A week before the election I had a vivid nightmare. I dreamed of election night, of sitting with my once-senator uncle and rabbi aunt as we awaited an “October surprise.” We had received word that something big and damaging was about to go down, and we turned on the TV just in time to watch a Nazi flag unfurl inside our nation’s capitol. We looked at each other with stony expression, with a shared understanding–not of an immediate threat to us personally–but that our own country had reached this moment in our lifetime, happening in real time before our very eyes. As soon as the flag dropped, hundreds of protesters stormed into the rotunda chanting NO. NO. NO. That’s what I woke up hearing in my head. No. No. No.
This dream sobered me to the extent I shared it with my mom and a few friends. Even my sub-conscience felt extreme, and I relegated it to the generational trauma we now know is literally imprinted in our DNA. I knew the dream related to the rise in and more mainstream antisemitism and racism virulent on social media–plaguing journalists and online friends as a direct result of Trump’s campaign–coupled with the hate speech on display at a recent UW football game (which was initially defended as “free speech” by administrators).
I put the dream behind me, chalking it up to the darkness I carry, and that can halt a perfectly pleasant exchange with an innocent bystander in its tracks; for instance should they ask me where I get my sense of humor and I say something like Jews are funny because we need something to distract people before they kill us.
Fast forward to Election night. We sat in the hotel suite watching the returns, periodically turning our heads from the screen to each other–our eyes screaming No. No. No.
As Trump’s electoral college count climbed, I thought one thing: Here we are; Again.
Again; the place our elders implored us with warnings over, the reason for the slogan Never Again and “the why” behind terrifying childhood lectures and lessons over the holocaust. Beyond knowing our history, the reason we tour museums and memorials and some people even the concentration camps themselves. We seek to understand how the holocaust happened, and how we make sure it happens Never Again. It’s the reason we bear witness to hard-to-hear narratives and films depicting the brutality of chattel slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the fight for civil rights–Never Again.
Listen. I’m not suggesting a final solution scenario is imminent, necessarily, so bear with me and keep reading. As my brother pointed out to me recently, there’s a whole spectrum of cruelty and torture a nation can inflict on its people before mass extinction.
I do, however, believe we’re standing in the vestibule with the door open for Again.
As overly-simplistic as it is, for many years I think we white people took for granted a fragile confidence that our nation had come to its senses–at least in the north–and understood that while bigotry remained a dangerous threat, that sick collective conscience had been treated, even while violent flare-ups occurred. That confidence, however, for me and many members of my family began eroding as we learned about the enormity of modern America’s toll on people of color–mass incarceration, police brutality, poverty, and inequity. We’ve watched it play out online and in our communities–yes in the north too, in our own state–and wrestled with how to effectively lend our voices and use our power for resistance.
Watching the KKK-endorsed candidate win state after state on our map–the one who not only failed to disavow his white-supremacist base but actively encouraged them–I realized that for disenfranchised Americans the scars of the collective trauma of the Holocaust, slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era have healed to silvery remnants too easy to fade into the background, and too easy to relegate to that seldom opened history book belonging to another time and other people–regardless of the fact that many of the problems still exist.
Today I taste a drop of that metallic fear my friends of color have to swallow on a daily basis in large quantity in this America; The fear of sending your kids and loved ones into a world hostile to their very existence. And the fear mixed into daily life for my family living in Israel; the fear of geo-political and domestic instability, new wars requiring new drafts… and involving very personal sacrifice.
Please do not give me assurances. We have no idea what is to come, what our families might face, and what will be asked of us–especially when our president-elect is busy filling his transition team with powerful bigots and anti LGBTQ extremists. White supremacy is on proud display, but this time with hoods off.
The election is over and I’m no longer trying to reach the unreachables–those that ignored Trump’s own deplorable words and inexcusable actions. My arms will need to reach wider than ever before and lift others like never before–those getting hijabs torn off their heads, or sitting in cafeterias where their classmates chant BUILD THAT WALL. Even while I understand the real frustrations and problems in our country that contributed to a Trump vote, third party vote, or total abstention– if you didn’t do everything in your power for Never Again–if you voted your pocketbook or your anger or your independent-minded values–you might have your first answer to that famous moral question about Hitler’s rise: What would I have done? Except they didn’t have the benefit of recent history to learn from. We do.
I am not hysterical. I do not fear for my immediate safety today, and do find encouragement in articles like this one. However, my eyes are wide. The red flags are unfurled. They are waving.