When I learned of the January 6thdomestic terrorist actions happening at the Capitol, I was not surprised. Though there was much confusion about the details at the time, I found out in that moment that the people who broke in to the Capitol had been at a Trump rally just before their trip to the Capitol.
I experienced no heightened fear about the fall of our government or a lack appropriate security on that day because I have felt this exact fear for four years. My only thought at the time was just a small bit of hope that those who have felt so confident that the current president is not propelling us toward the fall of our country might be able to see his danger and how far we’ve fallen to live in a country where our own citizens can break into the Capitol and come close to assassinating our vice president and other members of congress.
In these days following the January 6thevent, I am seeing supporters of this current president post some of the good things he has done and some of the bad things the opposing side has done in an attempt to balance the political perspective. I’ve also seen requests for those who are firm in their dislike of the president to make more of an effort to see the good in him.
The continued support and request to acknowledge the good baffles me! Hitler did some good things for Germany. He was very popular; the people elected him! Those who voted for him were likely seeing positive changes in their lives based on Hitler’s policies. But where is the line? At what point do people notice that even though a leader is making some aspects of their lives improve that the lives of others are not only getting worse, but now they are in danger!
There would have been a period of time under Hitler’s leadership where no one was necessarily being intentionally killed, but the climate had shifted to show that some groups of people were not safe. It started with the unfavored people being framed as being more problematic. And then they were described as the source of anything wrong in the country. A picture was painted that the unfavored groups deserved poor treatment and to be excluded, separated, and limited in where they could go. It became patriotic to exclude and distance those who the leader did not like.
How did Germany miss that moment and gradually yet somehow rapidly shift to concentration camps and intentional killing? Well, the people remained mesmerized and focused on their leader to a point that they couldn’t see that not only did he have some flaws, he was so consumed with power and control that he would nearly destroy their country and possibly the whole world. Supporters became so hypnotized by their leader, who was making their lives better, that they believed anything he said. When the environment transitioned to the extermination of people, they believed their leader when he expressed that those “other” people were harmful to the country. Hitler’s fans were at peace with his destruction to others because if they were treated poorly, they must deserve it.
Why did some Germans have the ability to see the excluded groups as fellow humans while others believed everything that was told to them by Hitler? Much if it has to do with the relationships they had with people before Hitler was their leader.
In any country or any environment, having many diverse relationships helps us maintain an understanding that all humans, are well, humans. We are all people with goals and ambitions, and we also all have fears and struggles.
The Germans who had already looked beyond a climate of more mild social discrimination to form diverse relationships would have been the ones most likely to have not been fooled by their charismatic leader’s claims of inferiority of “others.” They knew their friends and what Hitler told them did not match.
Those who already lived lives where they mostly spent time with people just like them didn’t have relationships and experiences to counter their perspectives when they were taught by their leader that some people were problematic for their country. The isolation from diverse groups increased with the changing social climate of the country, and with continued lack of exposure, it became even easier to believe what they were told about people they didn’t even know.
Diverse relationships are so important for all of us. This has to be more than the one person from a different background you talk to when eating lunch at work. The relationships must be with several diverse people, and you must get to know them well enough to learn about their personal lives. If a friend is not white and you never hear about their experiences with racism and discrimination, that person is having to remain guarded around you. While a deeper relationship cannot be forced, it is helpful to learn more about perspectives that are different from yours through online research and books to educate yourself to a place where your diverse friends are comfortable enough around you to not have to keep certain topics private. It is not the job of the person you consider to be diverse to provide you with a full education on their culture. It’s just too exhausting for someone to go through a lifetime of information just to get you to understand a story.
The goal for any of us is to understand different perspectives well enough that people will feel safe sharing the more painful parts of their lives. It’s not information we can request for anyone describe. It can only come up naturally when a person feels enough comfort in a relationship to discuss it. And if we truly care to get to know a person, we research background information on their culture ourselves so they don’t have to teach multiple lessons just to get us to a place where we can make sense of an experience that has a big impact on them.
Diverse relationships keep us from being vulnerable to leaders like Hitler who thrive on building up fears of people different from us.
For America, I am very concerned, and looking for the good in Trump to find common ground with his supporters is not my goal. I’m sure there are good things he has done. He’s probably made some decisions that have made a positive impact on me.
Doing some good things does not erase empowering and Nazis and white supremacists. Encouraging, supporting, and celebrating racism and instigating more fear of those who are different from us is so destructive that there is no room for this unity I hear of from his supporters. If I were in Germany during Hitler’s rise, I would have objected long before the days of concentration camps. And now I object and firmly reject a leader, who if he was allowed to continue in his position, would eventually create concentration camps, unprecedented levels of division, and finally the fall of our country.
Just as our whole country seems to be baffled by Hitler’s supporters, I feel the same about Trump supporters. I don’t perceive Trump supporters as evil, and I have so much hope that they will start to come out of the spell he seems to have cast.
Outside of this time on earth, I believe we are all of the same source and returning to the same source. If we can all see the danger of the intentional division Trump has created, I can see how we can move to a place of unity for our country as a whole.