From Treblinka to Trump
My family perished in the Treblinka Concentration Camp. An entire branch of my ancestors had their lives extinguished in the time it took for their lungs to fill with toxic gas. But they could have escaped their fate as smoke and ash billowing from the Concentration Camp’s chimney stacks. My grandparents saw the early warning signs of budding Fascism and immigrated to America before the Nuremberg Laws – which included the halting of immigration from Germany – went into effect. They were young, hadn’t fully dug themselves into a life they couldn’t dig out of yet, were free enough from obligations, children, and established careers to make the move. Those are the types of excuses their grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers and sisters argued as reasons not to leave Nazi Germany.
Many people know my family’s tragic history and have asked me, in the face of Donald Trump’s electoral win, which was based on hate speech, denying rights for women and minorities, and a total disregard for the American Constitution, “Are we like your family? Those that didn’t leave when they still had the chance?” “Are we the Jews of 1930s Nazi Germany – and eventually the German people themselves – who missed, or worse, willfully ignored all the warning signs?” “Is it time to leave America?”
The answer to the last question lies in whether or not the Unites States is in fact heading towards becoming a Fascist state. If that is the case, and all evidence seems to support this, then, as at the beginning of another Fascist state’s metamorphosis from a Democracy into a Totalitarian state (Democratic Germany to Hitler’s Autocracy) there is still time to thwart the usurpation of Democracy from America. We do have a small window in which to stop the total consolidation of power by Donald Trump, but it will require a massive movement – a true revolution, maybe even a bloody Civil War. The reins of power will never be ceded willingly by Donald Trump. We need to come to terms with that fact. Mass mobilization, a daily effort on tens of millions of people’s parts, must occur now. The more time Trump has to secure his grip on total power, the less chance we as Resistors have to break that grip. The answer to the question, “Is it time to leave this country?” depends on the degree and urgency of action every American takes in the upcoming months. By year’s end, if things continue to go in the direction they are going, the answer to the question will be an unequivocal, “Yes. Get out before you can’t.”
I have a knee-jerk reaction against rhetoric that casually throws around the word “Fascism.” Fascism means something very real – it is “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization” – and its ramifications, historically, are deadly. So I reserve the use of that word only when and if it has become readily apparent that what is occurring is, in fact, Fascism, so that the word itself doesn’t become hyperbolic. Aided and abetted by a Faustian partnership with the Republican Party, it has become clear that the long-term strategic plans of the Trump regime are leading America down the path towards Fascism.
My family learned the hard way how irreversibly devastating the consequences of ignoring or dismissing the obviously undemocratic intentions of those in power can be. Denial is complicity. I am writing this as both a personal testimony and as an urgent warning that if action isn’t taken now, there will be no Presidential election in 2020. We will have a Dictator ruling America. And the inevitable consequences of a Donald Trump dictatorship, as he himself has made clear by the “policies” he’s proposed, are ethnic, social, religious, and intellectual cleansing; martial law; war (perhaps WWIII); the possible deaths of millions of people; and the eventual collapse of the United States. Don’t take my word for it alone. History has charted the rise - and fall - of all the Fascist dictators that preceded Donald Trump. Most current historians and scholars are in complete consensus that America’s great experiment in Democracy is in its death throes.
Fascism doesn’t happen overnight. It encroaches through a systematic and slow expropriation of rights. First, easy minority targets are scapegoated (in this case Muslims, Mexicans, and the LGBT community) enabling the canonization of laws that can – and will – eventually be used to subvert anyone the regime deems its “enemy.”
Propaganda is the main tool of Fascists, and with a complicit modern mainstream media coupled with the plethora of “fake news sites,” “alternative facts” quickly become “truth.” Adolf Hitler himself said, “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” And that is exactly the blueprint the Trump regime and its Republican cohorts use on a daily basis.
It’s not a matter of whether the tactics of propaganda work – history and neuropsychology tells us that it is extremely effective – the question is how long it will take for the propaganda to be embraced as truth by the majority of citizens? As the news cycle is now a “24-second” rather than a “24-hour” experience and social media is used by billions of people around the world, the potential time it takes for any “Big Lie” to now take hold can be a matter of nanoseconds. We saw it in the General Election in 2016. Hillary Clinton’s lead dropped by 13 points – 13 – immediately after FBI Director, James Comey, made his “announcement” that there were “more e-mails” of Secretary Clinton’s that were being “investigated.” That’s how quickly propaganda spreads and how powerful it is in changing the course of history.
Once a single “Big Lie” is pulled off with no recriminations against the regime, the next step in a Fascist take-over is to gradually and strategically move the line-in-the-sand; to defy enshrined Democratic principles, push harder, and make the lies bigger. Then wait and see if there is any rapprochement or consequences for those intentional violations. When there are none, the regime moves the line again and again, until the need to even draw a line at all becomes superfluous to them. Once the balance of veracity to falsehood tips in the favor of untruth, the point-of-no-return has arrived. And that’s when real malfeasance and malignant power takes over. Hitler used this technique throughout his reign and Trump is following suit.
We are watching the death of Democracy right in front of our eyes, played out in real time. Many of us are desperately afraid, apoplectically angry, and taking substantive action. We’re marching and protesting, we’re calling our legislators, we’re boycotting Uber, and shopping at Nordstroms. But the granular mechanization of a Fascist take-over has already begun.
The Republicans control two out of the three branches of U.S. government – the Executive and the Legislative. Control over the third branch – the Judiciary (of which the Supreme Court is part) – is just a few appointments away. Even more alarming, and gone almost unreported by the mainstream’s so-called “journalists,” is that Trump has barred the unbiased, apolitical Joint Chiefs of Staff from attending many National Security meetings, creating, paradoxically, one of the greatest threats to National Security the United States of America has ever faced. He has also has made clear his intentions to replace the top brass of the military with his own personal loyalists.
This latter fact should be the headline of every major newspaper and television news show across the country, yet has been virtually ignored. Why? Because the Trump regime understands how to create “shock events” – a smoke and mirrors game whereby they capture public attention on both the Left and Right by creating a major news “disturbance” (the Muslim ban is a perfect example) to distract people, especially the media, from the regime’s true agenda.
As English essayist and novelist, George Orwell wrote post-World War II, “The State always has a place to dislocate its citizens’ frustrations. Having an outside enemy prevents citizens from finding faults domestically, and gives them a sense of unity. As long as people accept the hollow promise of security and comfort, the State will always reign.”
So while the majority of Americans have been rightfully enraged over the Muslim ban – and other Trump shock events – the Trump regime has quietly been dismantling an impartial military leadership, and installing biased, completely politicized military higher ups to replace them. Once Trump controls the military, and the eventuality of that is certain, unwarranted deportations, late-night home arrests, burning of books, illegal use of force against protesters, jailings without due process, the list of possible abuses goes on and on, can begin in earnest. At that point, there is literally nothing that can be done to stop them. This is their plan, folks. And it’s already underway.
As further explication of Trump’s devastating intentions to become Dictator, we must first ask, “Why is he alienating our closest allies (Britain, Germany, and…Australia!) while embracing our avowed enemies (Russia, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, where 19 of the 20 9/11 suicide bombers hailed from)?” The answer is draconian, but simple. America is being intentionally driven towards WWIII for a very specific reason: Wartime presidents have extraordinary discretionary power to suspend vital parts our Constitution; for example, suspending the writ of Habeas Corpus (a legal concept, in which a person may not be held by the government without a valid reason), indiscriminately imposing Martial Law on Americans, and using military force without the consent of Congress. These are just three examples that will give Trump the ability to arrest, without warrant, anyone he deems to be “against him,” use the military to indeterminately jail and/or kill innocent Americans for protesting without fear of recrimination, and to use nuclear, and other deadly weapons of war, when and however he sees fit. Trump’s intended goal to provoke an unnecessary war is specifically designed to decimate our 241-year-old system of checks and balances, law and order, and government by and for the people.
In the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., there is a list that hangs near the entrance. It’s been there for a long time but who knew we’d need to heed its warning right now and right here in the good ole’ U.S.A. It reads:
Early Warning Signs of Fascism
1. Powerful and continuing Nationalism
2. Disdain for human rights
3. Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
4. Supremacy of the military
5. Rampant sexism
6. Controlled mass media
7. Obsession with National Security
8. Religion and Government intertwined
9. Corporate power protected
10. Labor power suppressed
11. Disdain for intellectuals and the Arts
12. Obsession with crime and punishment
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption
14. Fraudulent elections
By my count, the Trump regime has ascribed to and/or already acted on all fourteen points. The willful challenge to a Constitutional Democracy, the complete lack of qualifications or simple knowledge of how our government runs, the total lack of human decency, and the exploitation and encouragement of the basest and most intolerant impulses of some Americans is unprecedented in American history. Re-read the list. Trump and his comrades often invoke all fourteen of the items on the “Fascism Warning List” in a single day. Must we really even ask if we’re heading towards Fascism? In Canadian author Margret Atwood’s prophetic book, “The Handmaid’s Tale” – penned not as a novel but as a sociopolitical warning – she wrote, “We lived by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, that you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously. There were terrible stories in newspapers…How awful we would say, and they were, but they were awful without somehow being believable. They were too melodramatic…to think they could actually happen.” Let us heed this warning and stop ignoring and/or denying what we know to be true. We are being steadily taken over by a mentally ill, pathologically narcissistic, ultra-right wing, power hungry man, one who takes the debate out of the realm of Democrat versus Republican, transcending normative politics altogether, and who has shown that he has a deeper understanding of the Fascist playbook, and how to successfully put it into action, than anyone is giving him credit for. We cannot – we must not – underestimate Donald Trump. He has proven his political prowess time and time again, and succeeded to the most powerful position in the world while most Americans were busy laughing at him. If we continue to think of him as nothing more than a clown, and ignore all the indications that he has placed America on the fast track towards Fascism, we do so at our own peril.
My father kept all of the letters my German family members wrote to my grandparents in America from 1933 until communications stopped when they were liquidated to Treblinka in 1942, and ultimately, murdered. When I was growing up, my father read those letters aloud every year on Yom Kippur. He did so not just in remembrance, but to instill in my sisters and me the importance of fighting against injustice whenever and wherever it occurs – lest that injustice fall to us someday. The greater lesson from these letters - so relevant today - is clear; my family initially thought what many of us are thinking now: “Oh it’s just rhetoric.” “One man can’t do all that!” “How can I just pick up and leave when my family’s been here for generations?” “It can’t happen here.” Sound familiar? By the time my family realized how incredibly wrong they were, it was too late. So again, to answer the question from the top of this article, I say “Yes, we are like those German Jews who saw the writing on the wall, and we too are not leaving because we just can’t accept or absorb the gravity of what is actually happening.” It is important to note that by the time my family finally tried to leave Germany in 1938, there were already harsh U.S. immigration laws in place barring Jews from entry, using excuses such as “The Jews are German spies,” “They’re a danger to the world,” and “They’ll take services and jobs away from ‘real’ Americans.” Ships filled with desperate Jews were turned back to what the U.S. government knew were to their certain deaths. Again, sound eerily familiar?
The road from Treblinka to Trump is a direct one – and shorter than most might think. Trump’s Senior Policy Advisor, Stephen Miller, recently said, “Trump’s power exceeds that of the Judiciary, the people of the United States, the free press, or anyone else.” The administration’s Totalitarian vision is absolutely unequivocal. To fail to heed the warning of this extraordinary hubris, arrogance, and willful disregard of Democracy will be America’s suicide. But we do not have to be like the Holocaust victims of Nazi Germany. We can fight for our rights. We can reclaim our Democracy. We can restore decency to our great Country. But in order to do so, we must fight harder, fiercer, more persistently, and yes, even dirtier if need be than we already are. The easiest, most essential, and effective habitual action item we can take is to call our Congresspersons daily (calling is the most effective way of influencing our legislators) to tell them, in no uncertain terms, that we will primary them if they do not stand as a Unified Opposition Party.
We must make it clear to Democrats that we have learned a trick or two from the Tea Party and will threaten their jobs if they ever break ranks – even a single time – from the Democratic Caucus in both chambers. We must vigorously protest, march, sign petitions, call out “alternative facts” as they occur, pressure the press into doing their jobs, refuse to watch any television news show that allows itself to be used as a propaganda arm of the Trump regime and the Republican Party, boycott companies that support Trump products and services, join and donate to the A.C.L.U., become a member of a local Democratic Club or start one where you live, show up at every Town Hall your representatives hold and make your voice heard loudly. Do this, and more, before it truly is too late to do anything but be subjected to the whims of an incoherent and dangerous Autocrat. We must fight against the conditions that laid the groundwork for Treblinka so that the policies of this regime do not lead, in the same way, to the absolute power of Donald Trump, and to the doom and destruction, of the American people.