As I have recounted, I have little sympathy for Trump supporters who, in my view, were motivated by foul emotions that boil down to hatred towards others and irresponsible selfishness. With the collapse of Republicans' Obamacare "repeal and replacement," effort, many Trump supporters may dodge the bullet of losing healthcare coverage. But there is much else that may yet come home to roost for them before the Trump/Pence nightmare is over. Trump's proposed budget cuts could hit Appalachia especially hard and poor/working class whites who voted for Trump may yet pay a high price for giving into their racism and embrace of ignorance, not to mention their open willingness to ignore the uglier aspects of the Trump/GOP agenda. Besides seeking to destroy the social safety net, this agenda is marked by its effort to dehumanize non-whites, LGBT citizens, and non-Christians. Personally, I cannot grasp the mind set that willingly sees others as less than human and/or undeserving of what each of us wants for ourselves and our loved ones. Worse of all, is the participation of supposed Christians in this open hatred of those deemed "other." The phenomenon is especially foul when directed at children who had no role in determining the race of their birth, the religion of their parents or where they were born. Transgender youth are another disturbing target of Republicans and these self-anointed "godly folks."
How does one buy into such malignant treatment of others? An op-ed in the New York Times offers a possible glimpse. The piece is authored by the granddaughter of a German member of the Nazi Party in the late 1930's and first half of the 1940's. It focuses on the deliberate refusal to admit the horrors being done and the refrain of "we did not know" despite all the evidence that shows that it was impossible not to know. I see a similar mindset and denial in "friends" who voted for Trump - some of whom I have now severed relationships with - and who truly should have known better. Here are op-ed highlights:
My grandparents were Nazis. It took me until recently to be able to say — or write — this. I used to think of and refer to them as “ordinary Germans,” as if that was a distinct and morally neutral category. But like many “ordinary Germans,” they were members of the Nazi Party — they joined in 1937, before it was mandatory.
Understanding why and how this woman I knew and loved was swept up in a movement that became synonymous with evil has been, for me, a lifelong question.
They joined the Nazi Party to be youth leaders in an agricultural education program called the Landjahr, or “year on the land,” in which teenagers got agricultural training. My grandmother always maintained that she had joined the Nazis as an “idealist” drawn to the vision of rebuilding Germany, returning to a simpler time and, perversely, promoting equality.
In the Landjahr, sons and daughters of factory workers would live and work side by side with sons and daughters of aristocrats and wealthy industrialists. She liked the idea of returning to “traditional” German life, away from the confusing push and pull of a global economy.
Through research, I understand the Landjahr program was part of Hitler’s larger “Blut und Boden” (“blood and soil”) vision of making Germany a racially pure, agrarian society. The “racially pure” part was not something my grandmother ever mentioned.
“We didn’t know” was a kind of mantra for her on the long walks we took when I visited her at the farm she lived on, not far from where she grew up. “But didn’t you hear what Hitler was saying?” I would ask, grappling with the moral paradox of a loving grandmother who had been a Nazi.
My grandmother would shrug and answer something like, “He said a lot of things — I didn’t listen to all of them.” . . . . And anyway, she was focused on her own problems, on making ends meet and, once the war began, protecting her children.
This insistence on her own ignorance was an excuse, and I didn’t and still don’t accept it. It is impossible that she wouldn’t have known of Hitler’s virulent anti-Semitism and the Nazis’ objective of ousting Jews, whom Hitler had falsely (but successfully) linked to a Bolshevik terrorist threat. But did she follow what she knew of Hitler’s plan to its horrific, unimaginable end? In the late 1930s there was talk of sending Jews to Madagascar and to “settlements” in the east. But even if she believed this, why wasn’t she appalled at the injustice? At the dangerous stripping of rights?
In German there are two words for knowing: “wissen,” which is associated with wisdom and learning, and “kennen,” which is like being acquainted. Acquaintance is, by definition, a surface understanding, susceptible to manipulation.
When you are “acquainted with” something it’s much easier to see only part of the whole. Especially if the other half of what you hear and see is appealing. Hitler brought back jobs and opportunity, restored national pride and told seductive, simplifying lies . . . .
“But what did you think when you started hearing the rumors about concentration camps?” I would press her. “Didn’t you ever listen to the foreign news reports?”
“Allied propaganda” was my grandmother’s answer. That’s what Hitler said it was. And she, like many Germans, trusted him. Her trust, apparently, relieved her of the need to understand.
My grandmother heard what she wanted from a leader who promised simple answers to complicated questions. She chose not to hear and see the monstrous sum those answers added up to. And she lived the rest of her life with the knowledge of her indefensible complicity.
"Friends" who voted for Trump would be most upset to be likened to Nazi Party members, but in my view the parallels are on point. They heard what they wanted to hear, made a deliberate effort not to know the truth by remaining in the Fox News/Breitbart bubble, and some sadly bought into the racism and white supremacy hook line and sinker. They are complicit in a foul agenda and, if FBI investigations reveal Trump/Pence collusion with Russia, treason. They deserve no sympathy, no efforts to be understood and they need to be held accountable.