During the two weeks that I was in Paris, my blog inaccessible to me, a very great deal has happened, and I would like over the next few days to address much of it here, but as I plow through the accumulated mail, shop for staples, and try to catch up with local matters, I need to say something about the horrendous disaster playing out across America, as parents seeking asylum are forcibly separated from their children, possibly forever. Yes, yes, I know this is not the worst thing the American government has done, or even indeed is currently doing. But sufficient unto the day.
Rather than recycle news reports, which fortunately are receiving wall to wall coverage, I shall exercise the privilege of the blogger and step back a bit to try to get some perspective on what is happening.
It is always my preference to connect general or theoretical observations to personal experiences, a habit, I realize, that some of my readers enjoy and that irritates others. So be it. Since the worst non-American regime of which I have had personal experience was the apartheid regime in South Africa, I shall start there. When I first visited South Africa in 1986, the old regime was still in power, and eighty percent or more of the population was oppressed by the state and excluded from political participation or access to much of the economy. I knew that. The whole world knew that. And yet, much of my visit, which was spent on university campuses in Johannesburg and Durban, was on a daily level indistinguishable from time I had spent on American campuses. The people I met were delightful, extremely well-educated, for the most part impeccably progressive, even radical, and seemingly as free as those I knew at home. The hideousness of the regime was not, at the sensory level, at all apparent to me, nor did it have any noticeable impact on my experiences. As I continued to visit South Africa, returning more than forty times over a period of a quarter of a century, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the organization he headed, the African National Congress, was unbanned, Mandela was elected president, apartheid officially ended, and the country was transformed. And yet, my daily experiences after liberation were not markedly different from my experiences before liberation.
I begin with this personal experience because I want to say that we are witnessing the arrival of fascism in America, and whether it succeeds or fails to take control of the country is very much in doubt right now. This will sound hyperbolic, even to those who share my moral and political perspective, but I mean it seriously. I have been obsessed all my life by the haunting fear that if I had lived in Germany in 1933, wrapped up as I would have been in the exciting intellectual and artistic world of the Weimar period, I would have been incapable of recognizing the true magnitude of the threat posed by Hitler and his National Socialist party. At that point, the actions of the Nazis would probably have had as little effect on my immediate life as the apartheid regime did on my visits to South Africa.
Oh, I know how different the two cases are, but that is not the point. The point is that often, if one waits to act until the evil affects you personally, you have waited too long. Trump proclaims that he wants to expel asylum seekers without judges or hearings or other elements of due process. He tells us that he wants to be a dictator and he rails against procedural restrictions on his willful attacks against any who displease him in any way. He tells us that he is a fascist, or rather he would if he knew what the word means. All I can think of is the immortal line by Maya Angelou, so often quoted: “If someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time.”
What then follows? I will try to address that question later on, today or tomorrow. Suffice it to say that driving Sarah Huckabee Sanders from a restaurant is a good start, albeit a tiny one.