A recent article in The Guardian reminded me of a long-ago discussion with my mother.
The article was about a Japanese trader named Chiune Sugihara, who saved the lives of 6,000 Jews during the second World War.
Over six weeks in the summer of 1940, while serving as a diplomat in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara defied orders from his bosses in Tokyo, and issued several thousand visas for Jewish refugees to travel to Japan.
The discussion with my mother followed a television show about the Holocaust, and the German citizens who stayed silent while their Jewish neighbors were subjected, first, to official demonization, then required to wear yellow stars, then deprived of their businesses, and finally dragged from their homes and transported to death camps. My mother declared that she would not have been one of those who pretended not to see–that she would have resisted, even at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family. I remember responding that I wished I could be so sure that I would do the right thing.
At the time, of course, it was all hypothetical.
Suddenly, it isn’t.
We need to recognize that we’re at the beginning of what threatens to become a very dark time in America. Under Trump, we already see (brown) children in cages; we already see the deliberate encouragement of white nationalism, and the demonization of immigrants, Muslims, and “others”; we already see reckless and dangerous foreign adventurism; we already see disdain for–and noncompliance with– longstanding democratic norms and the rule of law; and we already see concerted, persistent attacks on the media outlets that report these things.
We don’t face the equivalent of SS troops in the streets (although it is worth noting that a number of Trump supporters have threatened civil war should he lose in November), so the costs of activism are minuscule in comparison to the risks run by people like Sugahari or Schindler.
Several commenters to yesterday’s post made a valid point: the time for sharing dismay is over and the time for action is here.
The question is: what does that action look like?
I am assuming that most Americans appalled by what is happening are already working to get out the vote–volunteering for candidates, bringing lawsuits to counter the GOP’s constant efforts to disenfranchise people who might vote Democratic, calling their Senators and Representatives, writing letters to the editor and posting opinions on blogs and social media. I hope–but do not know–that marches and demonstrations are being planned; if they are, even old folks like me will participate.
Yet none of this seems adequate to the challenge.
I ended yesterday’s post with a question asking readers to characterize the last decade. I will end this one with a far more important question: what should we be doing that we aren’t doing? What additional, specific actions can ordinary people take that will be effective?
Our current situation is the result of the deterioration of democratic practices and civic participation that has been going on “under the radar” for a number of years. But I am convinced that, once the Trump administration made the consequences of that deterioration too visible to ignore, most Americans have been appalled. I continue to believe that–no matter how unAmerican the behavior of our federal government , no matter how contrary to our ideals and self-image– the majority of Americans are good people who do not and will not endorse policies grounded in stupidity, hatred and bigotry.
The question is: What are the concrete steps those good people can take to ensure that “it can’t happen here”?