My first encounter with America was in 1942. That’s when my parents, my five siblings, and I landed in New York following a four-week trans-Atlantic voyage during which our boat, the Serpa Pinto, was boarded by the captain and crew of a German U-boat. We survived that encounter (the captain said he would sink our ship, but either his crew misfired or he changed his mind), as we had somehow survived the previous two years of running and hiding through much of Nazi-occupied Europe and North Africa, always a step ahead of the Gestapo.
Upon arrival in New York, immigration officials confined us to Ellis Island. Because the United States was already at war with Germany, the facility was jammed with Americans of German descent who were being expelled because of their pro-Nazi political activities. All we were aware of was that, at the miraculous moment of our long-hoped-for freedom, we were surrounded by the people we had gone through hell to escape. They spoke in German and greeted each other with shouts of “Heil Hitler!”
I had completely forgotten that brief but nightmarish episode. Seventy-eight years later, Trump’s America brought it back to me, but with a difference. The shouting is now in English; the leader who wants to be heiled is the president of the United States, and his sycophantic heilers this time constitute an entire political party, called the Republican Party.
To those who say that comparisons of Trump’s presidency to Nazi Germany are hyperbolic, I say try telling that to the mothers whose infants have been torn from their arms. A president responsible for such an atrocity exposes a level of cruelty that has no limits. None. Trump has already told us that for him there is little difference between the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and the Americans who took to the streets to condemn their bigotry.
Unlike his apologists, Trump was entirely open about what he would do if he were to lose his 2016 bid for the presidency, an outcome he and the rest of the country fully anticipated on the eve of the elections. He issued thinly veiled threats that his loss would be seen by his supporters—the ones he assured us would continue to stand with him even if he shot a person on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight—as evidence of a rigged election that would trigger an insurrection. His pal Roger Stone went further, promising a bloodbath if Democrats were to steal the race. Although Trump lost the popular vote—a loss he attributed to massive electoral fraud that, like the unprecedented attendance at his inauguration, existed only in his own imagination—we were spared the promised bloodbath because he prevailed in the Electoral College.
That was in 2016, when Trump had none of the powers he now has as president. With his presidential powers, as well as the support of 90 percent of Republican Party members; the support of the National Rifle Association, whose members own the guns in this country; and the slavish devotion of both congressional Republicans and his cabinet, imagine his reaction if he were to lose the presidential elections in 2020.