Many years ago, there was a television mini-series about the Holocaust. My mother came over and watched the final episode with me and my (very young) children, and I still remember her firm declaration after it concluded, to the effect that she couldn’t understand the “good Germans” who kept quiet, went along and declined to get involved. She was adamant that she would not have been one of them–that she would have resisted.
I remember telling her that I wished I could be so certain. It’s easy to watch injustice and horrific behaviors from the safety of the sofa and reassure ourselves that we would be among the “good guys,” the ones who did what they knew was right no matter the consequences.
Incredible as it seems, it appears we’re going to have a chance to find out what kind of Americans we really are. Will we be among the apologists who dismiss what is happening (after all, the President isn’t coming for people like me…) and characterize the shock and anger displayed by millions of Americans as “hysteria” and “over-reaction”? Will we be like the pious “Christians” who evidently believe that morality only involves what happens below the human waist, and who evidently skipped over all those biblical references to taking in the stranger and caring for the poor and weak? Or will we go along with the self-proclaimed “patriots” we have elected–the ones who always wear a flag pin and ostentatiously carry copies of a Constitution to which they give lip service but which they read selectively, if at all?
Several readers noted that the unAmerican Executive Order refusing to admit refugees and “certain others” wasn’t even the worst thing Trump did yesterday. While that order got most of the attention, he placed his chief political strategist, Stephen Bannon, on the National Security Council, and limited the roles of both the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Bannon–the White Nationalist and neo-Nazi sympathizer who ran Breitbart, the far-Right propaganda site– will now be a regular attendee of the Cabinet-level forum that deals with national security. The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, however, won’t be.
It is hard to believe the extent of Trump’s assault on American values and institutions in just ten days. And it is dispiriting to see the cowardice of our elected officials in the face of that assault.
It is telling that neither Ryan nor McConnell have spoken out. No profiles in courage there, or among most GOP Senators and Representatives. (Credit where credit is due: Lindsay Graham and John McCain have spoken out, and strongly.)
So much for checks and balances.
I have no idea what will happen to this country I love over the next few months and years. We are in uncharted territory. But I do know one thing: this assault on the rule of law will challenge the strength of our democratic institutions, our American commitment to liberty and equality, and the willingness of each of us to stand up for those principles.
This is our test, and it’s pass/fail.