I have been told that it is counterproductive to liken our current situation to Nazi Germany. I have been told that it weakens my arguments and statements, that it makes me seem emotional, irrational. I’ve even said those words to others before. In an argument, when someone brought up Nazi Germany, it seemed like a fallacy, a stretch. It’s actually called Godwin’s Law – as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches – that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler. How can you compare our world a world that allowed the slaughter of millions? Not here, not now.
The problem is, it’s impossible to see the end when you’re at the beginning. We have no idea how this story ends. People in Germany in the 1930s didn’t know either. But we do have one benefit on our side. We have the benefit of history, and we can speak now, speak often, speak loudly.
Soon after the election, I read an excerpt from a book called They Thought They Were Free. This book was first published in 1955. The book is a collection of interviews with ten German individuals who lived in Germany during WWII and participated in the Nazi movement.
Here’s part of that excerpt, from a chapter titled “But Then It Was Too Late:”
“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway… Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?
“Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.
“You see, one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
“In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’ And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.
“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.”
This is a punch to the gut. This one hits close to home. This is the reason I wanted to start blogging about politics.
Do you know what I see right now? I see our President-elect revoking the press credentials of the Washington Post during the election, calling the publication “inaccurate” and “dishonest.” I see our President-elect conflating “fake news” with anything he dislikes in an effort to decrease the credibility of publications that criticize him:
Reports by @CNN that I will be working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are ridiculous & untrue – FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2016
I see our President refusing to answer questions from CNN because now, CNN is fake news:
I see our President-elect shutting the media out from its traditional watchdog status. Priebus, Trump’s Chief of Staff, just told Variety that they the administration is considering ending the daily press briefings, which have been a tradition since Eisenhower’s administration. Yesterday, Trump held his first press conference since July 27, 2016 (wherein he asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails via hacking).
“But remember this: We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.
That Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing. That’s a horrible thing.” Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
Just tried watching Saturday Night Live – unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016
Just a sample of what our President-elect has in store for us.
Are you scared? I am. Who knows what the end here is. I don’t, and I am not saying that it will end in internment or genocide, like Nazi Germany. I have no idea how this will play out, but I will not let uncertainty or timidity stop me from speaking. Speak loudly, speak often, and stay informed. Be the canary in the coal mine. I pray that I really am an alarmist. I pray that this is all for naught, but nothing our President-elect has done so far has proven otherwise. I am taking him at his word and pledging to stand up to it, even if it starts small. Resist the beginnings. Consider the end.