Donald Trump scares me. He perceives the universe as Them Vs. Us.
As a Jew, I have mostly been on the “them” side. Beginning with the immediate family, it was the Russian Pogroms when Cossacks on horseback hunted down and murdered “them.” Later, Hitler’s final solution was to identify “them” with yellow stars on their clothing and tattooed numbers on their forearms before exterminating them. And that’s just the Jews. What about the others including homosexuals, the disabled, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Afro-Germans, Soviet prisoners of War? They were “them,” too.
When I was in second grade, I became friends with a Japanese classmate. I loved going to her house after school and playing hop scotch in her garden. One of my strongest memories is of her mother who, one day, invited me inside their dimly-lit dining room to see a display of dolls in traditional Japanese costumes encased in glass as part of their Girls Day celebration. I felt so excited and honored.
Soon after, I moved to another school district and in 1941, when Pearl Harbor Day occurred with the ensuing edict of evacuating the Japanese, I imagined my girlfriend’s house darkened and boarded up. How this saddened me.
After my marriage, we lived on the same block as the Ito family, parents and grandfather of Lance Ito, the judge who presided in the OJ Simpson double murder case. The senior Ito family was evacuated to Heart Mt., Wyoming, where Lance’s parents first met. After the war, this family was among a minority who was able to return to their homes due to the generosity of the elder Ito’s friendship with a co-worker who protected the house while they were gone.
In the documentary film, “Witness: the Legacy of Heart Mt.,” Judge Ito discloses that he keeps a painting of the Heart Mt. internment camp in his judicial chambers to remind himself about what might happen if the public is not paying attention.
As an anthropologist/folklorist, I am familiar with the concept of xenophobia, fear of the other. It is a dangerous yet universal notion that divides people. Trump is good at inflaming fear of one group of people against another. This is dangerous. His rhetoric fans the flames of bigotry. It encourages the fringe people to act out their hatred towards “them.”
In his campaign for Republican Presidential nominee, Trump began by bad-mouthing Mexicans. His current “them” is Muslims. How can one not partially connect his vitriolic words against “them” with recent attacks, including arson, upon mosques in North Palm Beach, Florida, Coachella and Hawthorne, California, Macon, Georgia, and Houston, Texas?
Now as the 2015 Christmas Season draws to a close, we see this inspiring message everywhere: Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men. In Trump’s view that sentiment appears to be, Peace on Earth; Good Will to Those Men of My Choosing.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who deplores “him” and not “them.”