“The media was so biased against him, they took what he said and presented it out of context to make him look bad. I want to keep an open mind. We’ll see what he’s actually going to do.”
“What about his appointment of Steve Bannon?”
“Well, I’m not a big fan of that, but we’ll just have to see.”
“They’re still talking about a ban on Muslims, and justifying it by saying it’s not as bad as the internment camps where we locked up Japanese-Americans during World War II.”
“It’s not going to come to that.”
“But what will you do if it does?”
“A lot of decent Germans didn’t think Hitler would go as far as he did. By the time they realized what he was doing, it was too late.”
“I’ve read lots about German history. Hitler locked up his opponents and shut down press freedom.”
“People at Trump rallies chanted, ‘Lock her up!’ and Trump egged them on.”
“Well that I would agree with.”
“Locking up Hillary?”
“For what crime?”
And from there the conversation pretty much ground down in a pointless circle. But she didn’t have an answer for my Dad’s question, “When will you have seen enough?” She simply was sure that Trump didn’t intend to do anything too bad.
It turns out that on Saturday, just about the time we were having our dispiriting conversation, a White supremacist organization was holding a gathering in Washington D.C. The shindig included openly anti-Semitic rhetoric, and people giving Nazi salutes while shouting “Sieg heil!” (though you can see from a tweet included in the article that they can’t be bothered to learn the spelling of that German phrase they adore).
Other stuff was less inflammatory, but more damning in terms of immediate practical impact:
Asked about Trump picking Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as his attorney general, Spencer glowed.
"The fact that he is going to be at such a high level is a wonderful thing. What Jeff Sessions is not going to do, in terms of not prosecuting federal diversity and fair housing, I think is just as powerful as what he might do," he told reporters.What would our Trump-supporting conversationalist have made of this? True, it wasn't Trump himself at that meeting on Saturday (he was too busy tweeting out demands that actors apologize for exercising First Amendment freedoms).
But these out-and-out Nazis are pretty excited about Trump’s choice for attorney general, and they’re pretty sure that Trump’s election does herald a resurgence of government policy that discriminates on racial and ethnic grounds, and a return of a government attitude that tolerates racial discrimination in the private sector, perhaps even violent racism.
The woman we were speaking to was pretty sure Trump didn’t mean all that racist stuff; she was damned sure the press had misrepresented him.
The Nazis gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building apparently think the press got him just right, or even undersold him.
She wants to keep an open mind. “We’ll just have to see.”
I don’t know that she voted for Trump, but most likely she did, and she at least supports him now. At this point, she’s simply denying that Trump meant what he said, clinging to the assertion that the press twisted his words. Will she ever have seen "enough" to change her mind?
Here’s my fear. Psychologically, she needs to defend her image of herself as a good person, a decent person—not a racist, not an anti-Semite. As Trump supporters and Trump appointees move further and further with actually carrying out racist acts and implementing racist policy, she won’t have seen enough. To call it what it is, she’ll have to admit that she was wrong. She’ll have to admit that she—a good person, a decent person—voted for a racist who is presiding over the destruction of decades of racial progress in our country.
That’s a brutally hard admission to make.
It’s easier to tell yourself, “I’m not a racist, therefore the policies enacted by the man I voted for can’t be racist.”
If Trump moves gradually enough, he may manage to take people who started as decent souls and turn them into practically unassailable apologists for bigotry.
I don’t know how we defend against that.