And why the Nazi analogy is so chilling
I have relatives and friends who still support Trump. They think the Democrats literally stole the election. They believe the Capitol riots were the work of Antifa and the Left. They’re convinced America is ‘close enough’ to some government agency secretly microchipping us all, that anyone who isn’t a Republican is a communist, and that Republicans who oppose Trump are nearly as bad or worse, especially if they don’t believe the election was stolen.
I know this is what they believe because they’ve said it. Because I’ve read what is said on FOX News, because every so often I tune in to ‘conservative’ radio, because I’ve seen the clips of prominent Republican politicians making such claims. I know this because they voted for Donald Trump again.
And they know I’m a liberal, a Democrat, a Biden supporter. We still associate, talk to each other, meet out at places. We still work together peacefully, still send each other holiday cards, wish each other happy birthday and ask about children and spouses.
These are the people I know. The ones I’m related to and work with and went to school with. There are others around me every day, driving in cars with Trump stickers still on the fender, reading OAN on their phones in restaurants. I overhear them all the time when I’m out, bits and pieces, ‘Covid is overblown.’ ‘Fake news is saying…’ ‘China is still hiding…’ and catch the agreeing nods. It’s maybe not always accurate, but I assume those without masks in public are among them.
This is as it should be. They don’t agree with me, and I don’t agree with them. That’s politics, that’s the nature of belief and people and society and America. People worship different gods from me; they like different music, admire different people, eat different foods and live different lives.
Except now it’s different.
I profoundly, deeply, disagree with my Trump supporting family and co-workers. But I still know them as family and co-workers. I still know them as Americans. I trust their hearts, if not their actions. I trust their intentions, if not their reasons. They are an opposition, but they are not an enemy.
Early in the Trump presidency, some troubling surfaces began to see exposure. Trump would tweet something outrageous — he really won the popular vote because California added millions of fraudulent ballots, Obama was wire- tapping him before the election, Obama is a Muslim — and conservatives wouldn’t deny it. At first they’d just kind of look away, but soon enough there were murmers of agreement, little ‘well, what if it’s true?’ comments, and ‘how do we know for sure?’
It was like the tweets scratched away at a thin layer of paint, a paint that seemed almost designed to hide the real shape beneath.
What was exposed, beneath a surface that had seemed solid, was some other core, some other foundation. It was a foundation that first hinted at the presumption of some kind of vast conspiracy, that incredibly powerful government forces were acting against America, as enemies from within. That the entire apparatus of the State of California could manufacture millions of false votes. The very system created to establish law and justice was corrupted. That a lifetime of citizenship and achievement — books published, jobs held, history made — would be fabricated to embed the enemy deep into our midst.
And not just a few people holding these secret fundamental assumptions, but whole States of them, whole families. Things they seemed to believe but had been holding close and secret, because, well, if they were true, why wouldn’t they? If our very government really had willingly propped up a secret Muslim? If that kind of power stood against your truth? Against America?
It began to seem not so much that Trump was outrageous, or singular, but that he spoke for millions we’d never suspected.
There’s an analogy that keeps popping up these last few years. Nazis. The Holocaust. Both sides raise it.
Jews lived in Europe for a thousand years before Hitler came along. They were an easy target, worshiping a slightly different god, holding different customs, and too often when things went bad they took the blame, but most of the time, it was a comfortable relationship, even mutually beneficial. Jewish people were doctors and lawyers. They were neighbors. They ran shops and shopped at places they didn’t own. They ran banks and loaned to all.
What the Nazis revealed was that this relationship was a thin veneer. That despite being neighbors, being friends, being teachers and scholars and scientists and writers, existing in a working relationship, many Europeans fundamentally loathed their Jewish neighbors. Whether they hated them, were afraid of them, were jealous or disgusted, at their core they truly, deeply, understood Jews to be the enemy.
Hitler and the Nazis stripped that paint right off. They made the vilest claims — that Jews ate babies, that they secretly ran the world, that they were worshippers of Satan — and a horrifying number of people said, ‘Of course.’
And then they went ahead and did what they did.
Which brings us back to where we are now.
I honestly do not know just how much my Trump-supporting family and colleagues really love the guy.
But I do know, because they’ve told me, that they think Liberals are the enemy. I do know that they think ‘Liberals’, the Left, Democrats, whoever it is that runs the government, actually stole the election. Not stumbled into it, not played a slightly rigged game, but actively, deliberately, deceptively, massively, STOLE it.
Which means, of course, that they, we, me, are the enemy. If my family and co-workers can genuinely believe that I could, would, will do the things they claim, then we are the enemy. Whatever smile they show, whatever relationship we have, it cannot be the heart if they genuinely believe what they say they believe about Democrats. About me, and mine.
They believe Trump’s claims, that Mexicans are rapists, that all Muslims are terrorists, that every Democrat-run state is corrupt, that the Russian investigation was a hoax, that Covid is a conspiracy, that masks are the first step in our plan to tyranny. None have denied it.
The genuinely terrifying truth that we cannot acknowledge about America is that one side views the other as the enemy of the nation. Not merely different, not merely fooled or misguided, foolish or naive, but a threat.
That’s why they attacked the Capitol.
The QAnon group claims with stone-faced seriousness that cannibalistic pedophiles are embedded at the highest levels of Democratic governance. And I really don’t know anymore how much of that poison runs through my Trump supporting family and co-workers. I do know that many people like them have elected officials who repeat the claims. I do know that their party consistently rebukes those who would deny such claims.
I do know the paint is thinning.