It has been easy, since the campaign season, to compare statements and actions by Donald Trump with Adolf Hitler. Also comparable is the excited reaction of support by a significant minority of the population. Additionally, what can also be compared is the silence of a larger minority of the population providing tacit approval. These two groups provide a majority base for power.
So, using Nazi Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s as an example, why do “good” people stay silent when witnessing discrimination of others? Later on, it can easily be understood that they were frightened that they too would become a target for internment or death. But at the beginning of the growth of power, why the silence?
All the insight I have is based on discussion with people I know who supported Trump during his candidacy. I was told “He doesn’t mean that” many times. When asked how they knew that, the discussion faltered, but the tenacity to that one statement was evident, “I know.”
Each of us is indoctrinated to think certain ways. It may be the way you were raised, or it may be completely opposite the parental viewpoint, but our upbringing–the ethics displayed in our households, the education we had (meaning how we learned to learn, not just how we did on tests), and the people in our close circle all influence the way we think and act.
I, for one, was taught early and often about World War II. My grandparents were immigrants in the early 20th Century and we lost family members in the Holocaust. It was personal and there was no doubt about it but I was taught to hate Germany. As young as three years old, I watched the documentaries showing newsreels of the U.S. Army liberating the death camps. I know what slow starvation looks like. I also know what determination to survive despite the odds looks like.
When I had the opportunity to travel (for work) to Germany to spend six months there on a project working with the U.S. Army, I was uncharacteristically slow jumping at the chance for free travel. I understood why and I tried to face that prejudice learned as a baby and overcame it logically. And I accepted the assignment.
Waiting at the Frankfurt airport for another part of the team to arrive from the States, I had plenty of time to people-watch and came to an obvious but, to me, important understanding: they look just like me. And when our coworkers arrived, we got on a train to head to Kaiserslautern, and I thought, oh yeah, here I am, a Jew, on a train in Germany. The next morning, reporting to the military office, I noticed the swastikas that were part of the architecture. The base had been built in the 1930s. The specter was all around me. Despite my best intentions, a certain low level anxiety showed I had carried much of my baggage with me.
So why did “good” Germans and others in occupied Europe, for the most part, stay quiet about the actions being taken against the Jews, the Communists, the homosexuals, the gypsies, the handicapped? Was it mostly fear that they might be next?
Or was it that they really agreed that these groups of people were inferior and the nation, the world, would be better off without them?
We see denial of similar issues here and now in our own nation. For example, we hear lots of white people complaining about the silent and nonviolent kneeling protest during the national anthem at professional football games. They believe, because it is the information being presented by news sources they trust, that the protestors are not being respectful of the flag and, by their actions, the veterans who fought to protect our rights. They will not recognize the actual purpose of the protest. They believe that people have trouble with the police because they are bad people, but 100% stop talking about the issue when I asked what a twelve-year-old sitting on a playground swing holding a toy gun did so bad that he was shot dead within seconds of the police arrive on the scene.
This lack of facing facts is a clear sign of cognitive dissonance, the stubborn and willful choice to not consider information that is not aligned with their convictions. And all of us have some level of this infliction.
It is so very easy to think that what I believe is THE RIGHT WAY TO THINK and that everyone else is crazy or stupid. But that way of thinking is also cognitive dissonance.
This morning, as I am writing, there are statements by various high level Republicans who have an opinion about Roy Moore’s alleged sexual behavior affecting the upcoming election for Senator from Alabama to fill Jeff Session’s seat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that if the allegations are true, Moore should step out of the race. But other Republication leadership are once again blaming the women (why did they wait so long?) and are fully supporting Moore.
With the recent #MeToo social media campaign I remembered and told my kids about one incident in my life where my boss tried to inappropriately insinuate himself into my life (I was twenty-four at the time and he was forty-nine). Recently I read there is a new social media campaign gaining ground to “Name the Pig.” Instead of telling how we were assaulted, we are encouraged to name the person who behaved illegally and unethically. So, I think about that former boss of mine. He would be eighty-eight years old now, if he is still alive. What good would it serve to “out” him? None, I believe. (I dealt with that boss directly, facing him and telling him he had been inappropriate and it had to stop. He listened and complied…at least to me.) But I also support every woman, from Anita Hill to the women who named Bill Cosby to the ones in the Moore situation, for speaking out when we are dealing with a man who has been a role model or could become politically powerful.
Meanwhile, we continue to have at the head of our government a man whose code of ethics seems to be best described as “ME FIRST.” The diehard supporters still believe in what the rest of us know are empty promises (I’ll get your coal jobs back, I will make sure everyone has affordable health care coverage…and more, so many more). One supporter, in the course of a calm and reasonable conversation stated, “I think Trump is the savior of this nation.” I knew that the ground had tilted and there was no middle place to find a commonality there.
So why are these people this way? Simply, they are not hearing nor reading what the rest of us are learning. They typically rely on media that comes from the same viewpoint and never cross-check with other news sources to see another aspect of the same issue. Before condemning him or the countless others, think first. Do you? Do you cross-check issues that are getting your blood pressure up? Or do you just confirm with other sources that are in the same camp?
Most of us react emotionally first and often speak next. Few recognize that if the information just received appeals to your sense of greed or outrage it MUST be verified by cross-checking across the media–liberal and conservative. I urge everyone to take the few minutes it takes to do that search and read before climbing aboard some bandwagon that you might not like to own later.
Remember, the “good” people of Germany allowed things to take place that eroded their prior sense of right and wrong because it was not directly affecting them…until it did; and then, it was too late for most to take a stand.
We live in a nation that has an amazing set of laws backed by the Constitution that provides protections for all people here to speak their mind, gather in public, practice their faith, purchase weapons for home protection and hunting, keep from illegal search and seizure, protection from having soldiers living inside your home, certain rights of prisoners and people arrested, and other rights kept by the people and by the individual states. The NRA has massaged the fear of firearms being confiscating to drum up massive purchasing by frightened people. The fact that some news agencies report on the inept leadership currently in Washington does not mean they are fake news; it means the people responsible want to distract you by blaming the messenger.
Don’t ignore the message.
[Beth Rankin lives with her husband Graham in McMinnville, Oregon. She is a frequent contributor to Columnist with a View. You can read her blog at: goingplaceslivinglife]