of people who said, after the Holocaust, "But we didn't know." "But we were told they were criminals." A lot of ordinary Germans who acquiesced in Hitler's program to round up Jews and gays, communists and Romani, the disabled and the chronically ill.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we rounded up Japanese people. People who had immigrated decades earlier, even their children, on the suspicion that they might be enemy spies.

It took a while for the Germans to figure out what to teach their children. When my mother started school in the 1940s, history ended before the Holocaust. But they've figured it out. Germany is taking 800,000 Syrian refugees. It's not going to be easy, and some people are complaining, but by and large the people are reaching out and welcoming them.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that Germany lived through a horrible war in their own country. Being bombed, having family members disappear, losing basic infrastructures, the stuff the Syrians are living through today, is part of living memory in Germany.

The US proposes to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. A tiny quantity. Even if they all came to New York City they would be a tiny fraction of the population, not enough to fill even a square mile.

But Trump is stoking people's fears. Despite an incredibly rigorous process of review, taking up to two years, for every refugee, Trump is insisting that President Obama wants to let terrorists into the country.

Trump has a platform, and he has a lot of willing ears. And I don't have any idea how to persuade his followers that he is a dangerous demagogue being deeply irresponsible with his divisive rhetoric.

He is also peddling lies. He is telling his followers that Obama proposes to resettle 250,000 Syrians, a figure apparently invented out of whole cloth. He claims that 97 percent of African-Americans who die of gun violence in the US are killed by other African-Americans, a claim invented by neo-Nazis whose symbol closely resembles the swastika.

I don't know where to begin in terms of asking people not to believe his fear-mongering mistruths. If you believe Trump, and you don't fact-check his outrageous claims, why would you believe me?

I am not afraid of Syrians. I am afraid of Donald Trump.