Early Wednesday morning, I got a call from my 14-year-old grandson. He wanted reassurance that there are limits to what Trump can do, that “checks and balances” will contain him. He wanted to know what I thought would happen now.
He wanted to know just how frightened he should be.
My grandson is a freshman at an excellent high school in downtown Indianapolis. Before high school, he went to a magnet school, also downtown. His friends include African-Americans, Latinos and Muslims. Some of his classmates’ families immigrated to the United States. He is Jewish. During this ugly, divisive campaign they’ve all heard what will happen to “their kind” when Trump is President.
So many parents asked the principal of his high school what they should tell their children about these threats that she sent out an article from the Huffington Post, addressing that question.
Tell them, first, that we will protect them. Tell them that we have democratic processes in the U.S. that make it impossible for one mean person to do too much damage. Tell them that we will protect those democratic processes ― and we will use them ― so that Trump is unable to act on many of the false promises he made during his campaign.
Tell them, second, that you will honor the outcome of the election, but that you will fight bigotry. Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school.
I encourage those of you with children and grandchildren to read the entire article. But all of us who value fundamental American values of inclusion and equality–whether we are young or old, whether we have children or not, whether we are part of a minority group or as WASPy as they come–must resist the urge to “go along” with Trump’s efforts to undermine those values.
Many years ago, there was a television mini-series about the Holocaust that my mother and I watched with my children. After one episode, my mother said –with great conviction– that, had she been a German, she would never have gone along with the Nazis, that she would never have participated or stood by silently.
As I told her at the time, I wish I could be so sure of how I would have behaved. It’s one thing to sit on a couch in a free country and speculate on your response to a situation you don’t face, but when fascism (or any sort of authoritarianism) begins, it’s deceptively easy to convince yourself that this is just a “hiccup”–that really bad things aren’t happening, that the “other guy” would have been as bad or worse.
It’s so tempting to close your eyes to injustices aimed at other people. After all, we have lives to live, errands to run, houses to clean, offices to go to. How many of us would really, actively resist fascist measures that didn’t immediately or directly threaten us or our families?
It appears we are going to get the chance to answer that question.
In the wake of this horrific election and what a Trump Administration portends, every person of good will must resolve right now to be one of the “good Germans,” to be like the people who didn’t go along, who didn’t close their eyes, who didn’t make excuses for the early scapegoating, nativism and bigotry that ultimately enabled genocide.
This is a test. I can only hope we studied for it.