Now I know
For the first time in my life, on the morning after Donald Trump was elected to be the next president of the United States, I had a glimmering—the faintest of ideas—of what it must have felt like for Jews in 1930s Germany.
I woke up asking myself questions I couldn’t answer, questions I’m sure were constantly on the minds of our ancestors. What do I do? How do I protect my family? Do we have to move to another country to be safe? Do we abandon our family, friends, our lives—and move halfway around the world? How would we have a fire sale for our house and everything we own? What does it really mean to immigrate? Where would we go? It feels overwhelming, and I understand now how much easier it must have been to do nothing, to sit and watch as the world fell apart.
I know this sounds like a paranoid rant, and God knows I’ve read enough rants during this horrid election cycle. But this time the situation feels a little different. I’m not normally someone who’s ready to jump off a cliff at the first sign of danger. During every presidential campaign I’ve spoken to someone who said, “If so-and-so wins I’m leaving the country,” and I’ve always pooh-poohed their remarks. It’s never as bad (or as good) as one might imagine. Our government is built with such a rock solid system of checks and balances the possibility of a tyrant taking over is extremely small.
But now there’s Trump.
Please, let me be clear. I’m not saying Donald Trump is the next Hitler. The truth is no one knows what he will be. He spouts off like a crazy racist during the campaign, then comes across as more reasonable and thoughtful and open to compromise in his 60 Minutes interview. He says he’s going to call on President Obama for advice, but he doesn’t read, and gets his information from the Internet. He talks reconciliation and unity and asks us to give him a chance, then appoints Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame to the position of White House Chief Strategist. Steve Bannon, who the Anti-Defamation League describes as “a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’—a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.”
So what do we do? How far do we let our fears drive our actions? First of all, my bags are not packed. I have no plans to evacuate—yet. Even though the Canadian immigration website crashed the night of the election because millions of people shared my thoughts. Even though I received an email the following day from Condé Nast Traveler listing the 10 best countries for ex-pats, I am not planning to abandon the country of my birth. My home. I’m not going to react on the basis of fears and suspicions, even as bad as Bannon’s appointment is. But there are two straightforward things I am going to do, and I put them out as my personal recommendations to you.
First, I’m going to remain vigilant, and I’m going to insist that my elected representatives do the same. Not to be arbitrarily difficult or obstructionist, but to watch for signs of demagoguery, to take any efforts necessary to halt policies that threaten civil rights. Democrats have an historical problem growing... let’s just say that item between men’s legs that is a metaphor for nerve. We must make sure they (and we) are not lacking in what it takes to stand up and be counted among the righteous.
Second, we must take our lessons from history seriously. The single most dangerous thing Donald Trump did during his campaign was to embolden and validate white racists, supremacists, and organizations like the KKK. It is therefore paramount that we remain true to our basic moral values. Some things are just plain wrong. Abusing women is wrong. Making fun of people for their looks, their infirmities, their accent, or the clothes they wear is just wrong, and can never be glossed over or accepted. Hate speech is not OK, and can’t be brushed off by saying, “He didn’t really mean it.” At the point in time when the government fails to speak out against racism and hatred, when a blind eye is turned on hate crimes, thereby tacitly condoning violence born of prejudice, then we must be prepared to either fight or flee. That is the lesson of Kristallnacht. That is the burden our country bears because of its intolerable record of denying rights to African Americans. That is one possible future we face, a future shaped by the likes of Breitbart and Steve Bannon.
No more heads in the sand. No more sitting on hands. Stay alert. Be vigilant. Hope for the best. Be ready to act if the worst is imminent. I’m not abandoning hope today, but I’m keeping a close eye on tomorrow. And that’s the good word.