When I left my husband for my the woman who would later become my wife, I did so in 2003 in a very liberal metropolitan area, where being gay, lesbian, trans, or anything in between is mostly accepted and unproblematic. We both know lesbian and gay couples who have lived it longer, however, and we were certainly not blind to their historical struggle to live freely, be accepted, and simply exist in the world. But we felt that attitudes were changing, even when we personally ran across the occasional bigot. In short, we lived with a great deal of privilege as a same-sex white couple.
This month’s American election, however, was a huge slap in the face, cold water washing over us and alerting us to the reality that many of our fellow citizens have no problem with throwing us under the bus. Because I am privileged, that feeling was new. And it hurts. It hurts to think of all the people I have known and liked who saw what Trump is and had no problem voting for him anyway. Yeah, he and Pence (in particular) may think that being LGBTQ is a “lifestyle choice” that you can “fix with therapy” and that so-called Christians should be allowed to discriminate against at will, but the ends justify the means! Whatever those ends are. Tellingly, I have yet to hear or read a solid reason why some people preferred Trump, except that they wanted “change.”
Of course, the LGBTQ population is hardly the only one with a problem right now. My fellow African-Americans are weary because discrimination and hate are not new to them. They greet my shock with a sigh borne of centuries of abuse, kindly revealing my own privilege in dealing with what is for them a very old problem. I see this. And this is the dangerous slope that we are slipping down: the very privileged white people who voted for Trump do not see their own danger.
First it was the Muslims. Only a Muslim could be a terrorist. Certainly not the white Timothy McVeigh. Certainly not the white guy who flew an airplane into an IRS building. But then came the definition creep. Ecowarriors, those protesters who stood up for the health of the environment. Branding them as terrorists is politically convenient for the oil-owned politicians. Who else might be a terrorist, do you suppose? Latino protesters? Black Lives Matter activists? The right is already calling them this. Might gay pride parades one day be a provocative act, subject to increasingly militarized police intervention?
I’m seeing a great deal of denial even from white allies. They rationalize and seek out excuses. “Chill out, it’s not THAT bad!” Or, “you’ll be fine, it’s not that big a deal,” or “The media is blowing attacks out of proportion; very few people are causing problems.” I’m sure the Weimar Germans felt the same way. And sadly, even though this is looking way too familiar, my even comparing what is happening now with the fall of the democratic Weimar Republic makes people more likely to poo-poo the whole idea as a crazy overreach, because “it could never happen here.” Right.
In 1922, the New York Times did not take Hitler’s antisemitic rantings seriously. I say that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and walks like a duck—it’s a fucking duck. Donald Trump has made his racist worldview very clear. He might have a soft spot for Jews, given his son-in-law, but his supporters don’t. Steve Bannon doesn’t. Jeff Sessions doesn’t. And when you start marking “them” as targets, the list never shrinks. It only gets bigger. Yes, Hitler killed 6 million Jews. He also killed 6 million other people: gays, gypsies, communists, political enemies, and the disabled. In the attacks since Trump ascended his throne—, I mean, the presidency, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, Asians, and the disabled have been targeted.
So far, the only white people in the vulnerable group are LGBTQ and the disabled. But if Muslims and Sikhs (just because they’re mistaken for Muslims) are open game, what about pagans and Wiccans? How long before they’re targeted? What about atheists? Pretty soon, anyone who holds any view that differs from the viewpoint of the people in power become vulnerable. This is what fascism looks like. This does not deserve excuses, normalizing, or Pollyannaesque “it will all be fine” magical thinking.
Tellingly, the normalization has begun. For example, the left is so focused on how reprehensible the appointment of Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist is that they’ve forgotten the point that Donald J. Trump is himself reprehensible, and he’s president!
Trump’s emboldened followers don’t even bother to hide their deplorable views anymore. The KKK, American Nazi party, they’re all out and proud and singing “Sieg! Heil!” And yet, so many so-called “normal” white people aren’t worried. No, it’s not a problem for them. Today.
Fearmongering is insidious, and it’s enriching many who tell lies for a living. My own father reads and comments on these ridiculous lies, and he believes them all. The problem is that many people do. Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, would have loved it all. If you want to focus the population on a scapegoat (or two or ten), it’s remarkably easy. If you want to radicalize Christians to support a strong man, it’s remarkably easy. Here’s what my own father said in a comment on an “article” titled 200,000 Take to the Streets of Paris to Protest Sodomy-Based “Marriage”:
All churches are being infiltrated. All of them. You’ve heard how the Left wants to change the Catholic church. The United Methodists have recently elected a gay woman to be a BISHOP. Many Methodist churches have sent the United Conference a letter telling them that they do no recognize the authority of this new BISHOP…mine included. I’m still waiting to see what, if anything, my church plans to do besides their letter. It’s getting harder and harder to find a church that hasn’t been infiltrated to the point that it’s no longer a Christian church. These Catholics in France are doing the right thing, but they sadly may stand alone.
My father, like many before him, has graduated from the echo chamber of Fox News to the even narrower echo chamber and outright lies of the alt right. He is lost. His brainwashing is complete. The LGBTQ movement is a conspiracy, a “plot to infiltrate.” The problem is, he’s not the only one. And many of them have gone from simply commenting on articles to attacking people in the streets. Donald Trump has denounced none of them. Silence equals consent. This is our very real danger.