I cannot recall a time when the hypothetical question, that was phrased in various ways and went something like, “How would you have behaved had you lived in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s?”, wasn’t mooted by someone. We have finally reached that point in history where the question has ceased to be hypothetical.
Not only that, but it is shockingly easy to decide which is which, more than I would have imagined possible back in the days when the question was hypothetical, when I honestly believed it would always remain hypothetical. That perception is aided greatly by continuity: there is an unbroken link, from the death of Hitler to the present day, of a chain of people who insist they continue to carry the torch of Nazism. These days the torches are being carried both metaphorically and literally. Those torch bearers are overwhelmingly for Trump. To follow Trump today is to tell anyone who will listen that you would have followed Hitler had you been alive in the 1930s and 40s. I’m not interested in denials that you wouldn’t, either. You know who you are and your credibility is as dead as Donald Trump’s.
There’s a misleading meme circulating. It shows side by side pictures where, in one, Mike Pence and his entourage are touring a detention facility and in the other Heinrich Himmler and his entourage are touring Auschwitz. It comes with a caption to the effect that both persons are conducting the tour to prove to the press that the conditions in their respective camps are acceptable. The problem is that wasn’t true in Himmler’s case. It’s a photo of Himmler touring Auschwitz in secret. The press was not invited. Very few people knew contemporaneously about the horrors that were committed in the name of the Nazis at Auschwitz and similar places. Trump’s fascism is bolder than Hitler’s, and he’s committing many of his atrocities right out in the open.
Moreover, the Nazi industrial-scale murder of Jews and gypsies and homosexuals and “unsavoury characters” in concentration camps didn’t really enter its phase of full scale production until well after the start of World War II. It occurred as a consequence of one of the most evil meetings in history, the Wannsee Conference in January, 1942, where the “final solution” to the “Jewish question” was finally enunciated by Reinhardt Heinrich to the various branch heads of the Third Reich. From that moment forward, and under the cover of war, Hitler committed his most disturbingly evil crimes against the innocent. America is not at war – yet – but when it is be assured that will be the time when Trump and company commit their greatest evils. Trump’s pirate ship of misfits are all about distraction, and war is the greatest distraction of all.
When last year, when the separation of immigrant families, part of Steven Miller’s despicable “zero tolerance” program, was universally condemned, the Trump administration appeared to climb down from it as an act of appeasement. For a time everyone was fooled. We now know that, not only is the policy still in force, Trump and company have doubled down on the policy. Children are continuing to be held in isolation from the care of their responsible guardians and in conditions that are becoming more and more deplorable by the minute. Conditions in these concentration camps are filthier than ever for everyone in them. So much so that guards have taken to wearing protective and surgical masks to fend off the disgusting smell.
In the meantime Donald Trump continues to reinforce his narrative of “them” and “they,” the impersonal pronouns that have always been employed by autocrats when the powerful need to justify the oppression, destruction and murder of the weak and voiceless. If Trump’s unbridled persecutions continue on their logical course, it won’t be too long before he will be in a position to teach Adolf Hilter a thing or two about atrocity.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.