I told you so.
Five years ago, in November of 2015, I watched and listened with disbelief as people in power of different kinds — politics, business, news media — debated or flatly accepted atrocious, even horrific statements and proposed actions that even in my wildest imaginings I never dreamed might take place in this country.
I knew I was witnessing the advent of a leader who could do great damage, and who would do that damage if the people of the United States of America stepped aside and allowed him to do it.
I discussed these concerns in an essay called “The Dangers of Dismissing Donald Trump’s Hateful Rhetoric,” and an editor from a major national news magazine wrote to me that “any comparison between 1930s Europe and the United States is hyperbole and not something we would consider publishing.”
To be clear, any comparison I made in 2015 between Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler was a comparison between two charismatic up-and-coming politicians who were dismissed broadly by opponents and by columnists, news editors and other pundits as clowns.
Candidate Trump criticized an American judge of Mexican ancestry in such a way that then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said it was “the textbook definition of a racist comment. I disavow.” Ryan then immediately endorsed Donald Trump for the presidency. His action shook me to my core. This, I thought, this is how the worst possible endings begin.
Candidate Donald Trump said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.” Incredible, too, that a candidate for the presidency even suggested this and continued to be supported by his party and nearly all members of the party. When Trump says he could shoot “somebody,” the implication is that he could shoot anybody. These words shook me to my core.
I was not suggesting that Donald Trump might be responsible for mass deaths of his fellow American people.
I was wrong.
Election day is just over two weeks from now. Here’s a list of only some of the deaths that can be attributed to this president:
- 218,000 deaths from COVID-19, an unimaginable share of which would have been prevented through responsible governance and public health management. Instead, Donald Trump has cued the followers whom he has cultivated to regard him with the perceived divinity of a death-cult leader to believe in the opposite of reality. As Bob Woodward told Wolf Blitzer on CNN this week in reference to Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), whom I’ll discuss in a moment, we now live in an era in which the Republican party has adopted a norm by which truth must be whispered in private and fantastical lies must be upheld as truths publicly.
- At least 24 people, including at least seven children, have been killed in concentration camps under the charge of United States forces by mandate of President Donald J. Trump. Regarding my use of the term “concentration camp,” in an audio recording released yesterday, Sen. Sasse, a notable supporter and promoter of Donald Trump and his policies who voted to prohibit witnesses from testifying to the Senate during impeachment hearings and who voted to acquit the president of high crimes and misdemeanors, acknowledges that these makeshift prisons at the southern border are “actual concentration camps.” The audio is below. This is important. Journalists were reporting on inhumane conditions in these detention centers in 2018. Donald J. Trump was acquitted on impeachment charges in February of 2020. Sen. Ben Sasse was one of the Republican senators who voted to acquit Donald J. Trump, despite understanding that Trump had ordered “literal concentration camps” where well over 5,000 children have been forcibly taken away from their families. While most other Republicans deny that they believe intentional crimes are being committed, Sen. Sasse’s words indicate that he has full understanding that he has enabled crimes against humanity for political convenience. Certainly, he cannot be the only one, but he is one who has confessed to this, albeit believing the public never would hear the confession.
- About the recent killing of activist Michael Reinoehl by armed forces, Donald Trump boasted during a campaign rally in North Carolina this week, “We sent in the U.S. Marshals. Took 15 minutes, it was over. We got him.” This appears to be an admission that Donald Trump ordered the extrajudicial murder of a U.S. citizen, which is a hallmark of dictatorships illegal in the United States of America, constituting felonious murder, and which demonstrates Trump’s full confidence in his belief that he can kill someone — anyone — and get away with it. Going by his track record, he is most likely correct about that. Going by Sen. Sasse’s track record, we can expect he and other Republican supporters are likely to defend this action, bringing us closer than I ever imagined to 1940s Europe, which is many steps farther into violent extremism. U.S. Attorney General William Barr, appointed by Donald Trump to replace Jeff Sessions, who was forced out of the office for not deferential enough to Trump’s decrees, has defended Trump’s words and actions.
- In August of 2017, 21-year-old Heather Heyer was murdered by white-supremacist Donald Trump supporter James Alex Fields, Jr., during a “Unite the Right” white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va. Challenged to condemn the murder, Trump memorably claimed that white supremacy opponents who protested peacefully were partially to blame for the murder, with “very fine people on both sides.”
I’ll stop there with deaths that can be attributed directly in one way or another to Donald J. Trump’s presidency, almost none of which would have occurred outside of his direct orders.
Hatred is more than killing, though. Here are other changes in the United States of America for which Donald Trump can claim personal credit:
- Hate crime-related violence hit a 16-year high in 2019, “with a significant upswing in violence against Latinos outpacing a drop in assaults targeting Muslims and Arab-Americans,” according to the New York Times reporting on an F.B.I. analysis.
- Anti-semitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
- In the aftermath of the recorded killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Black Lives Matters protestors took to the streets to draw attention to ongoing killings of black Americans by police in the United States. During peaceful protests near the White House, Trump authorized the Secret Service to use a noxious chemical spray to clear them away so that he could cross the street for a photo op holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who oversees the church, told NPR’s Morning Edition that Trump “held up his Bible after speaking [an] inflammatory militarized approach to the wounds of our nation. He did not pray. He did not offer a word of balm or condolence to those who are grieving. He did not seek to unify the country, but rather he used our symbols and our sacred space as a way to reinforce a message that is antithetical to everything that the person of Jesus, whom we follow, and the gospel texts that we strive to emulate … represent.” His promotion of hatred and his opportunistic use of the Bible and a church as props to gain favor with churchgoers continues to work, with a recent Pew Research poll showing that 78 percent of white evangelicals, 53 percent of white non-evangelical protestants and 52 percent of white Catholics still favor Donald Trump.
- Trump’s attempts to scapegoat China for his governance failure related to COVID-19 has resulted in a surge of anti-Asian sentiment among Trump supporters and the Republican party, resulting in the U.S. House of Representatives passing a resolution to condemn his xenophobic re-naming of the virus.
- Trump regularly tweets messages that many interpret as “dog whistles” to racists, and occasionally retweets explicitly violent ones, such as a video of a supporter saying that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”
All this only touches on the erosion of the United States that has occurred over four very short and somehow simultaneously maddeningly long years.
As I said five years ago, there is great danger in dismissing Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric.
It can get worse.
It will get worse as long as people like former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan acknowledges Trump’s hatred and then embraces his candidacy.
It will get worse as long as people like Sen. Ben Sasse acknowledge privately that the president the United States has installed literal concentration camps that have separated over 5,000 families and killed dozens of human beings, including children, while publicly explicitly authorizing him to do so.
Now I have to say it, and I assert confidently regardless of what any news editor says that this is not a hyperbolic statement: What Ryan, Sasse and others who have authorized the president of the United States to act with cruel, illicit indecency have done is what citizens of Germany did as they transitioned to citizens of the Third Reich. Are we a country of Nazis or are we not? We’re more than halfway there .The outcome of the 2020 general election will determine how far we will choose to fall.