Thursday, August 17, 2017

How racial and ethnic hatred can destroy nations and their people

(Updated 8/20/17 and references added 9/17)  A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, August 23, 2017
Donald Trump’s once implied  tolerance  of white nationalist support and his many hints of sympathy for them are now explicit. He revealed  that  dark corner  of his mind  in  the bright light of  his  post Charlottesville tweets and public statements.  These events have reminded me of  my personal  lifelong  quest  to understand  why  people of  civilized and educated nations act out  hatred of fellow  citizens, unmindful that it would  lead to the destruction of their own homelands. If the history  of Nazi Germany and the tragedy of Bosnia are not sufficient  lessons of where this can lead, heaven help our country.

I am optimistic that  America  is taking a different course because of  the growing number of  Republican leaders  and corporate America CEOs  who  called out Trump   for giving the KKK and neo-Nazis the same moral equivalence as those who opposed them. Others, from clergy to the military Joint Chiefs reaffirmed their condemnation of  racial  hatred. Sheer numbers of those marching overwhelmingly peacefully against hate in Boston Saturday further relegates those hate groups to a fringe that uses terrorist tactics to inflate their influence.

My 1958-1959 junior year abroad  was spent in  an occupied post war Berlin where  shrapnel scarred remains  of  buildings  were separated by  empty spaces of rubble. I had many conversations with  Germans as I tried to understand how Nazis came to power and the Holocaust happened.  I met my future husband,  a refugee from another destroyed, Nazi invaded country, Yugoslavia.  From him I got personal insights into a family experiences and views. On spring break, I toured  his country, the first of many visits.  Yugoslavia  was not only a battleground between Nazi forces and the  resistance, there was an ethnic war, as well.  The subsequent  Communist government of  dictator Marshal Tito  kept the lid on simmering ethnic hatred until  after his death  the 1990’s Balkan wars  broke out.   I was a close hand witness of the times leading up to  that conflict and the aftermath.   The Balkan’s  economic recovery from communism was set back years. The former Yugoslavia  is now broken up  into  several small countries.

What I did find  from Berlin to the Balkans is that  political leaders rose to power  by appealing to many of their countrymen’s long time hatred  of those of  a different faith or ethnicity   Leaders hyped blame on these “others”   as the reason for individual  and national  failure. They struck  a responsive chord with large numbers of their population who felt victimized   and others  who believed  in those same leaders who   promised  to solve their economic malaise and chose to turn their backs on the rest.

 I see those same elements of blame and victimization in the US in  recent polls. In one study  45% of Trump voters, felt they were  being more discriminated against   than were  minorities. Those in Trump’s own administration have whispered to reporters, while expressing  dismay in his post Charlottesville comments, they would stick with Trump because he has promised tax and  regulatory reform and economic growth. Likewise, recent polls show Republicans are standing by their man.

An  icon of the results of  ethnic hatred is  one of those fragments of  Yugoslavia:  Bosnia.  During   my frequent visits to Bosnia  I have seen what happened when  ethnic hatred erupted into ethnic cleansing.  Bosnia  is now the poorest country in Europe with a government paralyzed by  ethnic groups still not working out their differences, but fortunately working  within a nominal  framework of democracy.  
When I see white supremacists chanting  “ take back America “ which means ridding America  of all who are not white Christians or subjugating them to white rulers, I get sick to my stomach. I know how  that can end.

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