A Jewish friend recently told me in all seriousness that she had renewed her family’s passports and was prepared to flee the country if Donald Trump actually won the presidency. The statement struck me as odd, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.
Let’s be clear: I do not put genocide past Donald Trump. He has encouraged violence among his supporters in ways large and small, called Mexican immigrants rapists, suggested that entire Muslim families be exterminated for having a family member involved with ISIS (with no due process to verify that you’ve targeted the right people, of course), and suggested that we ban Muslim immigrants and deport those who are already here. He has come out in favor of torture. If you think that he’s just saying these things because he thinks they’re what his supporters want to hear, I encourage you to read this 1922 New York Times article about how this Adolf Hitler chap was definitely just playing to his base and didn’t really mean any harm, for all of his violent rhetoric.
So why do I find it strange to suggest that as liberal Jews, we should flee the country if Donald Trump is elected president? Because fleeing isn’t good enough.
First of all, the 21st century United States is not early 20th-century Germany. It is not one of many world powers struggling for supremacy in a pre-atomic world. If tomorrow the United States decided to exterminate a group of people, it would almost undoubtedly succeed. If, for example, President Trump were to decide to drop hydrogen bombs on Iran or Russia or even China, literally nothing in the world could stop him. On a smaller scale, you may have heard of these things called drones that are super popular among the US intelligence community…
On the whole, running is useless.
But even so, that’s not what really bothered me about my friend’s suggestion. What bothered me was the idea that we, the Jews of America, should flee the country rather than stay and try to protect the actual targets of Trump’s demagoguery. Because for all that Donald Trump is undeniably anti-semitic, his anti-semitism is a matter of ugly and thoughtless stereotyping, not hate. We are not the targets. The targets are Muslims, Latinos, and black Americans. Internationally his hate is directed primarily against China and Mexico.
First they came for the Muslims, the Mexicans, and the People of Color, but I said nothing because I was already on a flight to Israel.
That’s my concern. I feel that if we are serious about Never Again, we have to be willing to risk ourselves to protect others. We have to be willing to stay behind in Trump’s America, to protest his policies and even to take our neighbors into our homes if need be. We can’t hang around watching Schindler’s List and feeling powerless when there may be actual lives that we can save.
If we’re lucky, it won’t come up. Trump will not be our next president, or if that disaster should befall our country, hopefully his election will fail to turn America into the authoritarian hellscape that many of us fear. The risk that a President Trump would turn to genocide is real and it’s frightening, but it’s not exactly a lock. Maybe he’d turn out to be less Hitler and more Arnold Schwarzenegger. One can’t know for sure.
But if it does go down the way my friend fears, it would be wrong for us to abandon our country to the authoritarians. America will need people of good conscience more than ever. As Jews in the 21st century, our country has chosen to grant us the privilege of whiteness; the least we can do is to use it to defend Trump’s true targets.
N.S. Dolkart is the author of Silent Hall, available for pre-order at any bookstore in the US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand. It’s coming out in June, and it’s really good. You should buy it.