There is no doubt in my mind that this blog post is going to cost me some friends.
In fact, it may cost me some other things too, but I can’t sit here and be silent.
I am watching as my country is gripped in fear. I am watching as politicians scream about safety. I am watching and listening to heated debates among my friends about the Paris terror attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the role of Muslims in the United States of America.
It is like a nightmare, and I wonder: has everyone forgotten their history?
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana.
Most of us are too young to remember the horrors of WWII, when millions of Jewish refugees fled Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party.
Then, under the authority of the Third Reich, Jews were required to register with the government and to report their movements and whereabouts.
Eventually, Jews were rounded up and sent to prison camps. They were systematically executed during Hitler’s reign of terror.
How could this horror take place? What gave rise to the Nazis? How could Hitler lead an entire nation into a campaign of loathing that eventually turned into mass murder and one of the most significant atrocities in human history?
The answers are difficult to imagine, but it was an incremental process. Germany was reeling financially and on the brink of hyper-inflation fueled by crushing debt that stemmed from their obligations for reparations after World War I.
So, Germany’s economy was in rough shape. But beyond their terrible economy Germans were also concerned about the growing threat of communism in their country. They needed some scapegoats to blame this on.
Hitler came onto the political scene as a magnetic and charismatic speaker. He promised the German people safety and security. He had a stunning ability to whip up the masses with his rhetoric. He delivered scapegoats in the form of Jewish financiers who he blamed for the country’s economic woes.
The German people were complicit, either by their silence or by their support of Hitler and the Nazis.
Polls taken in 1938 and 1939
found that the majority of American citizens did not want the government to allow Jewish refugees from Europe to settle in the United States.
A couple of decades later, another gifted and charismatic speaker came onto the political scene; this time in the United States.
Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy led America through the “Red Scare” of the 1950s.
McCarthy spent nearly five years trying to expose communists and other left-wing “loyalty risks” in the U.S. government during the early 1950s, at the height of the Cold War against Russia.
Even mere insinuations of disloyalty by McCarthy were enough to convince many Americans that their government was packed with traitors and spies. McCarthy’s accusations were so intimidating that few people dared to speak out against him.
But Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a fellow Republican to McCarthy, did stand up to him with her Declaration of Conscience speech. One part of that speech that I find especially relevant today is this:
“The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny –Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”
Donald Trump, so far the leading candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016, endorsed the idea for a database to collect information about Muslims living in the United States. At a campaign event in Newton, Iowa, NBC asked [Trump] whether there should be a database to track Muslims. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems,” he said, according to The Atlantic. “We’re going to have to—we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques,” Trump added. “We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
When challenged to explain how his policy ideas differed from those used in Nazi Germany, Trump’s only response was ” You tell me. You tell me.”
What scares the bejesus outta me is that Trump’s leading poll numbers surged again this morning, fewer than 24 hours after he refused to elaborate on how his policy idea differentiated from those used by the Nazis.
What scares me more?
So many of my friends really like Trump.
“He (Trump) says what I’m thinking, but what political correctness won’t allow me to say,” said one friend, adding that safety is the most important thing a politician can do for the nation.
But should we sacrifice liberty and American ideals for safety?
I always thought this was the land of the free and of the brave, not the land of bigotry and fear.
What was it that Ben Franklin said?
“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”