Imagine for a minute coming out to your car in the morning. You have your coffee, your briefcase, you’re checking your messages, neck bent toward your smart phone, your eight year old daughter is at your elbow, chattering about something…and then you look up and see your car and it has a swastika painted on it. With an invitation to die.
What do you think you would do?
How does one explain this to a child? “What’s a swastika” they ask, and you tell them about the unbelievable time in history where hatred walked in jackboots and killed as many people as there are stars in the sky because a guy with a taste for riling up huge crowds at populist rallies told them to.
Growing up, my mom was a big reader, and so was I. I read all the books in a home library that covered a whole wall of the living room. We went to the library every week or so, staying for hours and always checking out the limit – eight, as I recall. Mom never prevented me from reading her selections as well, so from a young age — around 9 or so — I read books about the rise of the Third Reich, World War II, Hitler, his willing army of executioners, the pogroms, the concentration camps, the murder on a galactic scale, the families torn apart. The bodies piled in ravines, the bodies stacked like cordwood. The spidery symbol overlaying it all, the world’s most murderous shorthand.
All of it seemed comfortingly long ago. All those crazy people ganging up together to kill millions and not even kids got a pass — that could never ever happen again, I told myself. No way. That was clear to me, all the books were saying so right there in the preface: “So that we don’t forget”, they solemnly intoned, before they showed me things about the history of human hatred that can never be unremembered.
I reassured myself with the fact that the bad guys were the Germans, and we, the Americans, were on the side of the good guys, liberating those terrifyingly emaciated men that stared out from the black and white pictures, the original walking dead.
I see a picture like this car with the swastika painted on it and I think, what dumb cowardly shits. And I think, I bet it was just like this, at first, back in the 1930s. All over Germany, in ordinary suburbs like the ones I drive through on the way to the bakery every day.
I think, I bet it started with these ‘little’ crimes against morality, these little stabs in the heart of humanity. Back then, the swastika was powerful because it was a symbol of the new way things were — the symbol of a power run amok. Today, it gets its power from the devastating weight of history — our knowledge of just how amok things will get, if we let them.
To invoke this power today is to lay full claim to its evil past.
It’s just this one car, people back then probably said. An isolated incident, they told themselves, each other. It’s just some broken shop windows, they said. It’s only a few bad actors. Things are not out of control, they said. Until they were.
If you voted for Trump you may not think you’re a racist or a bigot or a misogynist. And you may not be. And despite some of Trump’s rhetoric, *he* may not be. He says he’s not; he even used his 60 Minutes platform to disavow the hate being spread in his name.
But know this: these people are openly flying their hate flag by the tolerance and approval Trump provided by his rhetoric, and you provided by the tacit acceptance indicated by your vote. When violence breaks out in Trump’s name, it’s paid for with a check you’ve endorsed.
If you voted for Trump you created the environment for this open expression of evil to happen. And now you’ve forced this problem on all of us. We who did not vote for Trump — a majority, mind you — now have to deal with the emboldened cretins vandalizing cars and houses and threatening the safety and the security of our fellow citizens.
When we see something like this, don’t we all (but especially Trump voters) have to ask ourselves, how much is too much?
So this is one car — how many cars are too many cars?
When does the hatred get to a point where it needs to be stopped? Is it two cars? Five cars? Ten?
How bad is too bad?
How much uncaring inhumanity do we bear witness to before we are forced by moral obligation to stand up to it and denounce it?
How far will you, personally, let evil go?
At what point will your disavowal of hate drown out all else, as it must?
It’s no real consolation, but I heard a story only today of an area where neo-nazi rabble types regularly sprayed swastikas to terrorise the local Hindu population. The latter, however, formed a coping strategy of inclining their head whenever they saw one (to put it back on its proper alignment, rather than the diagonal Nazi version) and uttering a blessing. I thought that a rather wonderful example of refusing to return hate for hate, akin to that gentleman turning one into a symbol of love. Small gestures of resistance, but important in these times. We dare not be apathetic or disunited. The forces of evil and bitterness have shown that they can be disturbingly united…
And while I can accept that not *everyone* who voted for Trump was a racist or a misogynist, they were at the very least one lousy ally…
Thanks for sharing, Eleanor. I like the Hindu method! Totally agree on the culpability too.
One often sees the swastika symbol built into the fabric of very old houses in Sri Lanka. This does not mean the builders were Nazis. The swastika is an ancient religious symbol originating from the Indian subcontinent. It is a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism and dates back at least 11,000 years. It is awful that it has become the symbol of hate and horror as it was the symbol of peace and continuity.
Thanks for sharing that Padraig, I was unaware.