History Repeated: Trump, the Holocaust, and our New Rules

Scott Eisen - Getty Images - AFP

Sometimes the metaphors are too obvious, the examples too easy, and so we hesitate, feeling the menace of cliché.

But sometimes, in certain circumstances, you have no choice but to just go there.

On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order denying entry to Syrian refugees and people from countries he deems as “high risk”, while privileging entry to Christians and other religious groups over Muslims.

On Friday, a Muslim female airline employee was attacked in her office at JFK airport by a Trump supporter.

And also on Friday, world leaders took a moment to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day.

These are the items that scrolled across my feed Saturday morning. All of them having taken place on the same day.

This is coincidence, of course. Independent events connected by nothing but chance timing. Drawing parallels or connections between them risks stepping into intellectual laziness or hyperbole. That’s what we would normally think.

Yes a more nuanced moment in history would likely beckon more subtle commentary. But apparently we have left that time, and entered an epoch of simple words said loudly, of evocation of base emotions.

The thoughtful considerations of finer points have been drowned out by the soothingly brunt delivery of one-liners. This mode of communication seems to have won and continues to make itself legitimate, despite its apparent aversion to the standards of impartiality, or even truth. It doesn’t matter what you say, because in a world of memes and customizable echo-chamber pseudo-news, anything goes.

Sure Nazi references or comparisons to past atrocities are the cheapest of allegories, rendered embarrassing and powerless by exaggeration and overuse. But take a moment, look at what’s happening, at what is being accepted. What else but the blatant could possibly penetrate the shield of this new reality?

The President and supposed leader of the free world signing a proclamation to sort and displace people based on their religion on the same day he issued a statement honoring the victims of the Holocaust. Really? Surely a coincidence delivered by the gods of irony.

But yet, again, somehow accepted, somehow legitimate.

And so how does one combat the absurd? With measured examples that respect rhetorical etiquette? Nah, that’s for losers.

In post-war (WW1) Germany economic hardship created the conditions for a bombastic strongman to rise to power by pushing populist buttons of nationalism and xenophobia, focusing harsh criticism on a specific minority religious group, eventually leading to the cementing of his rule and violence against said group.

Too much?

Or, horribly, an apt example?

History is filled with regret. Filled with shameful images of current neighbors once made to stare defeated and expressionless from behind some fence. In a time like this, where the softer play of conflicting ideas propelling us slowly forward has been supplanted by the blanketing dim of careless credos, perhaps it’s time to speak their language, to play by these new rules.

If the analogy is crude, so be it. If it’s not perfectly accurate, who cares. This is a time of caricature. Of winning at all costs.

Every person who has ever been made to feel like an Other. Every child of an immigrant. Every family displaced by a dictator, by hate, by fear. See today. In your memories of Venezuela, of Cuba. Remember Yugoslavia, Spain, the Philippines, Chile. And Germany.

There, I said it.