Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Rise of Donald Trump and his Cheering Crowds — Where Have We Seen This Movie Before?

When I heard the recent comments by Donald Trump about putting a religious ban on all muslims from entering the US, including American citizens, I was more than a little upset. Not least because I’m a Muslim American citizen who’s worried about my constitutional rights be taken away by cheering crowds of white Christians who know nothing about Islam or Muslims. But it was also because this whole pattern of Trump’s campaign seemed familiar, as if I had see this movie before.
And I’m not just talking about the scene in Episode I of Star Wars where the senate elects a “strong leader” and gives him unlimited power to put down terrorist threats with force!
It wasn’t just what Trump said (which is bad enough) that seemed familiar. The really scary thing was the cheers that came from his mostly white supporters in the recent rally in South Carolina. And if that wasn’t enough, I am ashamed to say that a good number of people that are my “friends” with on social media actually have been supporting Trump’s statements, starting with attacks on Obama not being a real American, then towards Hispanic immigrants (as they are known in Trump-land “rapists and murderers”)and now towards Muslims (known in Trump-land as “terrorists”). The recent comments were part of a longer arc, and i’ve watched it not just with Trump but with social media posts recently including pictures of “burning” Korans and otherwise spewing hatred about “sending all Muslims back”. While most of the media condemned his plan, Fox news and certain other outlets were much more gentle towards it.
So, I wondered — where have we seen this kind of thing before?? And what did it lead to?
There are of course many parallels in world history both here and abroad: ranging from Christians being discriminated by the Roman Empire, the most powerful empire of the day, for their faith, to the internment of US citizens of Japanese origin during World War II, or the “No Blacks or Jews allowed” signs across the south before desegregation. The Japanese internment was of course a moment of disgrace for the United States of America, which was echoed by George Takei recently, who was as child at the time his parents were unconstitutionally put into “camps”.
But I think the most worrying example was this one:
Let’s see, demagogic leader promises to make the country “great” again, and get back at those foreign and domestic elements that were “holding them down”.
The leader demonizes an ethnic and religious minority as being the ones who are taking over their jobs and who aren’t “real” citizens. This results in large cheers from his primarily white supporters. Although no party wins a majority of the electorate, his party is in the lead, and he gets put into power.
When a “terrorist” attack happens in the country, he suspends the constitutional rights of all of its citizens. Then he starts to seize and transport the demonized middle eastern minority “away” from their homes a move which “white” citizens generally support.
Now you might ask why would the electorate support this? Because they are sick and tired of this “ethnic minority”, and they have been indoctrinated in how superior their own culture is to the dirty, filthy minority that needs to be “taken care of”.
While I am describing the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s in Germany in the 1930’s, this could just as well be a future history of the rise of Donald Trump and his racist and bigoted minority into power.
When you speak about Hitler these days, it is so loaded that people will automatically dismiss you. Trump is nothing like Hitler, they will say. Jews are nothing like Muslims (or Mexican immigrants). And the USA is not a racist country like Germany was.
Let’s see, Trumps’ recent anti-muslim remarks came after his announcement that the government should track “muslims” and have a database of them, which of course came after earlier remarks that Mexican immigrants should be deported — even if they are children that were born here and are natural born citizens.
Cue images of the a new Gestapo knocking on doors of Mexican famlies and taking children away from their parents because they didn’t have “proper” papers. Cue images. of rounding up families and putting them on boxcars to “ship them back” to where they belong.
Not enough? Let’s cue images of people being forced to wear arm-bands that show their religion, not unlike Jews who had to wear the Star of David identifying them as part of the “minority” that was out to destroy “pure” German society.
When hatred is allowed not just to exist but supported and cheered by enough of the population — you are on a slippery slope. It starts with demonizing a minority, then enacting laws to make them second class citizens and limiting their ability to do things like practice their religion, and finally, leads to ways to “send them back” and “get rid of them”.
Don’t think it could happen here in the United States of America? Think again.
Discrimination and racial hatred is built into American History, and it was supported by some large segment of the population each time. This hearkens back to the killing of millions of Native Americans and holding of millions of Africans as slaves. All a candidate has to do is to touch that vein and ride it.
George Wallace, another person that you could compare Trump to, ran on a racist agenda and in 1968 got 10 million votes. This was a hundred years after the end of slavery and giving citizenship to African Americans. Lincoln had to send in troops to certain parts of America to get them to relinquish slavery, Kennedy had to send in troops just to get an African American to be able to attend university with white kids a 100 years later. How much would you want to bet that in another hundred years, in 2060, there won’t be some ethnic or religious minority here that is being demonized by the crisis or prejudices of the moment?
Remember Hitler wasn’t always a reviled figure. There were crowds of white Germans cheering, just like the white Americans we saw on TV cheering Mr. Trump as he talked about ripping up the constitution, denying rights based on a religious test. Hitler called Jews “filthy”. He promised to build up the military and make Germany great again (at least for the white Germans).
Whenever we say “never again”, somehow, some way, things seem to come back in circles. They say that when one ignores the lessons of history, you are bound to repeat them. Something tells me that if you question most Trump supporters at his rallies, they aren’t particularly good students of World History.
I’m not saying that Trump is as bad as the Hitler we know of in the history books. I’m saying he’s just like the Hitler that built support from the white majority in Germany by demonizing the minority to get power and promising to “make the country great again”, which is really a euphemism for “make our country white again”. It wasn’t until Hitler started to take advantage of “terrorist” attacks that he really started to build his support and implement his crazy policies, turning into the “Hitler” we know from the history books.
When many German Jews like Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, both of whom played critical role in the development of atomic weapons, emigrated to America, they publicly wondered where they would go if the USA succumbed to the Nazis?
It took a while, but it seems like certain parts of America may be on the verge of succumbing to a Nazi like mentality — leaving first Hispanics and now Muslims wondering, what will happen to us if this guy gets elected?
And for any other group that is not white and Christian — African Americans, Jewish Americans, Asian Americans — don’t worry, once Trump’s cheering throngs are done with Mexicans and Muslims, they’ll turn their eyes somewhere else. After all, Hitler had a long list of “undesirables” in his book that he would get to.
God help us all if that happens.

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