In the film “Hannah and her Sisters,” Max von Sydow plays an artist named Frederick who comments on a TV broadcast about the Holocaust and the “puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification over the systematic murder of millions.” Frederick continues, “The reason they could never answer the question, ‘How could it possibly happen,’ is because it’s the wrong question. Given what people are the question is, ‘why doesn’t it happen more often?’”
When I first saw the film when it came out in 1986, I thought I knew the answer to Frederick’s question. It didn’t happen more often, I believed, because Nazi Germany was a special case. To be sure, historians searched in vain for reasons to explain the Holocaust, but there was something intangible about the Germans and the social forces at work back in the 1930s and 1940s that uniquely led to the Holocaust. At least, that’s what historians thought and I agreed. Frederick was simply wrong because people weren’t as generally bad as all that. My naïveté survived unchallenged until 2016.
It was the election of Donald Trump and the refusal of so many people to recognize what a disaster he is for America that forever disabused me of the notion that the vast majority of people are fundamentally good. I now think about a third are fundamentally evil, and have been lying dormant all these years waiting for another Hitler.
It’s no accident, either, that present day revivified Nazism is only ever aligned with the Republican Party and never the Democratic Party. So much so that Republicans cannot even bring themselves to admit out loud that they wish it were otherwise. Many of them, like Trump and Stephen Miller and William Barr, love the Nazis and want to be just like them. It is why you never hear them condemn Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan or White Supremacists – and you never will. Bad people adore Hitler because he validates the hate and bigotry and fear they carry inside – whether they admit it out loud or not.
Donald Trump’s beliefs about morality are fundamentally at odds with American values, but perfectly consistent with the values of the Third Reich. The only thing that prevents him from unleashing a second holocaust on the world is the inherently restrained powers of the presidency. His constant complaints about those restraints ought to terrify us. His self-anointed deluded immunity to those restraints is what got him impeached and is about to put him on trial next week.
Thanks to the recent informal testimony of Lev Parnas, we now have an improved understanding of just how deep and broad Trump’s criminality and the people who support him actually is. The chilling mafia-style activity in Ukraine, complete with goons and hoods and other despicable people bent on destroying the reputation of America’s ambassador for the crime of being upright and honest, is simply beyond belief.
The Republican attempt to defend Trump and discredit Parnas because Parnas is “under indictment and about to stand trial” is a laughable, immediate hypocrisy. They don’t seem to notice (or hope we don’t) that Donald Trump is under indictment (which is just another word for impeachment) and he’s about to stand trial. To discredit someone for doing what Trump does in defense of Trump is characteristic of how deluded Trump’s apologists have now become.
The cynical tendency for some on both sides of the aisle to dismiss what Parnas has to say because he is perceived as a criminal is a mistake. Parnas is a man who can be relied on to tell the truth. He is in that rare crucible that tends to yield truthful results. Right now, in fact, the truth is all Parnas has, having been entirely abandoned by his former hero Donald Trump. Parnas is coming to the cruel realization that Michael Cohen finally came to, that Donald Trump is the new face of evil, and Parnas was used and discarded by him. You may depend on it that every word Parnas has uttered on the record to date is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I don’t want to forget, while I’m separating the bad guys from the good in this drama, that organization without which Hitler would not have been possible, the Church. In Hitler’s day it was the weak-kneed collaboration of the Catholics and the Lutherans that aided him in consolidating his power. Today it is the evangelicals. Which brings me to another quote from our artist friend Frederick from the movie “Hannah and her Sisters,” who said, “If Jesus were alive today and saw what was being done in his name, he would never stop throwing up.”