This is America, 2020. And Hitler is winning.
In a 99 percent white high school in upstate New York, the school district had to recall its edition of yearbooks in June, after the annual staff had asked history teacher Jeff Acor to name the greatest person in history. His answer, as quoted in the yearbook:
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“Adolf Hitler, who did many great things for Germany and their youth before the infamous Holocaust.” Acor added that “Adolf is arguably the greatest public speaker in the history of the world. Adolf made many strides to make Germany a world super power.”
In another of many too many examples, Morris Berger, a college football coach in Michigan, also praised Hitler in an interview with the school paper, saying “the way he was able to lead was second-to-none. How he rallied a group and a following, I want to know how he did that.”
When I was small and growing up in California, an aunt, who was from the Old Country, told me, “Whatever you do, don’t give Hitler, in the grave, a victory.”
I had no idea what she was talking about.
Who would have imagined then that in the span of a human lifetime since Adolf Hitler had killed himself many years before, the horrors he had ordered, the genocide committed at his instruction, would have receded in world consciousness to the extent that large numbers of Americans today know little or nothing about the Holocaust.
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Who would have believed then that after 75 years, the insidious, inescapable, overwhelming influence of social media and the rise of authoritarians and extremists would be such that for some, Hitler’s perverse legacy would shapeshift into a model for leadership, patriotism, governance and resolve.
It’s time to face it. Hitler is winning.
When I was small, had I seemed more interested, my older relatives probably would have warned me.
It’s something that goes well beyond German Nazism, something which could attract and infect any people, anywhere. Americans, for example.
I thought a lot about posthumous victories for Hitler when I watched Donald Trump soil the once-prestigious State of the Union address, in awarding the nation’s most high-minded of civilian honors to its most vocal, influential, and unashamedly vile of gleefully racist, women-hating, disability-mocking, African-American-cursing, migrant-reviling, LGBTQ-dehumanizing, Hispanic-slandering, Muslim-baiting, Asian-denigrating and, yes, anti-Semitic, broadcasters, Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Rush Limbaugh.
Donald Trump is not Hitler. But Trump’s words and actions encourage and embolden those among his supporters who yearn for an Adolf of their own.
Because when an American president boasts at mass rallies of rounding up and summarily expelling asylum seekers to their perilous home countries – where all too many of them have since met their deaths – America loses.
When an American president sets up hygiene-compromised caging facilities and concentration camps to hold parents and, separately, the children which officers have taken from their arms of those parents, and then effectively keeps all of them out of the view of the public and beyond scrutiny and supervision – America loses.
Only Hitler wins.
Trump is not Hitler. But when an American president, addressing those mass rallies, signals that all honest journalists, all Mexican-Americans, all non-Christians, all Californians, and, in fact, all voters for the Democratic Party, are disloyal enemies of the state, he doesn’t even have to spell it out, nor use the words in the language of his own old relatives from the Old Country, when he echoes the sentiments which those who hope for a new Hitler are waiting to hear:
“Ein Volk. Ein Reich. Ein Fuhrer!”
When I was small, and my aunt from the Old Country told me to do everything I could to keep Hitler from gaining even one posthumous victory, I had no idea what she was talking about.
I guess I had to be shown.