A charismatic and outspoken man standing on a stage in Western Europe addresses a large audience comprised of far-right politicians. “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor, because every day we get stronger and they get weaker!” The crowd demonstrates its approval of the speaker’s message with a standing ovation.
It is not hard to imagine Adolph Hitler shouting those words into a microphone in 1930s Berlin, whipping his Nazi supporters, convinced of their superiority, into a frenzy. But would you believe me if I told you that those words were uttered just the other day, in formerly Nazi-occupied France, by an American?
Believe it. It should alarm every liberty-loving person in the world that Steve Bannon, the man responsible for shaping many of the policies implemented by Donald Trump, was the person being applauded by members of France’s National Front party (whose founder, and current honorary president, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been convicted of racism and Holocaust denial in French courts at least six times.)
Le Pen, Bannon, Trump, and Hitler all have one thing in common: They are far-right nationalist-populists, united in their opposition to people from certain regional and religious backgrounds immigrating to—and/or living in—their countries. Their motto: “All are welcome (as long as you are white, European, and Christian).”
I can already hear my editor politely reminding me, “KEEP IT LOCAL, NAUGHTON!” Bear with me, Chief.
Steve Bannon was mistaken when he said, “…every day we get stronger and they get weaker.” “Stronger” isn’t the correct word. He should have used “bolder.” Our fair hamlet of Ashland serves as an example of how comfortable some people are with expressing these extremist, racist views. I’ve heard or read statements made by several of our local citizens demanding that every illegal immigrant in America be deported immediately. Never mind the estimated 3.6 million people living in the United States who were brought to America illegally when they were innocent children and have since established productive and peaceful lives here. Many of them now have children of their own who are legal American citizens.
Never mind that the right-leaning United States Supreme Court recently ruled that these otherwise law-abiding people swept up in immigration raids can be held in detention centers (jails) indefinitely, even for years, with no charges filed and no provisions for bail—children included.
Thomas Jefferson did not write that all men, except illegal immigrants, are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” he wrote, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Even immigrants.
When the President of the United States takes every opportunity to exploit crimes committed by immigrants, far-right nationalists are emboldened. When clashes between white supremacists and counterdemonstrators are characterized by the President as having “good people on both sides”, racists everywhere are emboldened. When the leader of the free world tries to ban all people from largely non-white, non-Christian countries from legally traveling to America, the extremists of the far-right are emboldened. So are their children.
Both of my non-white, foreign-born, immigrant children have heard classmates make racist comments about them in school—one very recently. A friend who adopted a child from what Trump would call a “sh*thole country” told me just last week that a kid in her child’s class won’t stop talking about how great the Klan is. These kids are not born with hate in their heart. They learn to hate from their elders. These people, Steve Bannon’s people, wear their racist beliefs like a badge of honor for all the world to see—including our kids. Yes, the anti-immigrant, anti-brown skin far-right is definitely getting bolder. But not stronger, Mr. Bannon.
And those of us who believe in equality, justice, and basic human rights are definitely not getting weaker. No, sir. The good people of this great nation stood opposed to the torch-wielding, neo-Nazi wannabes in the streets of Charlottesville. When Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, putting over 800,000 participants at risk of deportation, people all across America protested in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people participating in the 2018 Women’s March rallied against the administration’s policies on immigration, healthcare, and racism, and for women’s rights. And millions of others, including writers/parents/educators like me, show their strength by speaking the truth and standing up for what’s right—even when a lot of emboldened, hate-filled people would like to shut us up.
In his remarks to the National Front, Bannon said, “History is on our side.” I think Steve needs to re-read the history books rather than try to re-write them. Far-right, nationalist-populist regimes such as Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy don’t usually fare too well. You would think a baby-boomer American and a room full of liberated French folks would remember that.