Along came a candidate who promised them he would keep them safe. He promised to upend the weak system that refused to fight for them, refused to help give them a better life. He promised a strong nation that would once again be respected by the world. He also mentioned, once or twice, that communism was ruining the world and that journalists were not to be trusted. Oh, and he said the Jews were an abomination and a threat and that they needed to be, at the very least, driven from the country.
Some people didn’t like this leader’s rhetoric. But he was a heck of a good speaker, one of those gifted speakers who could fire up the crowd. So, those people who didn’t like him were ignored. What did they know anyway? The guy promised prosperity and safety and a good job. Besides, the rest was just idle talk. He didn’t mean it, not really.
They voted him in.
Feeling emboldened by the leader’s rise, some people began turning on their Jewish neighbors. They called them communists, they called them dirty, and they told them to get out of the country. Some of the people didn’t like what was happening, but they didn’t stand up to it. They weren’t Jewish, after all. And besides, what could they do? They were just trying to keep their own heads above water. Life was hard for all them. They didn’t speak up because speaking up could get you in a heap of trouble. If you stood with the Jews, you became one of them, and who wanted to be beat up?
Soon the Jews were being shipped off to camps. And anyone who was crazy enough to speak out was being sent with them. So were gay people and gypsies, because they too were different and therefore a threat to the nation. And communists and journalists, because there was no room for them, either.
This is the story of my birth nation, Germany. It is my grandparent’s story, my parent’s story. We all know this story does not have a happy ending. By the end of it, six million innocent men, women and children had been murdered in the camps. The country was left in a heap of rubble. History judges the German people harshly for what they did. The blood of six million is carried on their souls. I was born more than a decade after the fall of the Reich, and I still carry the guilt of what happened to those six million people.
This story, with it’s terrible parable of unspeakable sin, is why I am so reactive to what has happened in my adopted country this week. I see parallels between the rise of Trump and what happened in Germany two generations ago. Now, you might think I’m over reacting. Honestly, I hope I am. I hope, that six months from now, a year from now, five years from now, you can come back here and call me a fool.
But look around you. Already the hate has started. And before you tell me how the progressives have thrown a hissy fit and how their anger has boiled over into riot, please know that I don’t condone violence. Not on anyone’s side. Before you tell me I’m just another liberal who is trying to make you feel bad, please know that I don’t care what your political leanings are. We don’t get anything done if we spit at one another. But look around, the emboldening of the KKK, the bullying of gay people, of black people, of Latinos, and particularly of Muslims and Muslim immigrants is a real thing. It’s rise over the past few days is a real thing. Children are afraid, people are afraid.
A lot of you who voted Trump are very clear in saying that you are not racists or bigots or xenophobes. I believe you. Some of you are my neighbors, some of you my friends. I know you cringe, as I do, at the idea of genocide. I know you didn’t vote for him because he was a racist. You voted for him for all those other reasons, for better jobs and a kick ass America that the world respects again. You wanted to upend all that gridlock in Washington that isn’t doing any of us any good.
But here’s the other part. If you voted for this man, you turned a deaf ear to the racist remarks he made. When he condoned violence at his rallies, you said the media was just overreacting. When he aligned himself with the Alt right, which includes and welcomes both white supremacists and neo Nazis, you said it didn’t matter. You may not have voted for these things, but you own them anyway. And those of us who didn’t vote for Trump, those of us who saw these things during his campaign and were reviled by them, we have to own them too. Because we wrote Trump off as crazy and we couldn't imagine that more than a few people would vote for him. What matters now is that this is our country and this man is going to president, and we cannot put our heads in the sand.
The only way forward is if we stand together before it is too late. Stand up for what you believe in and value. We all know that hatred and violence against people of color, against gay people or Muslim people, Jewish people is wrong. Dead wrong. You have a sense of decency. Stand up to these things, denounce them LOUDLY. It is the only way. We are good people. Let’s not be the people who have blood on their hands for the next hundred years.