Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

Michael Simms: Trump is attacking my family. And yours.

When I went back to Llano, Texas for my sister’s funeral a dozen years ago, I was surprised that the Baptist church was full of Latinos. But then I realized that two of my brothers had married Latinas, and these courteous and loving people were my extended family. When I was growing up, we were supposed to hate Mexicans, and now, I realized, we are Mexican.

My family is multi-ethnic by birth and by choice. On my mother’s side, we are Irish, English, French, and Cherokee. On my father’s side we are Scot-Irish, Dutch, and French. My mother’s sister married a Syrian, and I grew up with my Arab-American cousins. My wife and I now live in a racially-mixed working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Right now, looking out my study window, I see black and white kids playing together in my neighbor’s yard. My wife, a naturalized citizen originally from Germany, is a community psychologist who works in an African-American neighborhood. My daughter’s boyfriend is Jewish, we have family members who are gay, and many of my wife’s students and colleagues at the university are Asian, Hispanic, or African-American.

And now into this multi-cultural tapestry swagger Trump and his followers creating an escalating series of racist and sexist incidents that affect my family and threaten the very fabric of American life. When Donald Trump claimed during the campaign that Mexicans are rapists, he insulted the kind people who came to my sister’s funeral. When he bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia, he was talking about my wife and my daughter. When North Dakota State police, acting on behalf of DAPL, a company owned in part by Trump, recently shot Native American protesters with a water cannon in freezing weather, attacked them with clubs and mace, arrested them and put them in dog kennels, they were assaulting people like my Cherokee cousins.  When Trump’s advisors floated the idea of a national registry of Muslims, I feared for my neighbors and my wife’s students. When the alt-right National Policy Institute held a rally down the street from the White House, chanting Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail Victory! and the leader of the Institute quoted Goebbels, they were evoking the horror of Germany’s Nazi era that my wife’s parents endured. When CNN hosted an on-air debate on whether it would be politically expedient for Trump to distance himself from the KKK and neo-Nazis that helped elect him, I became terrified for my family, my friends, and my country. And when Donald Trump recruited white supremacist Steve Bannon to run his campaign and then appointed Bannon as his special advisor, I finally became aware that we’ve seen nothing less than a fascist take-over of America.

The Path to Power

After Hitler was democratically elected in 1932, there was an attempt by the German establishment to normalize him. The press ran extensive coverage of the adoring crowds at his rallies. Public figures lined up to be photographed with the Great Leader. He was widely seen in Germany and abroad as a man who could bring the country back from the economic chaos and international humiliation that had followed World War One. His racist, anti-Semitic language of the previous decade was dismissed as being merely a strategy to gain office, and now that he was the Chancellor, he would surely be more dignified and restrained.

Meanwhile, thugs sympathetic to Hitler carried out a systematic program of harassing, beating, and killing Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, immigrants, leftists, union organizers, teachers, writers, artists, and intellectuals. Some of these gangs were organized as a branch of the Nazi Party known as the SA, but many racists acted on their own, seeing the election of Hitler as license to act out their sick fantasies. As the Nazi Party grew in power, emergency measures were enacted limiting speech and public gatherings. An extensive network of informers was built, and people who were seen as troublemakers were arrested. And when the Nazis had control of the government, the police, the press, the military, and the public culture, and the people were completely obedient, the mass incarceration of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and dissenters began.

Through this devolution of society, most Germans simply went on with their lives, working their jobs, celebrating birthdays, and keeping their mouths shut. There was a high price for speaking out. My wife’s grandfather had an upstairs tenant who was dragged out of his apartment by Gestapo officers because a neighbor informed the authorities that he’d made a joke about Hitler. The man spent six months in prison.

Where Are We Now?

So if we see the German experience as an example to heed, where is America now in this downward spiral?

There is certainly an attempt to normalize Trump. Of course, we expect this strategy from Republican Party leaders who tell us to give him a chance. What is disturbing, though, is that Oprah Winfrey, an influential celebrity with solid progressive credentials, said that the election to the highest office in the land had made Trump humble and she is now hopeful about his presidency. And mainstream journalists have joined the Trump parade as well. For example, Leslie Stahl interviewed the president-elect on 60 minutes, asking him softball questions and inviting him to revise offensive comments he made during the campaign.

Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports an increase in hate crimes, many of them referring to Trump or using slogans from his campaign. There were four hundred and thirty-seven incidents of intimidation reported in the week after the election, a steep increase from previous weeks. A wide range of people were targeted, including blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, the L.G.B.T. community, and women. Such harassment occurred throughout Trump’s campaign, but now has increased, no doubt empowered by the election of a Ku Klux Klan-endorsed candidate who has denigrated women and minorities.

Let’s see… the election of a racist leader, an attempt by the establishment to normalize him, and his thugs targeting scapegoats… It sounds like America is approximately in the same place that Germany was in 1932, the beginning of the Nazi era.

What Should We Do?

So what should progressives do in these extreme times? Well, one thing we can do is not to tolerate hate language. If you hear someone refer to Muslims as terrorists, or immigrants as criminals, or gay people as perverts, call him out. We are not going to be able to make people less racist or intolerant, but at least we can make it clear that this kind of attitude should go back into the filthy closet where it belongs.

Something else we can do is to donate money and time to the organizations that are fighting for our rights. My personal favorite is the ACLU, which defines itself as a nonprofit law firm with one client – the United States Constitution. There are also many environmental organizations fighting the good fight. The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the World Wide Fund for Nature are well-respected advocates. For minority rights, I recommend the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. There are also myriad local organizations that are working hard for peace and justice. In Pittsburgh, for example, we have the Thomas Merton Center. Find out what progressive organizations are doing good work in your community. Choose a cause and commit to it.

Staying informed is important as well. Although mainstream news organizations have been largely co-opted, as we saw in Leslie Stahl’s interview with Trump, there are many progressive publications which are still effective as a counter-balance to the rightward trend. Mother Jones, TruthDig, Slate, and Common Dreams present objective reporting on current events, as well as reasonable interpretations.

The most important thing we can do is to stay vigilant and disobedient. Don’t make the mistake that most Germans made in normalizing Hitler. Don’t stay silent. Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and religious intolerance are personal. Trump and his followers are attacking my family. And if you have any family members who are not straight white Christian males, then your family is being attacked as well.


Copyright 2016 Michael Simms

21 comments on “Michael Simms: Trump is attacking my family. And yours.

  1. Vox Populi
    July 7, 2017

    Great reply, Geraldine. Thanks!

    Like

  2. Vox Populi
    July 7, 2017

    It’s in the right place Geraldine. No worries.

    Like

  3. Gerald Fleming
    July 6, 2017

    Lovely, measured piece, Michael. How this could elicit such hate, I don’t understand. (But, alas, have been looking at our country through new eyes lately, and beginning to understand–swinging between sadness and faint optimism, back to sadness again.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      July 6, 2017

      Gerald, since you live part of the year in France, you probably can see America more clearly than those of us who are here year-round. Are the French as appalled by current events in America as one would imagine them to be?

      Like

  4. Maureen O'Connor
    July 6, 2017

    Amen, Michael.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Phil
    July 6, 2017

    “Trump is attacking my family. And yours.”

    You’re full of sh*t, you leftwing crank. Donald Trump is a good man and a real American unlike commie-libs like you.

    P.S. Adolf Hitler was right.

    Like

    • Gail
      July 6, 2017

      What Phil? Give out your entire name so all of your neighbors, friends and the people you attack sitting smugly behind your keyboard know what a piece of shit you really are?
      Coward?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      July 6, 2017

      Phil, you are a very sick man.

      Like

    • Kim Parkins
      July 6, 2017

      There’s a fine line between being ignorant or an idiot. You Phil, are an idiot.

      Liked by 1 person

    • ellen
      July 6, 2017

      Name-calling and threatening. Phil, why can’t you let someone exercise his first amendment rights? Or is that only for you and all those who claim to suffer so much under “political correctness”?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Claudia Nolan
      July 6, 2017

      Phil, the worst thing is not that you’re a troll. It’s that you’re a fool, letting a grifter like Trump pull the wool over your eyes. Trump is using you – he doesn’t care whether your life gets better or not. He just wants power and fame and money. From you he’s getting power and fame – please don’t tell me you gave him money, too?!. Trump’s expertise is in putting on a good show, but he has no skill at actually solving problems. He sure can push problems down the road (take out a loan from a mobster) or hide them (seen his tax returns?) or heap them on someone else (subcontractors have to sue to get paid.) If you think highly of Trump, it makes me wonder if you are also incapable of solving problems. Or maybe you’re not as bad as Trump, just one of the many fools who have allowed Trump to deceive them. Hope you wake up soon. Do some serious fact-checking. Maybe that will help. I sincerely wish you luck.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vox Populi
        July 6, 2017

        This is brilliant, Claudia! Thank you.

        Like

        • Claudia Nolan
          July 6, 2017

          It’s your essay that is brilliant – thank you for writing it. I have been waiting for this essay to be written, hoping that someone would articulate the path that we are on as well as you have just done. Before Trump, I had read the histories but I just couldn’t really understand how Hitler could ever have come to power; how something as nefarious as a Nazi state could actually creep into place without everyone raising the alarm and stopping it before any real harm could be done. But now I am witnessing it happening here in my very own USofA. And real harm is already being done as the mechanisms of democracy are maligned, and made suspect, and deconstructed. We badly need more people like you, who have the capacity to see what is going on, with your perspective and knowledge of history and your ability to see how it affects you personally, to remind us that we are all of the same family and to alert us to our personal responsibility for what happens next. And a list of “to-do’s” to boot! Thank you, Michael!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Geraldine Hutchings
      July 7, 2017

      Poor Phil! You are so angry and messed up right now but your anger is misplaced. Your woes are not due to immigrants or people of different cultural backgrounds or minorities or any other group of people. Your frustration comes from an inability to attain what you want for yourself in life. That’s nobody else’s fault. You just need to try a little harder. There’s no shame in losing. The shame comes from never having tried. Joining up with a fascist group is not going to do you any good. Donald Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you or anything you believe in. He’s a con, out to enrich himself and his family and anyone else he thinks can benefit him in the future. You need to quit being a sucker. Life is short. Grow the hell up.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. daniel r. cobb
    December 21, 2016

    Spot on, Michael! Spot on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phil
      July 6, 2017

      Spot off!, is more like it. Spot off!

      Like

      • Melissa Kemp
        July 6, 2017

        Phil, you epitomize what’s wrong with America and why so many of you are paranoid about the “commies.” Your comment shows you know nothing about civil debate. And you can’t even be nasty intelligently. Your refuse to read or hear anything other than what you think is true, which means you have no critical thinking skills and little intelligence. You show you aren’t even capable of research to find out for yourself what’s true and what’s not. You false believe the left and right have something to do with right and wrong–they do not. Donald Trump doesn’t give a fuck about you, Phil. You have no money, no power. Even if you were a business owner, it’s too small. It’s not going to affect Wall Street. It’s not a significant job creator. You don’t matter. Now I challenge you to start reading about the real oligarchs who run this country and what their plans are for you and all your tiny little friends. Behold, your name is troll.

        Liked by 1 person

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