The current U.S. president is often compared to Nazis. From those opposing abuse of asylum seekers and immigrant children, we hear the slogan “never again,” and references to “concentration camps.” Yes, there is a long and real history of concentration camps globally and in the United States. But, let’s face it, the phrase is being used because of its Nazi associations.
That’s not totally unfair. Nazism, the apartheid movement in South Africa, and the Lost Cause/Klan right wing here in the United States that our president relies on for support are closely linked. All three are expressions of shame, denial, and brutality by members of a defeated white population. But why tie him to Nazis and not our own Lost Causers?
I believe this Nazi comparison aims to make the president especially alien. He is not “who we are” as Americans, we are told. But those who believe that, though they know that the Continental Army didn’t capture Dulles Airport, have still fallen for a naive version of our nation’s story that presumes white innocence.
No nation founded on genocide and a vicious slavery system can expect to be free of their impacts a few centuries later. Entitled bigotry pervades our white population. We are not ruled absolutely by enslavers or open bigots, but not because that’s “not who we are.” That is who a lot of us are.
The reason we are not ruled by enslavers or totally unashamed bigots is because, spearheaded by Black Americans, the forces of justice won the War of the Rebellion. Then they rose again and defeated segregation. These were real victories, though not final victories.
Early in the 20th century, ignorance, bigotry and arrogance bounced back with abuse of immigrants and broad white support for racist tyranny in the South. After the Freedom Movement, white reaction responded to burgeoning justice movements well before Trump with Reagan, Gingrich, Ailes and the Koches, and also with “moderate” Democrats like Bill Clinton who joined in mass incarceration and demonizing the poor.
But when black lives — and black political intelligence have taken the lead and mobilized effectively, democracy has moved forward for the vast majority of people. It’s always a tough struggle. But as the U.S. Colored Troops sang on their way to beating the Rebels:
For God is for the right, and we have no need to fear --
The Union must be saved by the colored volunteer.
As much as it might comfort some to think so, Donald Trump is not a zombie Nazi from some alien nightmare. He is all ours. He will join others of ours like Jeff Davis and Sheriff Jim Clark and Winchester’s James Murray Mason and Harry Flood Byrd Sr. on the rubbish pile of our history.
We don’t protect ourselves from his kind by pretending they are mysterious interlopers. We are best protected by the political wisdom African Americans have gained at great cost, wisdom that asks we whites to repair the multigenerational harm we have done, and to restrain our cousins who have strayed into evil.