The Wannsee Conference… is not regarded as the point at which the policy [of extermination] was confirmed rather than initiated. It remains an important juncture, however, the moment when barbarism and technology joined together in the most demonic alliance ever. If Hitler found ‘willing executioners’ among his own people, he also found them among his conquered subjects… The Holocaust was enacted in the fevered dreamscapes of Eastern Europe where… Holocaust was a state of mind before it was Nazi policy.
–Latvian-Canadian historian Modris Eksteins, Walking Since Daybreak (Mariner Books, 1999).
The above quote has stuck with me ever since I read Eksteins’s book over a decade ago. Partly because I had visited the former Jewish ghetto in Vilnus, Lithuania and had frequented a square in Klaipeda at least partly famous for being the locus of a speech by Hitler. It came back to me today when someone suggested that the Trump candidacy, if he loses tomorrow, will have been a net good since at least the truth has come out—we now know the extent of the racism in the right wings of much of America.
I do not agree. Had the technology of Nazism not met the barbarism of anti-semitism already latent in parts of Poland and the Baltics, then would the lives of Jews and Roma been fine? Certainly not. But neither would millions of Jews and Roma had been exterminated because of the legitimating of the barbarism through the election of Hitler.
Is Trump Hitler? No, of course not (The reason such comparisons are useful is to make stark one’s reason not to make a direct comparison). The chances that Muslims, Latinos, and Blacks would be exterminated is minimal, thank goodness. But the nomination of someone who so regularly spews racist and xenophobic rhetoric legitimizes a hatred for the Other. Trump claims to be the voice of his people, which may be the case in some ways. But that voice would be better bottled up. The frustrations with immigrants (like Somalis in Minnesota—Trump’s most recent target of his rhetoric) doing things differently would be better off not expressed. Time may not heal all wounds, but it might keep them from becoming gangrenous.
For the conservative, there are certainly better, more benign choices than to hold one’s nose and vote for Trump. Four more years of left-of-center policies are four more years to create a constructive right-of-center policy. It may not be ideal for those who lean Republican, but neither is Trump, who has little regard for conservatism anyway. At best, he will fumble his way through a term, fighting with his own party and flaming out. At worst, well, I’d rather not entertain those thoughts. Such a task can be the opposite of constructive.
(See also “Is Donald Trump a Sodomite?“)