This Isn’t 1939 Germany — But that doesn’t mean everything is okay

The one thing I am holding to right now is that the fucker got arrested.

As long as these ‘lone wolf’ shooters keep getting arrested and jailed, I have hope. Because as long as enough people stand against their bigotry to keep the justice system running, we haven’t reached a tipping point.

I’m Personally Invested.

Let’s get that out of the way.

Yes, this shooting hits me more strongly than the HBChurches burned in Alabama last month or the attacks on mosques that have been near constant for over a decade.

Yes, I’m writing about this now because of this shooting.

I’m human.

That doesn’t make me wrong.

This is Not 1939 Germany

For years now, people have been comparing the US to 1939 Germany and claiming we are following the footsteps of Hitler. I’ll own it — I’ve done it myself. Technically I’m doing it again here.

Personally, I’ve always come to the conclusion that yes I could see the similarities, but didn’t think a slide in fascism and Holocaust was likely. Possible, but not likely.

I still think it’s possible. I still think it’s not likely. But the ‘not’ has gotten… a bit smaller, let’s say. In plain text, rather than bold.

There are many differences between the US today and 1939 Germany. Starting with the man in the head office. Yes, Trump is a populist strong man who admires dictators and might like to be one. And his speeches are just about as readable as Mein Kampf. That’s where the similarities end.

We also don’t have a large group of disaffected veterans who blame the government for their suffering. We don’t have people standing in breadlines for hours. (Okay, the wait at one of the local food banks can run on hour, but that’s because it’s so slow, not because there’s that many people.) We don’t have runaway inflation killing the value of everyone’s money. We don’t have huge military expansion going on to ‘stimulate the economy.’

We have not seen an equivalent of The Eternal Jew in our museums or Krystallnacht in our streets. (No, ‘lone wolf’ shootings aren’t an equivalent of Krystallnacht.) We haven’t seen citizens expelled for their religion or ethnicity. We haven’t seen concentration camps for citizens set up. (Not downplaying the horror of the ‘facilities’ that were set up for illegal immigrants or the horror and travesty of having parents separated from kids. ) We haven’t had a Rechstag Fire. Our government system is the same as ever, even if it’s creaking a bit more than it used to. We still have a president and not a Fuhrer or equivalent…

There are similarities

and I’m not denying that. We do have a large disaffected population with lots of guns. We do have a messed up economy where a lot of folks are struggling to cover their basic needs. We are suffering a kind of national psychological shock as it becomes more and  more apparent that the US is no longer the sole world power, that American exceptionalism maybe isn’t all it was cracked up to be. And we have a leader who plays to the divisions in our society rather than help mending them.

That’s a bad combo.

But it isn’t 1939 Germany.

Comparing It to 1939 Germany Is Not Helpful

At best, it’s a shock tactic. At worst, it creates deeper divisions as the people who are said to be on the side of the ‘Nazis’ (most of whom want nothing to do with literal Nazis, ever) feel attacked and vilified. Even more so if they know their history and know how specious this comparison is.

A more accurate comparison might be 1929 Germany.

It’s still not a perfect comparison. There hasn’t been any equivalent of Wall Street crash for instance. And unemployment is decreasing, not increasing. but it’s a much better comparison.

If there is any validity to comparing the US today with Germany 80 or 90 years ago, it is that populism, nationalism, and fear are all things, and those things in combination are dangerous things, in any country or time.

I’m Still Scared

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. If we do go the fascism-and-genocide route, it won’t be exactly the same any other country did. Which means there will always be people who can dismiss concerns and say, ‘But this is different from Germany/Italy/etc, that can’t happen here!’

(Pro-tip: the most likely way FOR it to happen is to think that it can’t happen here. It’s the equivalent of looking at the shell of a house ruined by time and thinking ‘that will never happen to my house! My house is properly built’… but not fixing that one annoying leak in the roof because you are so sure that your house is better built and will never come crashing down around your head.)

The truth is that Jews in America have been lucky. Ashkenazic Jews in particular have been able to assimilate and get comfortable and live without threat more in America that just about anywhere else in the past 200 years. And having that comfort shattered is a shock.

But we know our history. Sooner or later, the corrupt leaders need a scapegoat.

I Don’t Think I’m JUST Biased

The thing is, looked at logically, I DO think antisemitism is more of a canary in the coal mine than attacks on Black churches or Mosques. Like it or not, there is a long history of racism in the US, and economic difficulties and political tension has always exacerbated that.

9/11 and the way-to-fucking-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq did happen. Our response was disproportionate, fear drive, and frankly pretty stupid. Which is par for the course when America gets attacked (Pearl Harbor and the Japanese concentration camps, anyone?)

There are reasons — shitty reasons, illogical reasons, stupid reasons — that scared, angry, hurting people in the US who want a target would lash out at Black and Muslim Americans. I’m not excusing it. I’m just saying that it isn’t something that would surprise anyone with a working brain.

But there is no history of violent anti-Semitism or pogroms in the US. We weren’t given refuge here in WWII, but neither were we shipped off to Germany in 1940. Israel is seen as a major US ally. If 5 or 10 years ago you asked random person A if they thought we’d see synagogue shootings in the US, they’d likely have laughed in your face.

This is a change, an escalation.

We should never have let it get this far

We should have found a way to nip it in the bud after the attack on the Oak Creek gurdwara. After the Christchurch shooting.  After Charlottesville. After so many other incidents.

We didn’t.

So now we’re here. And I don’t know how to stop it now, anymore than I knew how to stop it then.

And people are asking of Jews, as they asked of Muslims not long ago, ‘Should the Jewish community in the USA consider leaving the country?

Because it’s apparently reasonable to suggest we leave our homes rather than suggest the people of this nation put a stop to this shit.

I don’t have answers. And that scares me. Because this isn’t 1939 Germany. But that doesn’t mean everything is okay.

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