Gentle Readers, we have had quite a weekend. Various organizations have a habit of declaring this day and that a day to celebrate, remember, or mourn some historical event. Wealthy, powerful organizations usually have people on staff who will check and see what occasions warrant the usual statements or when they ought to refrain from certain things. The White House, the center of the wealthiest and most powerful organization on the planet, for now, has the staff to keep track better than most. Holocaust Remembrance Day came on Friday and the Trump White House put out two statements in honor of the occasion.
The first addressed the occasion directly, albeit in an unusual way. In three paragraphs, the man who appointed an antisemite his chief adviser somehow neglected to mention any particular victims of the Holocaust. Once, people we used to consider the epitome of evil worked to physically erase the Jewish people from the Earth. Now their admirers would do the same to their memory. In this, they follow the example of their international counterparts. If they must acknowledge the Holocaust, then it would not do to give the impression that they objected to the choice of victims.
The White House pleads that other people died in the Holocaust. In an effort to be inclusive, they chose language which could apply to LGBT people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Roma, Sinti, and Slavs. Related programs murdered the disabled. Had the White House given the full list, no one would have objected. Had they just listed the Jews, as the Nazi’s principal victims, they would have followed the precedent of past statements. Any public statement to come out of a modern White House goes through many hands, checked and rechecked. We cannot fairly call this an accident or oversight; the Trump Administration made a choice.
The second statement in memory of the Holocaust came in the form of an executive order. Therein Trump forbade the entry of refugees from Syria indefinitely. Driven from their homes by a civil war between a brutal dictator and brutal religious fanatics, the latter of whom earned a Made in the USA sticker by rising out of our war for pleasure against Iraq, they will find no safety here. The poor, huddled masses yearning to be free can instead find freedom from the mortal coil in the tender ministrations of ISIS. Previous to this, those masses largely consisted of homeless children, the elderly, and the seriously ill. None fits my profile for a terrorist, but I confess myself unlearned in such things.
We have feared refugees before, particularly when they adhere to a less familiar religion. Trump’s other restrictions on entry from a list of Muslim-majority countries exempt religious minorities, so non-Muslims. All of the restrictions, over the objection of the Department of Homeland Security’s lawyers, apply even to legal residents of the United States. Steve Bannon, the antisemite aforementioned, overruled DHS. His victims must endure extreme vetting, as if they had not already gone through the torturous, expensive process of acquiring their green cards. We designed said process to generate refusal for all but the most determined and well-lawyered, incidentally. Even those who hazarded their lives to aid us in our misbegotten wars in the Middle East for the promise of admission to our occasionally fair land must submit. This vetting, it seems, includes yielding up their phones, social network accounts, and asking their opinion of Donald Trump.
I digress; you come here for history and I have written entirely of current events. In 1939, the St. Louis sailed from Hamburg for Cuba, with the idea that its nine hundred plus passengers would wait there while others arranged their entry to the United States. It didn’t work that way; the City on the Hill declared the Statue of Liberty closed and eventually the ship returned to Europe. We had strict quotas on immigration, you understand; we could not break our rules. (The quota system stood until 1965.) Some nations took on a few of the Jewish refugees aboard, but about half died in the Holocaust.
If you grew up in the United States at any time in the past sixty years, you probably know this story: A Jewish family hides from the Nazis in a secret room. One of them, a young girl, keeps a diary. Someone betrays them and the Nazis come. The father survives and one of the people who helped hide the family gives her the papers she found in their hiding place, the diary included. Its author died in Bergen-Belsen. We didn’t know the rest of the story when I sat in the eighth grade and read the book, but it came out a few years ago: Otto Frank sought entry to the US for his family. We refused them just as we refused the passengers on the St. Louis.
I don’t know what to say to that. Thousands of Americans have made their discontent known by flooding the airports. The ACLU got a court order suspending enforcement of the executive order for holders of green cards, but now I see reports that the customs officials don’t see court orders as something requiring their compliance. People ordered released remain in custody as of this writing at more than one airport. That looks less like obstinate bad apples and more like planned resistance. It may be that eight days into his administration, Donald Trump has already decided the courts have no power over him.
In the previous eight days, Trump ordered the silencing of all executive branch communications with the public. He has essentially removed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, military professionals, from the National Security Council and replaced them with Steve Bannon, publisher of this sort of thing. Now this. When movements like these happen in other countries, we call it a coup. Tomorrow we may wake up and find out that Trump caved and this crisis has passed. Or we might not. The last, and only, president who fell did so because a hostile Congress proceeded against him. Trump has no such adversary.