This week we observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day, reflecting on the genocide of some six million European Jews. While the day passed with somber moments of reverence and acknowledgement by people of all political stripes, some of the important lessons of the Holocaust have still gone ignored.
Antisemitism is on the rise in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League recorded 1,879 antisemitic acts in 2018, a marked increase in physical antisemitic assaults, and the most deadly attack on Jews in U.S. history at the Tree of Life Synagogue. A survey by the American Jewish Committee found that 88% of American Jews say antisemitism is a problem in the United States and 84% say antisemitism has increased over the past five years.
Democratic representative Ilhan Omar was excoriated by democrats as much as republicans last year for comments widely deemed antisemitic, for which she later apologized. But republicans seldom police their own when Donald Trump and other GOP members make antisemitic remarks and campaign ads. They frequently use antisemitic tropes about Jews pulling the levers of power and advance conspiracy theories about George Soros, a prominent Jew, funding everything from migrant caravans to paid protesters to crisis actors (and stories that George Soros was a nazi accomplice, despite his being 14 years-old at the time…and Jewish). The term “globalist,” long recognized as antisemitic code, is thrown around by republicans with regularity. Fox pundits have defended antisemites on their programs. Representative Matt Gaetz invited a Holocaust denier to be his guest to the 2018 State of the Union. Trump has called American Jews that vote for democrats (the overwhelming majority) disloyal. He has retweeted at least six Twitter accounts that have since been suspended for open antisemitism and racism, including one account whose self-identified location was “Jewmerica.” While signing an executive order condemning antisemitism, Trump invited two evangelical leaders to speak at the event: John Hagee, who has said that “half-breed Jews” were responsible for the Holocaust and that a prominent Jewish family controlled the Federal Reserve, and Robert Jeffress, who once said Jews were going to hell. Just this week, the White House granted press credentials to TruNews, a far-right Christian media outlet whose founder recently aired a segment in which he called Trump’s impeachment a “Jew coup” planned by a “Jewish cabal,” said that the hearings were “infested with Jews,” and that Jews are liars and deceivers. In addition to antisemitism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia continue to be enjoyed openly by Trump and many GOP lawmakers, pundits, and candidates who have heralded “alt-right” ideology into mainstream political discourse. A number of avowed neo-nazis and white supremacists even ran as republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.
Otherism is a core tenet of the GOP political agenda as they routinely promote the concept of “real Americans.” Live in New York or California? You’re not a real American, you’re a coastal elite. Pay no mind to Chicagoans or Bostonians, they’re just out-of-touch urbanites. Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel’s argument against impeachment is that it’s led by representatives from California, New York, and Massachusetts, as if people from those states — fully 30% of the American population — don’t count. Jeff Sessions dismissed federal justice Derrick Watson as “a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific.” Apparently the opinions of Ivy-League educated, unanimously-confirmed judges can be derided if they’re from faraway places like [checks notes] The United States of America. Birmingham has higher rates of gun violence than Chicago and Cleveland more rats than Baltimore, but Ohioans and Alabamans are good, decent Americans, and therefore remain sheltered from republican criticism. So strong is this idea of “real Americans” that even Mayor Pete Buttigieg recently cited his proximity to cornfields as a qualification for the presidency and Senator Amy Klobuchar regularly touts her “Midwest sensibility” on the stump.
Otherism has taken a turn for the absolutely vile by some republicans, spearheaded by their ignominious leader. Thousands of fans cheered as Trump called for crackdowns on Somali refugees at a rally in the city with the largest Somali population in the country. At another rally, Trump and the crowd laughed at a supporter’s suggestion of shooting migrants and reveled in “send her back” chants about a nonwhite congresswoman, after he tweeted that she and her three minority colleagues should go back to where they came from (fun fact: it’s America). Trump has used the words “invasion” (13 times), “animal” (34 times), “predator” (31 times), and “killer” (32 times) when riffing on immigration. Trump’s tweet describing how immigrants “infest” our country has 97,000 likes and almost 24,000 retweets. Trump has used grief-stricken families that have lost loved ones from undocumented immigrants to perpetuate the lie that undocumented immigrants cause more violent crime than American citizens, despite every data point we have showing the exact opposite. It should surprise no one that when a shooter targeting Mexicans killed 22 people in El Paso, his motivation of stopping the “Hispanic invasion” matched Trump’s language almost verbatim.
Predictably, the repulsive rhetoric has spilled into the policy arena. One of America’s great historic shames is our refusal of thousands of German Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, at one point even turning away a boatload of European Jews at our shore. Under the banner of America First, the Trump administration is revisiting this disgraceful past. It has banned immigrants from eight countries and drastically cut the annual refugee cap to 50,000 in its first year (down from 110,000 established by Obama administration), to just 18,000 last year. States now must actively opt into the Refugee Resettlement Program, and are not required to participate — an option the governor of Texas recently took. 100 refugee resettlement offices have closed or suspended their services nationwide. Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy has forced thousands of asylum-seekers coming to the U.S. to stay in exceedingly dangerous conditions in Mexico while waiting to hear news of their applications. Our immigration court backlog now tops 1.3 million cases, but instead of allocating resources to alleviate a system at its breaking point, Congress agreed to $1.375 billion for a border wall to keep people out. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s expansion of the Public Charge Rule, essentially a wealth test that permits officials to deny green cards to applicants who may be likely to use any public benefit and order them deported. Our humanitarian crisis at the border continues — 52,000 migrants are currently held in custody at our squalid detention centers, including 3,900 migrant children. The Department of Justice argued last year that soap, blankets, and sleep were not necessary for detention centers to meet the definition of “safe and sanitary” for migrants housed there. In the spring, the Supreme Court will hear more arguments over Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans brought to this country as children hang in the balance as they stare down deportation to countries many have never known.
To be sure, Trump is not Hitler and the examples offered here pale in comparison to the horror of the Holocaust. But the feelings of racial resentment, nativism, and lack of human empathy stem from the same dark place from which the Holocaust sprung. Almost daily, Trump and GOP politicians and pundits continue to chip away at the humanity of people they don’t consider to be “real Americans,” in ways big and small. Trump seized on republican fear of the “other” to nudge himself just over the electoral line in 2016, but he played on a resentment that lay dormant in much of the GOP base for years, its shameful flames fanned by a party unable to win votes on popular policy. And I can’t help but think, during this week of Holocaust remembrance, of how little we actually seem to remember.