There are few things in today’s America that are surprising, I suppose. Americans’ ignorance of history is legendary, so the unwillingness or inability of many to see what is being created (and what is being destroyed) before their eyes, is not really a shock. It is instead a tragedy.
In July 2016, I wrote a piece for The Jewish Week entitled My Waking Nightmare: A Trump Presidency. In it, I recounted all the ways in which Trump’s rise paralleled Hitler’s, including the ways in which he led an aggrieved people to ruin. The American version of “aggrieved people” seems to be white Christians, who see the browning of America as an existential threat. And of course it is, if we define ‘existential’ as power.
So these people cheer on the undermining of the rule of law, the abuse and denigrating of other human beings — fellow citizens and not — the crude attacks on “enemies” in the press, the avalanche of lies, distortions and scapegoating that apparently lift up the angry and insecure at the expense of everyone else. They are the people, it seems, who exult when the boot of authoritarianism is firmly held against the neck of the other.
We have not been brought as low, I think, as we will be. There is far more ugliness to come. Those in power, drunk and mad from it, will continue to debase themselves and their positions, burning down the very house we all live in, if given the fullest chance. No one from within the power circle is willing to stand up, to rebel and fight back in any way that matters. We get empty words, book tours, and retirements, but not a single action that will save the republic, that will save our democracy.
It is left to the people it is always left to when fascism walks through the door. It is left to ordinary citizens–who still know what it means to be human and why that matters–to treat others with dignity, to refuse to scrape the bottom of every barrel to gain advantage, and to defend the ideals and values for which so many, in the brief history of our nation, have shed their blood.
We have not fallen as far as we are likely to, and the arsonists determined to burn down our democratic house may yet get their wish, but I’m consumed by this question: what victory, in the end, is a pile of ash?