Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trump's First Nine Days

Where collective national morality is concerned, Germans in the 1930s had an advantage which Americans in 2017  lack: those Germans could not look back at Nazi Germany as a historical cautionary tale of what can happen when ethno-religious scapegoating is encoded into law. They could say they didn't know any better. We damned well cannot.

And here we are now, little more than a week into Trump's presidency, and even my cynical, government-distrustin' self never thought things would get this bad this fast. (Not that we're anywhere near Full Nazi – even the actual Nazis were in power for four years before kick-starting the Holocaust with the 1938 Kristallnacht – but Trump's rang up an impressively awful collection of achievements in nine mere days.)

Start with his inaugural speech, apparently written by his white nationalist adviser Steve Bannon and filled with racist dog whistles, such as the references to “poverty in our inner cities” and “crime and gangs and drugs” and “American carnage” (read: black people, black people, black people), and the appalling use of the phrase “America first,” the exact slogan adopted by American fascists in the 1930s.

Then Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer held his first press conference and offered a ridiculous, easy-to-disprove lie, claiming that Trump's inaugural  crowd was the biggest one ever, even though social media had spent all of inauguration day sharing photos comparing the enormous inaugural crowd for Obama in 2009 compared to the much sparser turnout for Trump.

You'd think that for a wannabe president, Inauguration Day would be one of the proudest and happiest of his life, but a couple days after the inaugural, the Washington Post published a disturbing account of how our thin-skinned new president spent the day:
President Trump had just returned to the White House on Saturday from his final inauguration event, a tranquil interfaith prayer service, when the flashes of anger began to build.
Trump turned on the television to see a jarring juxtaposition — massive demonstrations around the globe protesting his day-old presidency and footage of the sparser crowd at his inauguration, with large patches of white empty space on the Mall.

As his press secretary, Sean Spicer, was still unpacking boxes in his spacious new West Wing office, Trump grew increasingly and visibly enraged.

Pundits were dissing his turnout. The National Park Service had retweeted a photo unfavorably comparing the size of his inauguration crowd with the one that attended Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony in 2009. … 
(For what it's worth, had I been one of Trump's babysitters that day, I'd have tried to reassure him by pointing out that Obama's first inauguration would naturally have a larger turnout, due to its historic impact: no surprise that the nation's first-ever black president would have a larger turnout than its umpteenth white one. But then, had I pointed this out Trump likely would have fired me.)

Fast-forward to last Friday, Holocaust Remembrance Day, when President Trump released a (presumably Bannon-inspired) statement which made no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism – which, incidentally, is a favorite technique of Holocaust deniers: they don't deny that the Nazis killed some people, they simply deny that the Nazis had any particularly murderous animus toward Jews.

Worse yet, that same day Trump signed a monstrous (and likely unconstitutional) executive order banning Syrian refugees from entering the country, and also denying entry to people from seven Muslim-majority countries – including U.S. residents with green cards, and people already issued lawful entry visas. (On the other hand, none of the Muslim-majority countries where Trump has business interests are on the list.) Iraqis who aided American forces in the war over there are banned from entering the US, since Iraq is on the list.

I'm not personally acquainted with anyone affected by the ban, but I have several friends who are. One woman I know, a childhood friend who graduated from MIT and is still active in school functions (mentoring students and the like), said that an Iranian student attending school on a student visa visited her family over winter break and is now forbidden from returning to her school, apartment and worldly possessions. Another friend of mine, a man living in Washington State, had an even more infuriating story to report:
A cohort from graduate school of Syrian birth with a multiple entry student visa was denied reentry to the US earlier in the week for his scheduled return from work in one of the refugee camps. He was told at the airport in Turkey that his visa had been cancelled. He has a pregnant wife and a job here that he's been separated from, because he went back to help people. 
Such pointless, gratuitous, wanton cruelty. And Trump's only been in office for nine days.

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