Hitler analogies have always disturbed me. As a daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I take this subject very personally. Usually the comparison is intentionally hyperbolic and over-simplistic, designed to provoke fearful knee-jerk reactions, to manipulate and demonize. But here we are, Election 2016, and the resonant imagery is not only terrifying but all too accurate, all too familiar. #WeHaveSeenThisBefore.
I’m not just talking about the demagogue himself, the sneering fascistic stream of hate speech, the threatening and blaming and projecting. I’m talking about the frenzy of the crowds, the eruptions of violence that escalate in seconds from furious jeering to homicidal rage. I’m talking about the slogans – on signs, on t-shirts, on social media walls and real world walls. I’m talking about the explicit targeting of non-whites, the bitter twisted ferocity of entitlement, the fantasy of a restored “Golden Age” (read: White Supremacy), the denial of facts, the exaltation of a “father” who can save “us.”
The echoes ripple outward. The dismissals, early on: He can’t be taken seriously; it’s just a lunatic fringe getting behind that clown, that imposter. He will disappear on his own, for lack of support, after failing to prove his extremist point and moving on. Then the too-little-too-late criticism from the right, the self-serving claims and subtle encouragements that he will be kept ‘in-check’ for “our” own purposes. He will gather crowds for “us” to exploit too. The naivete, the ignorance, the wickedness — all building momentum to coordinate in force. Then, the “testing” of power by way of outrageous words and behavior that should have been denounced and yet were weakly (at best) called out. Thinly veiled — no, transparent!! — threats to freedom, justice, human rights. “I am the only one who can do it,” he says. Guaranteeing deportations by the millions, vowing to “lock up” his enemies. Announcing he may or may not accept the results of the election.
What else do we need in order to remember Germany of the 1930s? Scholars and historians are taking entire pages of text, with hindsight-rich analysis replacing the name of Hitler and inserting this new name. Using the term Nazis instead of the alt-right, and the clarity, the proof, is beyond chilling. We shake our heads about the past. How could they have known? How could so few have read the writing on the wall, and so many fail to see? But we know full well how this scenario plays itself out. We (I mean all of us; I mean, the nation, the world) have a precedent to refer to, an all-too-relevant example, a portrait of what happens when circumstances meet opportunists, when a population seething with grievance (and wildly armed with weapons. Have we failed to include this in our calculations?) chooses to follow a madman enthusiastically promising to use absolute power (power beyond that accorded by the Constitution, power well beyond the law) to destroy the “enemy.”
Listen. My father’s extended family left Germany for Palestine in 1933. They were Zionists, but the timing was not coincidental. Hitler’s rise to power was evidence enough that their departure couldn’t be delayed. Perhaps they’d read “Mein Kampf”? Perhaps they were simply waiting for an economic window. I don’t know. But they left. All except my father’s own nuclear family, one small group of five staying behind in Hamburg. There were three young boys, and there was a family business to maintain. A life they believed in. My father Karlheinz, and his younger brothers Wolfgang and Helmut. Do you see? My grandparents must have thought they belonged. They must have believed in the future of their own German life. Hamburg, 1933.
So, I’m saying this today, one day before Election Day. The barbarians aren’t at the gates. They are here: attending his rallies, surrounding the polling places, pointing guns at the voting booth. They might as well be wearing brown shirts and black boots; they might as well be carrying swastika-splashed flags, beating up their foes in broad daylight. History is right here. Unless we, all of us, with eyes open and with the courage to aim our votes for her, for Hillary, we are all at risk. We can defeat the dark past by bringing light into the present moment. We must. Please vote as if the future of democracy is at stake, as if our very lives are at stake. It is. They are.