During this Thanksgiving week, I am grateful that Gov. Markell not only remains open to accepting Syrian refugees but understands why democracy requires that.
In his statement on CNN.com, Markell opens with the famous words, “those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it,” drawing a comparison between the current uproar against the desperate human beings fleeing a viciously violent war zone in Syria and the refusal of the United States to admit 1,000 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939, many of whom ended up dying in the Holocaust.
Ruth Marcus made the same comparison in her column this morning and recounted the recent receipt of vicious anti-Semitic messages.
According to a recent poll, 54% of people surveyed oppose taking in Syrian refugees. While that renunciation of American values is bad enough, what’s even more disturbing is the recent outpouring of what journalists are rightly calling fascist sentiments.
For decades we have mouthed the words “never again,” yet how quickly fear, hate, and demagoguery stoke the passions of fascism.
Donald Trump is leading the charge, dipping deeply into the right-wing wells of racism, xenophobia, and Islamaphobia. (Interestingly, his daughter is an orthodox Jew, and he has yet to tap anti-Semitism, but there’s still time.)
Trump started his campaign with vicious attacks on Mexicans and the promise of a gigantic police state that would deport 11 million people. Now he wants to close down all mosques and require Muslims to register with the government for easier surveillance. We knew he had the support of white supremacists, but now he is actually Tweeting out neo-Nazi generated racist propaganda.
Moreover, his supporters are looking more and more like jackbooted thugs — and he is fine with that. When a mob of white supporters beat and choked a black man who spoke up for equality at one of his rallies, Trump openly defended them. When Trump boasted that he would reinstitute “waterboarding and worse” — “If it doesn’t work they deserve it anyway” — the crowd went wild!
Sasha Abramsky describes it this way in The Nation:
There is an odor of early fascism, or rather of the hysteria that precedes the march away from democracy, to much of this Trumpian rhetoric. An odor of the street fight. An odor of the iron fist. It is an acrid smell, a mid-century aroma tinted with totalitarianism and historical ignorance.
And Trump is not alone, she tells us. We also have a Democratic mayor in Virginia, calling “for using the World War II internment system that was used against Japanese Americans — itself one of the most widely discredited and shameful episodes in recent American history — as a model for how to approach the Syrians.”
While there have always been plenty of violence-prone, racists and xenophobes on the American Right, this moment differs because political leaders in the mainstream parties — mostly Republicans but not exclusively — are openly stoking hate.
Even George W. Bush didn’t go there after 9/11.
It’s hard to understand how we have gotten to this place. However, we have to recognize who benefits from these developments. In Saving Capitalism, Robert Reich argues that the key division in American politics is not between parties, but between the very wealthy and the rest of us, and he calls for everyday people to band together to reclaim our country for the many not the few.
While Reich rightly notes the existence of widespread support across the political spectrum for economic populism, those supporters remain divided into two camps: Trump v. Sanders. Fueling the flames of fascism — getting white working people to see minorities as the enemy — functions to keep a movement of the 99% from congealing. And manipulating fear to build support for militarism and the surveillance state lines the pockets of the 1%.
In other words, the debate about Syrian refugees is about much more than Syrian refugees. It is about the future of this country and whether we can maintain our democracy.
So when Gov. Markell says Delaware will accept Syrian refugees, he does not just speak with compassion. He stands against the rise of fascism and thus protects democracy itself.
Thank you Gov. Markell.