The Dangerous Liaisons, Colltalers
Would it be possible that we’re already beyond George Orwell’s nightmarish view of the future? Two recent incidents signal that we may: a Website promoting a watch list of supposedly ‘leftists’ professors, and the verbal assault of a Muslim woman on a New York subway.
Both could be dismissed as product of fringe ideas, rejected by the mainstream of American society. But eerie similitudes with the 1930s Germany, and the fact that so many are choosing not to acknowledge that it’s even happening, may turn out to be the very reason it will.
After all, only in the first 10 days after the Nov. 8 presidential vote, some 900 episodes of hate were reported across the U.S. From black students insulted in classrooms, to swastikas and ‘Whites Only’ spray-painted on schools, churches, and synagogues, to Nazi flag appearances. If anything, Donald Trump election seems to be telling something terrible to a suddenly empowered group: it’s OK again to hate minorities.
Before going any further, though, we don’t yet believe that half a century of civil rights and progressive reforms toward racial and religious equality are in immediate threat to vanish overnight. But just like a thousand-mile trek starts with one step, well, you get the idea.
This is not a conspiracy, or the unfounded belief that a group of individuals are consciously planning our derailing as a nation. But this is a not unintentionally charged political climate, conducive to a witch hunt, in which the hunted is the majority, and the hunters are well armed.
One event, video of which surfaced last week, was particularly chilling, and took place not in some backwater town in the middle of nowhere but in Washington DC: a group of people cheering the president-elected with the Nazi salute. They actually said it: Hail Trump.
For those who have dismissed as sore losers millions of Americans concerned about a white nationalism resurgence, the gathering couldn’t have been more explicit. The historical parallel was unmistakable and the irony is that it could not happen in contemporary Germany either.
Even worse is the the established media’s adoption of the preferred term this group would like to call themselves, at least for now: alt-right. A title fully endorsed by the first openly white supremacist to have an official role in the U.S. federal government: Steve Bannon.
That not even during the arguably darkest times for racism in America – the biggest part of the 20th century until the 1960s -, there was such a blatant ‘Aryan nation’ apologist such as Bannon in the White House, at least not self declared, should be enough to raise the hair in the back of our necks.
But just as the thugs who patrolled the Berlin and Rome of the 1940s called themselves Hitler’s Youth and the Brown Shirts, only later being labeled for what they really were, murder squads in uniforms, the xenophobic of our times would rather be called something hip as ‘alt.’
Speaking of the president to be, as he starts a national ‘thank you tour,’ similar incidents of violent rhetoric and threats,
common during his campaign, were reported. But unlike the lavish coverage, the intent seems to be not so much to thank anyone, but to divert public attention.
For while some focus on a celebration of a ‘landslide’ that never was, healthcare, education, and free Internet, are moving right along to be gutted, given the background of those nominated to be in charge of them. And it’ll affect many of those now being lured by the coverage.
No one should be glad about this, but it seems all but certain that many Trump voters will face a rude awakening regarding campaign promises. They may find that medical expenses without government subsidies are prohibitive, that education that’s not free is beyond their reach, and that access to Internet is an actual need and should be a right to every citizen, not just a luxury enjoyed by ‘spoiled city folk.’
But Tom Price, Health and Human Services nominee, is on board to replace Obamacare with a system that’d reduce the number of Americans covered. Likely Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been a fierce advocate of school vouchers and charter schools but public education, not so much. And Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach, indicated for the Federal Communications Commission, oppose net neutrality.
These are but three examples of nominees with either support from trade or interest groups, questionable views about public policy, or downright ties with the industry they’re supposed to regulate. Remember the Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street charge? Oh, never mind.
Going back to those recent incidents, there’s something equally disturbing about either of them: a ‘list’ of educators, who are being accused of ‘leftist propaganda in the classroom,’ and a woman being verbally abused in New York City, and no one doing anything to defend her.
A group of academics have denounced the site, Professor Watchlist, run by one Charlie Kirk, who writes that it’s time to expose ‘out of line’ college teachers in the U.S. But 18-year-old student Yasmin Seweid had to endure three young men shouting ‘Trump’ at her face, calling her a terrorist and threatening to rip off her headgear, on her own, while straphangers stood by. So much for New York’s famed ‘liberal bias.’
One of the most remarkable things accomplished by the 1945-46 Nuremberg Trials, besides a level of justice for six million victims of the Nazi, was the introduction of the concept of ‘guilty by association’ in large scale. Which meant that soldiers could no longer invoke the ‘I was following orders’ as a defense. After all, the call of duty should not involve the total collapse of one’s moral principles. Ideally, that is.
War tends to override all of that, of course. The very mention of ‘conscientious objector’ conjures charges of cowardice and lack of patriotic fiber by hawks and combatants alike. It’s often negatively equated to deserters too, an issue pertinent to U.S. Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl.
On the other hand, it took Muhammad Ali, another of this dispiriting 2016’s great losses, to turn ‘conscientious objector’ into his cause célèbre e emerge from it an even larger than life man. But it was never on the Geneva Convention, not it could’ve been invoked by the Nazi.
The Tribunal judged and convicted 24 of prominent Third Reich political and military leaders, while involuntarily sparing the infamous Adolf, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, all suicidal cowards. It did convicted Martin Bormann, even as in absentia, though.
It was the brilliant Holocaust-survivor Hanna Arendt, thought, who died in New York 41 years ago yesterday, in her superb ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil,’ a compilation of her coverage of that other Nazi Adolf’s trial, who best understood the complexity of following orders and live (at least until one’s trial and death penalty), or to refuse it, based on moral concerns, and be shot.
Not an easy choice to make but one that those who made it have defined their entire lives by its consequences. While sociopaths like Eichmann refused to take responsibility for their part in one of History’s worst, and better documented, genocides, others did choose to be shot.
There’s no glory per se in dying for a cause, or worse, for a leader and his or her deranged ideas. On the other hand, in the face of despicable deeds we know we’re perfectly capable of committing, there can never be excuses for omission – or Swiss claims of neutrality for that matter.
For when someone anonymously names a teacher to the ‘Professor Watchlist,’ or as such, a Nevada math instructor, David Buch, threatens to report his undocumented students to the Immigration, we’re all being threatened. If we don’t denounce it for what it is, we’re no conscientious objectors, or patriots; what we’ve become then is enablers of that ‘banality of evil’ that ultimately murders our dignity and humanity.
Rather than telling on someone from anonymity’s spineless comfort, the Orwellian post-911 spirit of ‘seeing something, saying something’ – against people who don’t look like us -, we’d better scream on the top of our lungs that we’ll have no part in such totalitarian world.
No, we need no martyrs, or heroes ready to avenge a lifetime of saying yes to an unfair system. But we need even less the criminal omission of those subway riders who said nothing while a young woman was being victimized. Or parents whose children show no compassion to the vulnerable, or who have never been taught that everyone counts here, in the world’s biggest nation built by and home of immigrants.
Many are despondent that their future may be determined by a group of privileged bigots, with the worst possible idea of government. But they’ll only achieve what Eric Arthur Blair once feared, if we give them our blessing. Or oblivion. Will we be found guilty by association?
The great German people followed some wretched leaders into the homicidal adventure of devastating wars, but learned to be on the lookout for psychopaths. Will we stop this express of doom from running us over too? Because it will and we must. Have an excellent one. WC