The America that I thought I knew as a place of inclusion and compassion, a country that was a beacon of freedom for the world, has slowly transformed into a sci-fi version of the worst imagining. I now live in a country that has succumbed to fear mongering and hate, lead down the path towards destruction by a small-minded, backward and manipulative, leader. I am still astounded by the fervor of support and the band of enablers that surround such a man. The logic is incomprehensible to me and the parallels to the past loom forefront in my mind. Will mankind be forever doomed to repeat our most heinous mistakes?
I have always been intrigued by the rise of the Nazi empire. The prolific stories of the Nazi occupation, both fiction and non-fictive, prove that I’m not alone. And much like current events in this country, I have always been utterly perplexed by how seemingly ordinary people behaved so brutally. These Nazi supporters led ordinary lives, they were shop owners and teachers, doctors and nurses, librarians and lawyers, mothers, fathers, grandparents. They were rich and poor, old and young and they all contributed to the Nazi movement. A large portion of the world could not have been conquered without their participation.
These people carried out heinous, unspeakable, inhumane acts. They reduced an entire group of people to subhuman, viewed them as animals, merely because of their ethnicity. They willingly turned on their Jewish neighbors, knowing they would be condemned to brutal treatment and death. They believed the Jews deserved this treatment. My biggest question has always been, why? Why did they turn on their friends and neighbors, the people who taught their children, who baked their bread, sold them meat, treated their sick? Why? The answer: their leader told them to do so. Hitler prayed off their fear. And fear is a powerful motivator. It is a slick, insidious invader.
What we often fail to take into account is the time frame in which these changes occurred. As we look back at these events we are fooled into thinking that they unfolded quickly. The reality is that the events and changes happened slowly, over several years. Much like the frog that sits in a tepid pot of water fails to recognize he is being cooked alive as the temperature slowly increases, the danger wasn’t apparent to most until it was too late.
As the parallels between the past and present seem to be edging closer, I’ve become more intimate with how this intolerance and brutality took shape. The how is easier to see and understand. Fear-mongering, I believe, is the heart of this movement. The Us versus Them. The manipulation. The misinformation. The distortion of patriotism into Nationalism. The demonizing anyone who looks or sounds different. The ultimate fear that those people will threaten your way of life or take away what is precious.
Our current leader has spewed fear-inspired, vailed hate-speech over and over until we no longer recognize it as such. The negativity and manipulation of information has become commonplace and acceptable, the logic that winning is all that matters while truth and integrity take a backseat or disappear altogether seems to have taken a firm hold. The principles that founded and sustained this country for hundreds of years are the same ones that are now being trampled. The failure to recognize that integrity and truth are essential to our survival as a country is what threatens our way of life, and the fact that so many are cheering this new mentality forward frightens me to the bone.
It is dangerous to relinquish the truth to the rhetoric of a madman. It didn’t work out well the last time and there is even more at stake today. The weapons we have today are far more destructive and the consequences of these weapons have irreversible, catastrophic repercussions for the entire planet. Both the amount and speed of information has significantly increased in recent years and so has the opportunity to manipulate information to promote agendas.
With so many frightening, catastrophe possibilities looming, what are the answers? How do we change our direction when we can no longer take information at face value? How do we reframe our principles from fear and hate to kindness and inclusion? How do we escape the future collision course which seems an almost certainty? These questions are easy, the answers are very complicated. And I do not presume to have all the answers.
What I do know is that our problems will not be solved by some gallant savior. We cannot just passively sit by and wait for an imaginary knight in shining armor, military hero, or some special interest group to save us. The answer lies with every single person who resides within America’s borders. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand, or numb our minds with screen time. We all bear the responsibility for the direction of this country. I believe we all need to wake up, get involved, take action. Because our numbers are our strength. Our demand that our government represent us is essential. Perseverance is key because real change moves quickly only is retrospect. Real change evolves slowly.
A worthwhile endeavor might be spending time thinking about what kind of country we want and the steps we need to get there. Not lofty, unattainable steps, but small, earnest actions. Can we open our minds more? Can we spend our time seeking out people we admire to hold office, those who emulate goodness, and cohesion instead of division, those whose agenda benefits all people, not just a select few. Can we overcome the impasse of political party? Can we resurrect integrity, honor and responsibility? Can we hold our elected officials accountable, even if means admitting that sometimes we are fooled or make mistakes? Can we think about what we want for those we hold dear and then do what we can to enable everyone those same things, no matter their skin color and ethnicity?
I believe, even in these days of anger and ever growing polarization, we can come together. Underneath it all we are the same, and in this country our constitution states we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So instead of focusing on the differences that keep us apart, can we choose to look at all we have in common?
In the end our government and our leaders are a reflection of the people they represent. If we want change we must focus on changing ourselves and how we relate to those around us. And we can start by the smallest of actions. We can look people in the eye and smile instead of averting our eyes and attention in phone screens. We can redirect our attention outwards. We can take a deep breath and really think before we speak. We can give others the same consideration that we give ourselves and our loved ones. Small acts done by many can accomplish great things, even turning the direction of a country.
Conquering fear is the only way out.