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The Nazification of America

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.

“Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:9
London, 1934

I know about Godwin’s Law: the first side of an argument to invoke a comparison to Hitler loses.

I also know that many different mindsets can give rise to a Hitler.

Sometimes the comparison is meaningful.

Political scientist David Rothkopf noticed an explosion of hate messages on Twitter. From 20 or 30 in a lifetime to thousands since 2016. All kinds of attacks and threats. It isn’t hard to guess what happened in 2016. In a recent series of tweets Rothkopf states:

It is impossible not to conclude that something happened that year that made such attacks more acceptable. It is not just the advent of social media that lets cowards reach out and harass their targets anonymously. That existed before.

It is not just the “permission” offered these groups as Trump and his ethno-nationalist movement rose to power. It is more than that. Trump, Bannon, Miller, their Russian bot armies of supporters, and others did more than give permission... they actively encouraged the hate.

They did by using code words, they did with the embrace of those code words and their themes by Breitbart and Fox and other media that have focused on division, stoking fears and promoting hate. They did it in Charlottesville and through their immigration policies.

They did it when Trump viciously attacked Mexicans, singled out African-Americans with his transparent race-baiting, proposed and implemented policies targeting Muslims, embraced the code himself with the use of terms like “globalists”... and got away with it. Grew stronger.

These vermin have gained institutional support of a sort they have not had since Nazi Germany. I use that reference cautiously. 33 members of my family were lost in the Holocaust. My father and his parents barely escaped. It is not an analogy to be invoked lightly.

Definitely not an analogy to be invoked lightly, but one becoming difficult to avoid. The similarities are striking: A people with a false sense of victimization elected a charismatic leader who knew how to stroke their hatred. He attracted them with the promise to halt their perceived decline and to make their country great again. He gratified them by persecuting the ones his supporters hated and held responsible for their misfortune. He organized a special police force to go after those targets, raiding them at all hours, separating their families, and imprisoning them in detention camps. And he justified it by encouraging his supporters’ delusion that they are racially superior and are the real victims.

Who does that make you think of?

Jorge Garcia was only ten years old when his aunt brought him to the US without papers. His story is reported here: how he was taken from his distraught wife and children and sent back to a country he does not know. “Since I’ve got here, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep,” he says. “It’s like my body wants to rest, but I’m not able to with all this thought I’ve got on my mind and the stress…. During the night, out of nowhere in my sleep, I start thinking about the whole situation and I lose my sleep.”(2)

A child when he came to this country, just one year too old to be considered a “dreamer,” he was neither a “murderer” nor a “rapist.” He worked hard and contributed to society. He raised a family, had a wife and two children, whom he can no longer see. “I used to tell them, good night, every night,” he says of his kids. “And now, if I can get a signal, I’ll call them, but it’s not the same. I’m not actually there.”

Garcia tried to work within the system. He reported to immigration authorities. He spent thousands of dollars on attorneys’ fees to apply for legal status. Unfortunately, his lawyer filed the wrong paperwork and ruined the application. Nevertheless, Garcia was allowed to stay, until the Trump Administration took over.

People like Garcia who return to Mexico from the US are not easily accepted by Mexican society. Mexicans derisively call them “pocho” and ridicule them for their foreign ways. The returnees do not know how to fit in, or how to navigate the Mexican bureaucracy. Their real home is in the US, which does not want them.

Garcia is not exceptional. ICE is going after people who have lived in this country as many as 30 years, calling it “interior removals.” They raid green card couple interviews and pick up the undocumented spouse. They punish people who try to comply with the system. The children who have a parent suddenly wrenched from their lives are devastated, suffering anxiety, depression, and nightmares.(3) Yet in true Orwellian fashion, the party that perpetrates this proclaims itself “pro-life” and pro-“family values.”

These children are not just “collateral damage.” Their suffering is intentional. The Trump Administration has adopted a policy of forcibly separating children from their undocumented parents, to deter others from following their example. These families are given a “choice”: either accept deportation, or have the children sent to shelters while the parents are imprisoned in detention camps.(4) Recognizing the extreme trauma this inflicts on children, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association have condemned this practice, but that carries no weight with Trump and his policy advisors. Some readers will no doubt be thinking, “So what, they asked for it; they came here illegally.” But many of these families cannot go back; they would be killed. That is why they came to the US, and under normal circumstances they would qualify for asylee status.

Such is the case of S.S., a seven-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), being held in a Chicago facility run by the Department of Homeland Security.(5) Her mother, whose life was in danger in her native country, tried to do things legally. When she came here with her daughter she went directly to border agents and said she was seeking asylum. We have a legal procedure for this, and this situation fit the requirements. The asylum officer who screened her determined that she had a case. But she did not get to complete the process.

Four days after she arrived immigration officers in San Diego removed her daughter from her presence, and then handcuffed her. Meanwhile she could hear her daughter screaming. For four days she was not allowed to speak to her and was not even told where she was.

Over the next four months she was allowed to speak to her daughter, who was now in Chicago, only six times, by phone only with no visual contact. During each call the child was crying.

Nazis separated children from their parents. So did this country to African-American slaves. The more things change.

The separation of families is deliberate government policy. It teaches a hard lesson to people who learned to look up to this country as a refuge for immigrants fleeing persecution. And it gratifies the basest instincts of a constituency at best indifferent and at worst deriving pleasure from the suffering of people whom they consider less than human.

This is the new normal. We have a President who has demolished every respectable standard of behavior, who shows disdain for this country’s allies and punitive vindictiveness towards any perceived enemy including blue state voters, who uses his office to materially benefit himself and his family, and who appoints incompetent extremists and saboteurs bent on undermining the departments that they lead. A man who openly expresses racist sentiments as well as deep contempt for women, and who encourages bigots to drop their inhibitions and come out into the open. A panderer who thinks he can make the country safer by flooding it with guns. An opportunist who slashes services to the poor to enrich the wealthy. A supposed leader who lies with frequency and impunity, who has lost the respect of the entire world, and who has squandered any moral credibility the US may once have had. In short, an authoritarian head of state beholden to no moral principles whatsoever. Yet many Christians in the name of their “Christianity” swear unquestioning allegiance to him, and so does one major political party.

It is hard to imagine that anyone who would have predicted this two years ago would have found believers. Yet here we are. There is only one way this could have happened: through the exploitation of pervasive fear and resentment. On The Apprentice Trump operated by turning people against each other. Those who refused to betray their colleagues were summarily fired. That was just entertainment - or so we thought. But now he runs the country that way. And he understands what every fascist demagogue before him knew: you can hold onto power by inflaming the fears that divide people, identifying a class of others whom it’s OK to hate, and presenting yourself as a national savior from the threatening horde.

In conclusion, the critical point is not whether Trump’s America and Hitler’s Germany are in every way the same - they are not. To be sure, we do not have death camps on the scale of the Nazis. Nevertheless, people are dying in our detention camps due to oppressive conditions and inadequate medical care. Asylum seekers are held for indefinite terms for no stated reason. Family members are separated.(6) Call this "Nazi lite" if you like; there are too many similarities to ignore. What these inhumane systems most strikingly have in common is the mindset, the divisive exploitation of fear, that gave rise to them both.

Which brings us back to Godwin’s Law. Mike Godwin, creator of the law that bears his name, states that his law has exceptions. The Charlottesville white supremacists are one. When asked whether it is right to compare them to Nazis he broadcast an emphatic yes: “By all means, compare these [expletive deleted] to the Nazis. Again and again. I’m with you.” When asked to explain he replied: “These horrible events, both the death of Ms. [Heather] Heyer [who was killed by a Charlottesville demonstrator] and also the violence, but also the poisoning of public culture, these things are all horrifying to me. I think that any moral person has to see these things and bear witness and think about how to talk about them.”(7)

What has happened to America has happened before, in other times in other countries. So perhaps the fact that it can happen here should not surprise us too much. More shocking is the great number of people who appear to take it in stride, who even welcome it. That is what gives it power.


(1) David Rothkopf, “https://twitter.com/djrothkopf/status/974982251770499075,” March 17, 2018.

(2) Niraj Warikoo, “In a Strange Land: Deported from Michigan, Jorge Garcia Feels Lost in Mexico,” Detroit Free Press, February 5, 2018.

(3) Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “The Americans Left Behind by Deportation,” New York Times,February 28, 2018.

(4) Dora Galacatos, Alan Shapiro and Brett Stark, “The Cruel Ploy of Taking Immigrant Kids From Their Parents,” New York Times, February 28, 2018.

(5)Rex Huppke, “A frightened child in Chicago and an immigration policy unbecoming of America,” Chicago Tribune, February 28, 2018.

(6)Justin Glawe, “Immigrant Deaths in Private Prisons Explode Under Trump,” Daily Beast, May 30, 2017.

(7) Abby Ohlheiser, “The Creator of Godwin’s Law Explains Why Some Nazi Comparisons Don’t Break His Famous Internet Rule,” Washington Post, August 14, 2017.

March 2018