The rise of Trump – Where are we now? #HMD2017

TODAY is Holocaust Memorial Day – the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz which marked the end of the extreme prejudice and discrimination which led to the extermination of millions of Jews and other minorities.

Or did it?

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust also commemorates other genocides in more recent times – Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and more. Surely we have learned the lessons of the past? How could we stand by and let this happen again?

Are we standing by and letting it happen again?

This meme circulating on social media comparing the rise of Trump to Hitler’s acquisition of power. It claims we are on Step 2 of 5 which enabled Hitler to commit genocide.

This appears to ignore the fact that hate crimes against minorities began to rise during the election campaign – as Trump mocked women, people with disabilities, Mexicans and Muslims, among others, those who admired his ‘straight talking’ felt their prejudices were legitimised. So much so that three weeks after Trump’s election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported on a ‘national outbreak of hate’, citing 867 reported hate incidents in ten days.

Another list is circulating of Trump’s actions in his first week in office (is it really only a week?), which includes ordering the construction of a wall on the Mexican border, a registry of Muslims, and a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants. Many of Trump’s supporters are also justifying his (and their) prejudice in terms of their extreme version of Christianity.

And just in case we here in the UK are tempted to feel superior or complacent – reported racist incidents rose by 41%, and homophobic incidents by 147%, following the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in June 2016.

Do we recognise the signs?

In 1954, US psychologist Gordon Allport published The Nature of Prejudice, in which he published this Escalation Model of Prejudice and Discrimination.

He derived this from a study of the rise of Nazism in an attempt to understand how the Holocaust could happen.

Reflecting on the events of the last year:

  • Where do you think we are on this scale now?
  • Could we have foreseen this a year ago?
  • What could we have done to de-escalate the rise of prejudice?
  • What can we do now?

We need to be the change we want to see, and call out prejudice and discrimination  in all its forms, not just those which affect the groups with which we may identify.

If we don’t speak in solidarity with others, how can we expect others to speak for us?

This is the question behind the famous poem by anti-Nazi- pastor Martin Niemöller, First they came

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

What would Martin Niemöller write today? This was the question Jewish writer Gideon Lichfield asked in 2016, with this version for the USA today:

First Trump came for the women
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a woman.

Then Trump came for the people with disabilities
And I did not speak out
Because I did not have a disability.

Then Trump came for the African Americans
And I did not speak out
Because I was not African American.

Then Trump came for the Mexicans
And I did not speak out
Because I was not Mexican.

Then Trump came for the Muslims
And I did not speak out
Because I was not Muslim.

Then Trump came for the gay, bi, and trans people
And I did not speak out
Because I was not gay, bi or trans.

Then Trump came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then Trump came for the journalists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a journalist.

Then Trump came for the judges
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a judge.

And now Trump is coming for the Constitution of the United States
And if I do not speak out, what am I?

The Golden Rule, a teaching common to all the major spiritual and ethical traditions of the world, is summed up in the Christian Gospel simply as ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. When an expert in law tries to test Jesus, he responds with the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), in which the Samaritan, the one without power and privilege, who is marginalised and prejudiced against, responds with mercy to the victim abandoned by the roadside. On hearing the story, the expert in law concluded that to be a neighbour means to be one who shows mercy to the one who is victimised.

So who is my neighbour? There’s the challenge – it’s not only ‘the one who shows mercy’, but also the one by the roadside and the one who has power and privilege, those like and unlike me, with whom I agree or disagree, and those closest to me. I know I have a right to be respected and cared for – I also have a responsibility to offer the same to others.

History only repeats itself if we let it – on Holocaust Memorial Day, let’s ask ourselves: who is our neighbour?

In 2009 I accompanied a group of ten LGBT young people to Auschwitz – click here to read about and watch the documentary they made.

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