Margaret Jones, 12/3/16
Wikipedia defines dehumanization as “a behavior or process that undermines individuality of and in others.” Many have said that this is what Hitler did to the Jews in Nazi Germany with the constant inundation of brutal propaganda that painted them as demons or devils and scapegoated them for most of their economic problems. Like all racism, some of the stereotypes given to Jews were blatant and others, the more pervasive ones, were more subtle. I say “many have said,” not because I deny what Hitler did, but because I want to be careful not to discount the years leading up to his dictatorship which laid the groundwork for him. Racism against the Jews existed long before Hitler published Mein Kampf. It pervaded all, or at least most of Europe, and even extended its ugly reach into America. Once the full extent of the Holocaust was revealed, I think we rushed to bury that past and make up for it as much as we could, but I don’t think it does anyone any good to forget. Hitler was able to rise to power because the socioeconomic landscape was primed for a man such as him, and he took advantage of that. Until recently, I felt as though Trump and his friends on the alt-right were working to dehumanize large portions of the populace. I was wrong. Trump, like Hitler, was taking advantage of a socioeconomic landscape primed for a man such as himself.
You see, most of the minority groups that were targeted during his campaign have already been dehumanized to a large portion of white voters. “Muslim” has come to mean “terrorist;” “Mexican” is “illegal immigrant,” which in turn is “rapist” and “job-stealer;” “black person” is “criminal” and “violent;” “LGBTQ” is “sexual deviant” and “pervert;” and a “woman” is just a “half-person,” no good unless they are supporting a man and if they dare speak out of turn they are “feminazis.” Looking back, it’s hard to say exactly when this happened. Racism has deep roots in this country that go way back to its very founding, and sexism is similar. Maybe there’s an argument to be made that some of us were never actually seen as human enough to dehumanize in the first place, or maybe we made progress only to see it roll back again in recent years. But the end result is the same: our nation is in serious trouble, and we laid the groundwork.
Now something else is happening, something that also sees its reflection in the years of Nazi Germany; “liberal” is becoming synonymous with “bad person” and “unpatriotic.” We are the evil overlords who have been dividing and ruining the country, and Trump, along with the alt-right (our new National Socialists), have come to save the country from us. When we sympathize with Muslims and immigrants we are un-American. When we protest we are un-American. There is, in fact, nothing we can do to not be seen as un-American except comply with the new standard for normal. The message has become very clear: we are supposed to sit down and shut up, while they reclaim the country from us. And if we so much as whimper when they come for our rights, we are hateful and divisive. Conservatism is the new religion of America, and we are being asked to convert. If America goes in the same direction as Nazi Germany, soon our only options will be to convert or get out.
I would like to think that America is different. That what happened there could never happen here. Because there are too many good people who do not accept these divisive stereotypes or dehumanization; because we are a nation built on protest and revolution, and we will always stand up against injustice; because what happened in Nazi Germany was just too unimaginably awful that it couldn’t happen again. But it can. In fact, similar atrocities have occurred in other countries around the world. Our voices can be silenced. Our rights can be taken. I hope that this is not our future. I hope that America is teetering on the line between significant disaster and significant progress, and we can still push her back towards progress. But our only chance is to speak up now and loudly and hope that we are not already too late. Hope that the years we spent ignoring a problem this deep aren’t about to make us pay for it. Hope that there is still time.
We must never forget that we laid the groundwork for a new Hitler, and we bear the responsibility of what happens next. That means that the burden lies with us to organize and fight back. We have spent too many years just holding the line, and now they have pushed right through us. It’s time we start pushing back.