The other night as the votes rolled in, I started to get really upset that my parents were seeing what was happening. It sounds weird, but those were my first thoughts. And they’ve been sticking with me. It’s partly my own damaged psyche, but I feel ashamed that this happened.
My dad survived the Holocaust, lost his entire family, fought with the Partisans, and is a full-fledged hero. My mom survived Kristallnacht, seventy-eight years ago today. She escaped to a children’s home in France and eventually made her way to America, where she’s been working to help educate people and end prejudice of all types for her entire adult life.
They took the absolute worst life could offer. They saw the worst in their fellow citizens right down to their nextdoor neighbors. Imagine bad. Trust me, it was worse.
But somehow, they’re not angry people. They’re not hateful.
They are good, smart, deeply aware of international issues, and news junkies. They’ve never looked away from the world, no matter how bleak the view.
After all they’ve encountered, it pained me that they were home watching the same results as I was. I thought maybe their experiences could help put this election into perspective — and maybe even make me feel a little better.
So I called my dad. He’s seen it all. He’s experienced loss, he crawled on his hands and knees from his town to the Polish forest where he survived alone for months, he fought back, he came to America with nothing, he made himself into a remarkably successful real estate developer and philanthropist. After we shared our common disbelief at the choice that Americans made, he told me that he didn't understand how people could have voted for Trump, and then said, “You know, it sort of reminds me of when they voted Hitler into power.”
So I called my mom.
Her message was clear. “Yes, it’s a bummer, but the real message here is that we all need to become activists. Today.” She thought back to her experiences as a child. “You know, maybe if we had organized and fought back against Hitler’s rise, right from the beginning, we could have prevented what happened. We could have made it more difficult for him to do what he did if we hadn’t waited and just assumed that ‘this too shall pass.’”
I’m not arguing that Trump is Hitler. He’s not. I hate the constant comparisons and feel they are counterproductive. But he can do a lot of damage to progressive values and important democratic institutions in a short time. We can look forward to 2018 and 2020, but in the meantime, we should all become activists and make it as difficult as possible for him to enact policies counter to our values. If we don’t, this too shall not pass.
At the end of the conversation, my mom said, “Sorry, I don’t think I did a very good job of cheering you up.”
Pretty amazing, right? She thought it was her job to cheer me up. Don’t underestimate the resilience of good people. Don’t underestimate your own power to make things better. And don’t forget to take my mom’s advice. She’s almost always right. It runs in the family.
Dave Pell is Eda and Joe Pell’s Son.