Something not normal happened yesterday at Trump’s press conference. Something rumbling in our national psyche, rumbling under our feet.
It felt like the foundations of our collective American story — all men are created equal — was cracking in a presidential rant equating the alt-right neo-Nazis, KKKers, white supremacists, and anti-Semites — with the “alt-left” (Trump’s characterization) counter-protestors in Charlottesville.
For the record, I condemn anyone who used violence at the KKK rally.
The president pushed the line that there must be good Nazis after all who just wanted to protect the statue of good ol’ Robert E. Lee at the tiki torch rally. And what’s so bad about that?
In the ’20s, Italians were looking for some respect following World War I. Their “white war” in the Dolomite Mountains was just as brutal as the trench warfare on the fields of Flanders, but Italians never got credit for holding the southern line during the Great War.
Their victory with the Allies, felt more like defeat, and an already impoverished country became more impoverished. Seeking respect, Italians looked to a strong man and elected Benito Mussolini, the first fascist. He made the Italian trains run on time, and then, piece by piece, dismantled Italian democracy, leading Italy into the catastrophe of World War II and becoming Germany’s lap dog in the process.
In Germany during the’20s, another champion of the discontented arose, scapegoating Jews for the financial collapse of the German economy following the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler rode that discontent to the chancellorship, and the world, with the death of tens of millions and the greatest acts of murderous infamy the world has ever seen, paid the price for Germany’s fascist dream.
And now we have Trump, telling a different American story. Not the one about pushing freedom and democracy. Not the one about a city on a hill, but the dark American tale that is our nation’s underbelly of division, hatred, moral equivalency, and tribalism — rooted in the defeat of slavery and the lost cause in the South and continuing today in lost jobs and closed coal mines.
Is that a different story from Germany and Italy in the ’20s? Of course, but the “us versus them,” false equation of right wing evil with counter-protesters who stood against the bigots, that story is the same.
The earth shook yesterday. And the question today is, how will each of us respond?