At the height of the Republican presidential primary a stranger and his friend stopped me on the street for no apparent reason.
“If you have to choose, would you vote for Cruz or Trump?” he asked me.
Without missing a beat, I replied, “Trump. This is all a reality TV show game for him. But Cruz, he really believes that hateful shit.”
Satisfied, they walked on. No other words were said. Random, interesting and reflective of the time a few months ago.
Now, I know I was wrong. Both presented a clear and present danger to American ideals of civil rights, tolerance and human dignity.
What started out as a great American con job–Trump saw the money Sarah Palin seized by turning a presidential election into reality TV and wanted more of that for himself–has now become one of the most alarming shifts in American politics since Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for communists.
On the day author, professor and advocate for peace Elie Wiesel died, I went to see the musical, Cabaret. Collectively the two events brought to mind the never-ending cycle of history’s repetition. We’ve seen this all before. It was horrific then, and it’s no longer a joke now.
Weisel himself expressed a similar truth when discussing one of his big disappointments in life. “Nothing changed,” he said. “Human nature remained what it was. Society remained what it was. Too much indifference in the world to The Other, his pain, and anguish, and hope.”
Cabaret’s stunning performance reminds us that fools in power often vilify The Other to fuel their rise. Does American 2016 replace Germany 1930? Do Muslim Americans replace Jewish Germans? Do the recession-weary poor from middle America replace the recession-weary poor from middle Germany? Does “Make America Great Again” replace “Heil Hitler?” After all, both Trump and the leader of the Third Reich share a popular appeal to the “blond hair, blue eyed,” pure nationalists to feed their egos.
Do I go too far? That remains to be seen. But enough trends, enough anger, enough xenophobia has been displayed to move Trump from an inane carnival barker to the second most likely person to lead the most powerful country in the world. If anything, such comparisons may be too late, not too early.
Like all megalomaniacs, Trump has begun to believe his own Wag The Dog spin. He’s cast a campaign of hate, fueled fear and racial division and spoken of attacking any number of “others” to propel him into an office he is entirely and utterly unqualified to hold.
The Grand Old Party has even begun to cave on its sense of decency and order. Those that have taken a stand against him have been shoved to the side. Those in power–Paul Ryan, are you going to lead this party?–have waffled. Winning is more important than the tenets of society this country is built on. Liberty? Justice? The bill of rights? All will be trampled under a Trump presidency that advocates more of the worst of American injustices like the World War II internment camps and the Native American reservations.
Listen again to the voice of the dearly departed: “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the aggressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” Wiesel said.
Be silent no more.
It can’t go on. Not a day more. This reality check must cancel The Trump reality show, and it should never be purchased for re-runs. The common bonds of a decent people must come together across party lines to heal our deep wounds of division, or the final scenes of Cabaret won’t be a play, but a passion play of the Civilization of America and its last setting sun.