Recently, a close friend posted a question on Facebook asking, “Who are these idiots?” She was referring to the millions of voters who support Trump. While I confess to howling at late night TV comedians’ evisceration of the Republican candidate, my friend’s condescending attitude raises a red flag.
While it’s easy to imagine that those who don’t share your political views are lacking in intellect, ethics, and decency, it’s also dangerous. Why? Because it rips a page out of Hitler’s playbook.
Hitler knew it would be difficult to convince Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, and the French to collaborate in the mass murder of their friends, neighbors, relatives, and employers. Their doctors, lawyers, scientists, architects, university professors, and acclaimed writers, artists, and musicians. So Hitler devised a relentless hate campaign to focus the economic grievances of his countrymen on those who did not share their Aryan values, looks, or religion. They will be the “winners.” Germany will be “great” again! (Sound familiar?)
Turning millions of assimilated, educated, multi-lingual Jews into “animals” to be crammed into cattle cars and dumped into mass graves did not happen overnight. It was a methodical process of desensitization and dehumanization. Hitler chose his words carefully and, in doing so, he gave his followers a language with which to unite against a common enemy. He used “scientific evidence” to prove that Jews were inferior beings, unworthy of the glorious Aryan master race. Then he stripped Jews of their bank accounts, professional stature, businesses, and properties, and he made them wear a yellow star.
How does Nazi Germany differ from the language and polarization in the current presidential election? Not much. Trump is systematically dehumanizing Mexicans and Muslims. He has condescendingly told African-Americans that their situation is so bad, they have “nothing to lose” by voting for him. I am sure it was only under enormous pressure that he recently disavowed his Birther stance which was nothing other than thinly veiled racism. When he surrounds himself with the leaders of the Alt-right and has the support of the KKK and white supremacy groups, I don’t know about you, but I hear goosesteps!
So what does this have to do with my friend branding Trump supporters “idiots”? Everything. If liberals like me get sucked into the delusion that those who don’t share our Democratic values are inferior beings, we are not just getting down in the mud with them. We are drinking the same poisonous Kool-Aid.
Case in point. To lower my personal political stress, I volunteered to register voters at a Montgomery County supermarket. There were no political materials, other than the registration forms, but it was organized by the Hillary Clinton Campaign. Neither the other volunteer nor I wore t-shirts, pins or caps identifying us as Democrats. After assisting several people with registration, we were approached by a well-dressed woman in her sixties and her ninety-two-year-old father.
“My Dad hasn’t voted since Truman ran in 1952,” she said.
My initial impression was positive. As he sat beside me filling out the form, I marveled at his mental and physical agility, requiring little assistance from his daughter or me. We chatted amiably about our common ancestry. As it happened, both my ancestors and his came originally from Poland. I assumed that his eagerness to participate in this particular election was the same as mine and felt that he, too, wants to be on the “right” side of history. Then I saw him proudly check off the box of his political party. Republican.
This kindly gentleman had not waited sixty-four years to defend our Democracy against Donald Trump. He was there to support him. He was clearly not part of the “uneducated, white male” category who form Trump’s base. From what I observed, this was an educated, articulate, refined, middleclass suburbanite. What used to be known as an Old School Republican, a group which previously dominated the now liberal Main Line.
The man was not an idiot. I like to think he was also not a racist or bigot, but simply someone who does not support my views and the platform of the Democrat Party. Until we can see all Americans as equals, deserving of respect, we run the danger of dehumanizing others and ourselves. Rather than becoming a nation of “winners” and “losers,” I am holding out for a nation of healers and fence menders.