After the Nazis were defeated in World War II, U.S. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower wanted ordinary German citizens to see what the Holocaust really was and who the Nazis really were. They had not seen the results of Adolf Hitler’s racist action but rejoiced in the stronger economy, the deportation of Jews and other “undesirables“ from their country, and the invasions of unfriendly countries (like my birthplace Latvia, where my grandmother and uncle were murdered). In sum, making Germany great again. The ordinary Germans did not know about the real cost of the Holocaust. You can see this on YouTube as U.S. soldiers marched the citizenry of Weimer to the nearest concentration camp, Buchenwald. They thought they were going to some sort of war museum. They were smiling and laughing. But after they saw the horrors of Buchenwald, they no longer had smiles on their faces. They threw up instead, fainted, and cried. The horror of Hitler became apparent.
America just went through a similar realization with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. CNN ran this headline: “The day that America realized how dangerous Donald Trump is.” Until the insurrection, too few realized the levels of which the most extreme of Trump’s supporters were capable. Trump and his mentor Steve Bannon called them his “base” while Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables.” The problem with Clinton’s description, of course, was she was no paragon of virtue herself.
The only view of Trump’s base was at Trump’s many rallies, where loyalists would cheer on his idiocies and then go home. No harm, no foul. And most of the media for years went along, saying his threats and insults were just words, just “Donald being Donald.” “He doesn’t mean it,” they said. “There will be a pivot.” “His opponents are just intellectual snobs with no interest in the common man.” “Besides, Trump will come to his senses and become presidential and not be an obnoxious, brash capitalist.”
“It took a defeat of Trump at the polls to unhinge him and have him spout lies on how his election was stolen from him,” some say now.
Trump’s base, a fancier term than “deplorables,” took it in and seemed to believe every word. Everything else was “fake news.” As showman P.T. Barnum once said, there is a sucker born every minute. Do you think Trump would ever allow those in his true base to ever become members of the Mar-A-Lago Club?
In 2016, many Trump supporters voted for him because they did not like Hillary Clinton and big government. But a small percentage voted for him because he is against “multiracial democracy,” more-polite reference to racism. Some of the insurrectionists on Jan. 6 even waved Confederate battle flags, and a gallows with a noose hanging from it was constructed on the Capitol grounds. Oh yeah, they killed a policeman with a fire extinguisher who was trying to protect the Capitol. And they smeared feces on the walls.
Just think back to the reaction to just one Black man, Colin Kaepernick, who committed the horrible crime of taking a knee before football games to protest racial injustice. If you look at videos of the insurrection, you see almost all white faces. I wonder how the media, the military, and the police would have reacted had the insurrection been carried out by Black Lives Matter or by a group of Muslims or Mexicans. I’m sure those people would have been arrested and hauled off to jail.
Instead, on Jan. 6, Trump was able to tell his violent supporters to go home and that he loved them.
John Freivalds of Wayzata, Minnesota, is the author of six books and is the honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota. His website is jfapress.com. He wrote this for the News Tribune.