Sally Kohn: That many fellow Americans have been willing to vote in primaries for Trump, a protofascist hatemonger, is depressing
Fellow citizens, she says: Wake up! History shows that waiting as hate takes hold in a country can have disastrous results
She says Americans must stand against the forces of hate in this election and not stand by silently
Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Since Super Tuesday, I’ve been depressed. Admittedly, it was a long time coming. But somehow the realization that a significant percentage of my fellow Americans have been willing to cast a ballot for a protofascist hatemonger somehow finally sunk in.
This becomes especially worrisome if you factor in the votes for the overtly bigoted Donald Trump and the slightly more subtle but potentially far more dangerous, hate-fueled Ted Cruz. Then the math starts to look a little too much like the early moments of Adolf Hitler’s rise in Germany.
Don’t forget: Hitler first rose to national prominence in Germany not by seizing power but by running for president. He lost, but 36.8% of Germans voted for him.
Now, the likes of comedian Louis C.K. and Glenn Beck have compared Trump to Hitler. And the critique is gaining so much traction that Trump himself is now feeling put on the defensive. Asked about how having supporters at his rallies raise their hands and pledge to vote for Trump is leading to photos eerily recalling Nazi salutes, Trump was dismissive.
“I don’t want to offend anyone,” he said Tuesday morning, adding it’s just something he and his followers do “for fun.”
There are certainly plenty of contrasts with post-WWI Germany. Primarily, despite what many conservative voters might think, the United States economy is recovering, and we’re enjoying our 71st consecutive month of private sector job growth.
But there is undeniably a deep anger spreading, mainly among older white voters, and being harnessed – even touched off – by Trump. What’s troubling is where it could lead.
Are enough Americans willing to vote for a presidential candidate who smears Mexicans and denigrates Muslims all while talking about punching protesters in the face and playing footsie with the KKK? Yes, yes they might be.
As a Jewish American whose family came from Germany and Russia, I don’t make this analogy lightly.
I know very well what I’m suggesting, just as Trump surely knows that he is deliberately stoking the hate-tinged anger of a swath of white voters whose desperation and resentment only seems to grow as their numbers shrink. These are dark times indeed.
So I confessed all this to a friend as the sun started setting the day after Super Tuesday and my dark sense of foreboding was setting in.
And she texted back to me: “There is always light – there is never darkness – did you know that? There is always light there, it’s just less light, but there is no such thing as no light, pure darkness.” Which is apparently scientifically true. Darkness, in the sense that we know it on Earth anyway, isn’t the actual absence of light just the absence of visible or discernible light.
“Now that is a revelation of sorts,” my friend added.
Yes, yes it is.
I had been depressed by the notion that in an era in which our country is still engaged in the struggle to achieve full economic and racial justice, a struggle punctuated by moments of progress – from the election of our nation’s first black president to the achievement of marriage equality and more – so many Americans see the advancements of others as a strike against themselves.
I’m not naive. I know that in a nation founded and wound through with white supremacy and misogyny, change doesn’t come without resistance. The backlash we’re seeing now – the one that brought us Trump – is the direct result of progress. It is the dark side on the other side of the daylight of social change.
I should find hope in the backlash, that people feel the need to backlash against something. But instead, I’m scared. And sad.
And then I was reminded of the light.
The light isn’t some vague sense of optimism in the long arc of history bending toward justice. The light is neither passive nor inevitable. Like all light, it requires energy. Action. The light, in case you don’t realize it yet, is my fellow Americans. You. I don’t mean you in the abstract plural sense. I mean YOU! The individual, actual, you reading this. You are our nation’s salvation. Our nation’s hope.
The time for worrying and fretting and rocking back and forth in the fetal position is over.
This is not a drill, America. Donald Trump – or worse, Ted Cruz – could become president of our nation. Although I am frightened about what they would do in office, I’m even more frightened about what their supporters would do with a boundless sense of empowerment.
Imagine what they would do if they felt emboldened and enabled by the presidency?
We’ve seen enough hatred in this country against our current President not because of what he stands for but simply who he is. Imagine how much worse things could get under a president who encourages such hatred or even just looks the other way.
The co-conspirator of evil is silence. We know from history that demagogues and genocidal regimes have taken root not necessarily because they had majority support but because the majority remained silent as the injustices built.
In the past few days, too many decent Americans have told me they’re not worried about the election because Donald Trump can’t win. Well let me tell you, anything can happen in an election. But the surefire way for Trump or Cruz to become president is for those of us who oppose them to assume they won’t and, through our passivity let it happen.
It’s time to wake up, America. It’s time to scream from the rooftops. It’s time to shine a giant light on social change and progress and defend it with every fiber of our beings. And I don’t just mean complaining about Trump to your friends at parties or posting a hashtag on social media. I mean using your mind, body and voice to stand in the way of injustice and stand up for fairness and equality.
How do you do that? By refusing to stereotype Muslims and objecting when others do so around you. By defending not what is derided as political correctness but doing what’s correct – the simple idea of treating everyone respectfully. By being a witness to and even taking the risk to intervene in police harassment and brutality against minorities. By standing up for the idea that in America, we all do better when we all do better.
Even if 63% of Germans didn’t vote for Hitler that first time around, many went along willingly eventually. And many no doubt wanted to object, to fight back, but by then it was too late.
It’s not too late to save America from the dark and cancerous hatred surging in the veins of these angry voters and their figureheads. It is not too late to protect our principles and preserve the progress we’ve made and keep fighting for more.
History teaches us not to be complacent. And my friend taught me that even in the very darkest of moments, light persists. There can be no darkness without light. There can be no America without the good people who preserve its ideals, no matter how imperfectly realized, who fight to keep making our country better instead of letting us descend into division and hate.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was the big winner Tuesday night. She had strong victories in Florida and North Carolina and won her native state of Illinois. But Ohio was a particularly welcome win, coming just a week after Bernie Sanders scored an upset with Rust Belt voters in Michigan. The message that the Sanders campaign tried to send was that Clinton was a “regional candidate” who could only win states with large percentages of black and brown voters.