When the U.S. Supreme Court announced its final set of opinions this term, I was nearly 1,000 miles from my home, hanging out with my family on 100 acres of midwestern wilderness. Thanks to the spotty internet connection, it was impossible to follow the live coverage of the Court’s announcements as I normally would. As a result, I was blissfully unaware of the following decisions until I was able to check the news on my phone while on the road home:
- Janus v. State, County, and Municipal Employees;
- National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra; and
- Trump v. Hawaii
In these cases, the Court dealt a blow to organized labor, harmed women’s health by supporting fake clinics, and upheld Donald Trump’s order restricting immigration and travel to the United States from eight countries, the majority of which are predominantly Muslim.
Shortly after these decisions, during our drive home, I had hoped the Middle Grade audiobook playing in the car would offer a temporary escape from the horrible news, but I was wrong.
The book was Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
It follows an enchanted harmonica from its fairy-tale origins to Germany in 1933, Pennsylvania in 1935, and California in 1942. At each interval, the harmonica ends up in the hands of a child facing challenging circumstances, and as it passes from one person to the next, we are left wondering each child’s fate until the very end of the book.
The audiobook is an engrossing mixture of the spoken text and haunting music, but I was only able to listen to some of it. In the midst of listening to the section on 1930s Germany, I abandoned the audiobook for the ebook, which is less emotionally stirring than hearing the words and music. It’s a children’s book, and it isn’t graphic, but I still found it very hard to listen to a fictional portrayal of the impact of Hitler’s regime on a child and his family. Its parallels to our time in the Trump Era exacerbated my anxiety about the direction of my country.
Comparisons between Hitler and Trump abound — as do criticisms of such comparisons. While I would never want to minimize what Hitler was by making cavalier and hyperbolic analogies, I also do not want to underestimate the danger Trump poses to our democracy by ignoring the parallels to Hitler. Trump is not the equivalent of Hitler, but, like Hitler, he is an authoritarian politician who did not win a majority of votes in any election and who uses racist rhetoric and propaganda to consolidate power, undermine the press, and oppress people of backgrounds he considers unworthy.
Historian Volker Ullrich, author of Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, warns against making such comparisons, saying in 2017:
Drawing lessons from the past for the present is a difficult task, because history never repeats itself. An unreflected comparison between Hitler’s Germany and Trump’s America actually carries the risk of misunderstanding the great differences. I am referring to, for example, the fact that the American Constitution is based on a system of checks and balances, which a man like Trump will hardly be able to eliminate. In addition, its authoritarian powers are hampered by the strength of American civil society and the influence of the great liberal newspapers. In Germany, after the elimination of the Weimar constitution, the equalization of the parties, associations and media, and the establishment of the dictatorship in 1933-1934, there were no longer any opposing forces which could have stifled Hitler’s absolute will to power. (emphasis added).
I do not have as much faith in America’s system of checks and balances as Ullrich does. Our long, undemocratic history of systematic voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, and corrupt campaign financing has resulted in elected and appointed lawmakers with no interest in checking or balancing Donald Trump. For evidence, see our GOP-controlled Congress, led by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, and every Republican-appointed Justice on the Supreme Court. These are the Justices who upheld the Muslim travel ban in Trump v. Hawaii and refused to correct partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford or voter suppression in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Donald Trump’s influence on our highest court will only grow now that Justice Anthony Kennedy has gifted him the opportunity to appoint yet another lifetime Justice. American democracy will suffer the consequences of our undemocratically elected President and the cowardly members of our other branches of the federal government for a long time.
Is there anything we can do about it?
Of course. Vote. Our democratic system is compromised, but elections matter. For a list of upcoming elections in 2018, see this article from The New York Times. The midterm election is on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.
In the meantime, register to vote if you aren’t already, and whether or not you are, double-check your registration well in advance of the next election to make it less likely that the “funny things” that happen to voter rolls will happen to you. I can’t tell you how many times, as a local Judge of Elections, I wasn’t able to find the registration of a would-be voter who has a clear memory of having voted at my precinct before.
Also, call or write your lawmakers, especially your United States Senators, who are responsible for confirming Trump’s appointments to the judiciary. Contact them even if you think you know their position.
It is also important to follow and support civil rights organizations that are actively resisting this administration. The nationals we always hear about are important, but so are state-based and local groups that are using the checks and balances that still exist in our federalist system to defend our democratic institutions and expand civil rights protections. To find law-oriented public interest organizations at the state and local levels, see if your local bar association maintains a directory.
*Images: The top and bottom pictures are scenes from my vacation at my Uncle’s house. Click on the panoramic image at the top to make it bigger (credit to Mr. AMB for taking the picture). My kids tried fishing for the first time on this vacation, and two out of three loved it.