As a teen, my dad crawled on his hands and knees into the darkness of the Polish forest, knowing he’d never again see any members of his family (or almost anyone in his town) alive. After months of surviving on his own, he joined a partisan group and fought heroically against the Nazis.
The other day, I told him about the 40,000 anti-hate protestors in Boston. He nodded his head and said: “That’s good.”
That might seem understated, but we’re not a particularly effusive family and he’s not a particularly talkative guy. It’s worth noting that this is the most positive thing my dad has said about anything political since Inauguration day.
When he says, “That’s good,” he means it.
It might seem difficult to find the good in the past week, when neo-Nazis took to the streets, and an American president placed the blame on many sides. But my dad is right. There was good.
There may have been many sides in Boston over the weekend, but there sure were a lot more people on the good side (by about 40,000 or so). What we saw in the protest numbers in Boston was a new manifestation of Michelle Obama’s famous line: When they go low, we go high.
The people on the right side of history who poured into the streets in Charlottesville, Boston, and other cities give me hope that this moment in history is not the wall that some hope it will be, but rather a somewhat predictable speedbump along the road towards a more progressive America.
In the past decade, we’ve experienced a two-term black president, the legalization of gay marriage, and a steady stream of other gains for the the progressive agenda. Given our nation’s history, it’s not entirely surprising that we’d now be seeing an aggressive cultural snapback towards the old ways, driven by those clinging to an antiquated vision of a less equal society.
Trump didn’t create this snapback. He is the product of it.
He didn’t start the neo-Nazi movement in America. But he’s been willing to benefit from it and count its members among his base. Think of him as the Nazi’s Party’s plus one.
Is Donald Trump, deep in his heart, a racist? There’s a name for a person who fans the flames of racism, but only for personal gain: A Racist. And the same name applies to anyone who continues to support that person.
What Donald Trump is, for sure, is a media and messaging savant. He was able to break all the rules of politics, and shock all the pundits and prognosticators, by accurately sensing and regurgitating the message many Americans wanted to hear. Trump’s breakthrough moment was when he realized that the sickening, racist Birther issue was a popular hook among a large block of voters. Trump used social media to test every message he could think of, and he finally found the one that worked — and in doing so he uncovered parts of the American psyche that many people like to forget still exist. Since then, Trump has pogo-sticked his way through a minefield of our worst inclinations, and managed to land on enough of them to win a presidential election. In doing so, he also set loose many demons, some of whom we saw marching through Charlottesville with their dime-store torches and borrowed slogans.
Are we witnessing the rise of Nazism in America? I don’t think so. The clowns in Charlottesville couldn’t even come up with their own hate ideology — they had to sample and remix historical hate they barely understand. They chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” And I thought, where would I want to replace you, in your parents’ basement?
My dad and I are less worried about the rise of Nazism in America, and more worried about Trump and the rest of the gutless leaders, some of whom have spent decades fanning the flames of hate for their own political gain.
That’s why it was so uplifting to see the people marching on the right side of history in Charlottesville and Boston. We’re entering the eye of a perfect storm where the bleakest side of our character is making yet another push for the old ways. And progressives are doing exactly what the moment calls for: Pushing back.
America’s challenges will not diminish in the near term. Before this political cycle is over, we’ll see more hate in our cities and towns, not less. And the progressive agenda is not inevitable. But there is strength in numbers. And we’re seeing those numbers rise up to weather the storm.
And that’s good.