My five-year-old granddaughter has two refrains: “watch this Papi” and “that’s not fair.”
Recently, a friend of mine told me a story about his great uncle, a soldier in Germany during World War II. After the war, his unit would go into German towns, gather the citizenry, and offer them a choice: watch a movie about the horrors of the Holocaust, German crimes against humanity, or go into the concentration camps and experience the horror first-hand. Most choose the movie, but each one emerged from the theater wailing, the weight of their culpability, their acts of omissions, their enabling silence, their compromised conscience, all weighing down upon them.
It had dawned on them they were enablers; they realized the deadly consequences of their silence, which served to lubricate the wheels of mass executions.
“When the number of people who were parties to the genocidal enterprise, who must have staffed these institutions and occupied these roles, is considered and when the still far larger number who worked in the larger system of domination–the enormous extent of which is only suggested by the 10,000 camps so far identified—is also taken into account the inescapable conclusion is that the number of Germans who contributed to and, more broadly, had knowledge of this regime’s fundamental criminality was staggering….” Page 168 Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel
I recently had a discussion with a Trump supporter. My basic point was that character matters, that a person’s integrity matters, that morality matters, especially with our leaders. Immoral people make decisions based on their own vested interests, or based on money, or based on sex. I brought up Trump’s six bankruptcies, his conviction for not leasing apartments to people of color, his twenty-four sexual assault lawsuits, the Hollywood access tape, the shutting down of his charity by the Attorney General of New York, the warehousing of kids in concentration camps—just a few of his greatest hits. She wouldn’t respond, wouldn’t even argue that what I was bringing up was not true. Afterwards I realized I was dealing with blind faith, a surrendering to a false prophet, whose message resonated in the buried recesses of hate and racism.
This was something new that I had seen gestating over the last few years. Before, political discussions were possible, ideas and policies debated, sometimes passionately, but that was OK. Positions were changed because reason permeated the discussions. Name calling and character assassination wasn’t needed; we were better for it because our ideas were challenged, debated.
I am voting for Biden because I consider him to be a strong, decent, and kind man who will help heal our country by dismantling the artificial divides constructed by the dominant caste. Now, I could find many things wrong with Biden if I scrutinized his voting record or his policy recommendations. These issues can be debated and that’s the key point—can be debated.
An enabler doesn’t debate; blind faith forbids debate. Debate nourishes our democracy, strengthens it. Blind faith is a lubricant for fascism.
Right now, we have a President trying to sabotage our November election: empty accusations of voter fraud, (per the Heritage Foundation, not exactly a left wing think tank, there were 37 instances of voter fraud over the last decade—37! Doesn’t the President have bigger issues, like the goddamn pandemic?), putting a totally unqualified person in charge of the Post Officein order to slow down and sabotage mail-in ballots (who happens to be a huge donor to the Trump campaign), sending in unmarked Stormtroopers into Portland to arrest peaceful demonstrators, having an Attorney General who believes the President is above the law, firing a United States Attorney General who was knee-deep in investigating Trump’s criminal enterprises, suppressing the Mueller report, putting roadblocks in communities of color that suppress their vote…and it goes on and on.
We are on the brink of fascism. The play book for fascism has been launched: declare the press an enemy of the people, rig the elections, make the future dictator above the law, offer the public scapegoats for whatever ails the country, create a special police force of stormtroopers.
All this wouldn’t be possible without a merry band of enablers. The Holocaust wouldn’t have been possible without the enablers. Hitler had the vision, but the enablers executed the program. Today, Trump’s enablers have stood silent as disinformation and outright lies spew forth from this White House. They have stood silent as Trump cozied up to dictators like Putin, condoning Russia’s sabotaging of our last election. (Russia has made it clear they will again seek to sabotage our November election, feeling Trump will be better for them than Biden.) They have stood silent when ICE separated kids from parents and warehoused them in concentration camps. They have stood silent when he called NEO-NAZIs ‘very fine people’. They have stood silent when he denigrated the memories of John Lewis and John McCain.
But Trump doesn’t happen without the enablers. The corrosion of the office of the Presidency doesn’t happen without the silence of his minions.
The President, emboldened by the silence of his followers, has taken his bile to a whole new lower ground: “He’s following the radical-left agenda: take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God”. Trump said about Biden in his Cleveland speech. “He’s against God.”
What the hell does “no anything” mean? What the hell does “He’s against God” mean?
This about a man of deep faith, Biden, who has leaned on his religion in times of unspeakable tragedies.
But his enablers remained silent, as well as the Congressmen and Senators who condone this assault on our Democracy.
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Martin Luther King
Enablers will inevitably have to answer for their silence. There were the Nuremburg trials and in South Africa, they conducted Truth and Reconciliation Hearings where citizens could publicly confess their sins, serving as a therapeutic salve for both the individual and the country, becoming a vehicle that help heal the horror of apartheid. Given the racial unrest in this country, Truth and Reconciliation hearings might just be the prescription needed.
Back to my granddaughter. The first principle of our Democracy is fairness: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Trump and his minions never ask the question: what is fair, what isn’t fair, and how can I correct it? How can I correct the inequities that are entrenched in our institutions, how can we make the American Dream accessible to all citizens, fulfill the promise of our Founding Fathers?
A Fascist would never ask those questions. The question they usually ask is, what’s in it for me, or, how does this consolidate my power?
At some point, the chickens will come home to roost and Trump’s enablers will have to answer to this nation, and to their Supreme Being.
So, look out, in the not so distant future my granddaughter will be unleased into the world, and like her mother, she will cry out: “HEY, THAT’S NOT FAIR.”