Jeff almost toppled over as he lowered himself to a crouching position as ordered. He was glad for the momentary distraction of instability as he braced himself with his arm, hand to cold asphalt. The crowd around him roared. There was no point, he thought to himself, in questioning how he had gotten here, how this had happened. It happened so quickly, in a matter of months, and he still wasn’t sure that it was real. How could it be?
Sharpshooters were crouched on the roofs of all the surrounding buildings, presumably aimed into the crowds but it was impossible to tell at such heights. Around the president was a circle of secret service officers, and behind them a wider circle of New York City police officers outfitted in combat gear, complete with full-body shields. An inner shell, an outer shell, and beyond, who could guess how many bloodthirsty, eager citizens were calling out, holding their signs aloft, making the indistinguishable but unmistakable noises of human animals?
The platform was just high enough for those closest to the circle of militia-police to see the top of Jeff’s head and the gun pointed at it. But they could look higher, to the Jumbotron screens.
“What did I tell you?” The president’s voice reverberated over the heads of the masses. The white animal noise quieted. They had come to hear him.
“What did I tell you?” he repeated. He smiled. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody. And I wouldn’t lose your support.”
The streets of New York exploded in celebratory screams. It was the end of January, but from a distance the display could be mistaken for a New Year’s Eve celebration.
“Will I lose your support?” he asked.
“Do it,” called out a woman whose face was lost among all the faces. “No,” screamed dozens of others, followed by hundreds of unharmonic nos. Slowly, deliberately, dramatically the president swung his outstretched arm like a crane toward Jeff’s head. Jeff’s eyes were loss in a mass of horizontal folds across his face. He had no control now; he was all muscle reflexes, all constriction and tremors. The president put the face of the gun against the back of Jeff’s head. He felt pressure, the cutting edge of the metal and its cold. Jeff wasn’t there anymore. He had already gone; this was only a body squatting for the entertainment of the crowds. And then the pressure lifted.
The president pulled the gun away. “Are you sure?” he challenged the crowd. The people went silent. “Are you sure I won’t lose your support if I do this?”
“Do it!” a man called out with such force that his voice shredded itself to hoarseness. Now the crowd was together, chanting in unison, “Do-It-Do-It-Do-It.” The president in one swift move shot Jeff in the back of his skull. Jeff’s face exploded over New York City on the electronic billboards overhead.
“Thank you,” the president said, “for your support. Let’s celebrate.”
I have a master’s degree in fiction writing, but I never could have imagined the scenario above. It was imagined by the president-elect of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. It was, in fact, part of his campaign platform. I exercised my artistic license by moving the action from Fifth Avenue to Times Square, as Times Square is flasher and therefore seems more Trumpesque. Only time will tell, though, where our future president might choose to fulfill his promise. The world is his oyster, it seems.
On January 23, 2016, Donald J. Trump boasted “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Reporters asked immediately afterward what that comment meant. He refused to answer the question. In the midst of a cataclysmic American mass-shooting epidemic, when gun control might have been and should have been a primary talking points in presidential debates, Donald Trump instead bragged confidently that he himself could get away with the most public of murders. With a public execution of an unnamed target.
In our world, having said such things should have disqualified Trump from becoming President of the United States of America. He was condemned–not specifically for this comment, still inexplicable–by opponents, including those among his own party. And then, as if they were under his spell, nearly every one of those opponents betrayed the public interest, their consciences, their stated religious faiths, all in deference to their political party.
June 2: House Speaker Paul Ryan endorses Donald J. Trump for President of the United States.
June 7: House Speaker Paul Ryan said about Trump’s remarks that a judge of Mexican heritage is disqualified by virtue of his ethnic background to do the job, “I regret those comments that he made. I don’t think…claiming that a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed.”
November 17: Ryan tweeted: “We need to stop underestimating @realDonaldTrump.”
November 18: Paul Ryan tweeted: “We want to hit the ground running in January, and start delivering on President-elect Trump’s agenda.”
November 21: House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted “The 115th Congress is going to help @realDonaldTrump fix the nation’s problems.”
June 6: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): “I don’t defend what [Donald Trump] says” […] “I ran for president and warned you that this was going to happen.”
July 21: Rubio endorsed Donald Trump for the office of the president.
August 7: American Nazi Party chair endorsed Donald Trump, observing that Trump’s presidency would be “a real opportunity” for the neo-Nazi movement in the United States.
May 3: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called Donald J. Trump “a pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen before.” During the same speech, Cruz said Trump “doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies.”
September 23: Cruz endorsed Donald Trump for the office of the president.
October 8: Former Republican presidential candidate and Trump opponent John Kasich in a public statement said, “…Donald Trump is a man that I cannot and should not support…I will not vote for a man who has behaved in a manner that reflects so poorly on our country. Our country deserves better.”
November 1: Klu Klux Klan endorsed Donald Trump for president of the United States.
November 9: Donald J. Trump is elected via electoral college President of the United States of America. Breitbart writer and Trump surrogate Milo Yiannopoulos posts to Instagram “WELCOME TO THE TRUMPENREICH.”
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) November 12, 2016
November 14: USA Today declared “Post-election Spate of Hate Crimes Worse Than Post-9/11.” Hate crimes have included violent attacks against African American, Muslim, LGBT and other groups and, notably, swastika graffiti throughout the country.
November 14: Donald Trump appoints Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen Bannon to office of White House chief strategist and senior counselor.
November 14: According to Politico, the Jewish Anti-Defamation League denounced Trump’s appointment of Bannon as “hostile to core American values.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), however, would not take a position despite the rise in anti-Semitic graffiti and other public intimidation and hate speech on the rise throughout the United States.
November 18: Following weeks of denials that Steve Bannon has white-supremacist views (which came as a result of white-supremacist “alt-right” groups celebrating his selection by Trump to lead White House strategy), Mother Jones reported that Bannon has belonged to a private Facebook group called Vigilant Patriots which Bannon joined seven years ago. The group, which has only 3,600 members, “includes posts urging a military coup against President Barack Obama, featuring an image of the president dressed as an SS officer, celebrating the Confederate flag, highlighting a photoshopped picture of Obama with watermelons, praising a police officer who called Obama a “F*cking Nigger,” and calling for Obama to be “executed as a traitor.”
November 19: Federally owned Ronald Reagan Building hosted National Policy Institute, a white-supremacist group, which used German Nazi propaganda term lungenpresse and chanted “Heil Trump!” while giving traditional Nazi salute to the president-elect in Washington, D.C. Notably, Maggiano’s Little Italy, which hosted the group’s dinner in Washington, issued a public apology, stating that it did not know the group’s affiliation when it booked the NPI’s dinner reservation. Notably, the restaurant is the only entity that apologized for the group’s demonstration on its property or the words that were spoken.
November 21: The Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League called on Donald Trump to denounce the so-called alt-right (equivalent to neo-Nazi) movement.
November 21: The New York Police Department created a special unit to deal with the sudden “explosion” of hate crimes.
November 22: Trump told the New York Times that Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are “in love with me.”
November 23: As of this morning, Donald Trump has not shot anyone in New York City as he boasted he could do without losing any of his supporters; yet, he may not need to, as over 800 hate crimes in his name have been reported in the two weeks since his election. (They can be viewed on a map here.) As he boasted, Trump has not lost a single supporter, despite acts of racially motivated intimidation and violence being committed in his name, or despite receiving the endorsement of the Klu Klux Klan and the Steve Bannon-cultivated “alt-right movement,” which denies affiliations with the American Nazi Party but whose members at the National Policy Institute called out “Heil Trump” while giving Nazi salutes and uttering S.S. propaganda in the original German.
It seems to me that if a person doesn’t draw the line when Nazis make that person their hero, then that person absolutely will not draw the line when Nazis draw their guns. But why should that be surprising when that person promised himself to execute someone in the middle of New York City as part of his campaign platform? Trump never offered a reasonable explanation for his bizarre and ultra-violent claim that he could execute someone (who?) on Fifth Avenue, and no one ever challenged him to answer for it. The answer could be that he plans to do it…that seems to be a crazy thought, but is it any crazier than a presidential candidate making such a hypothetical statement, and is it any crazier than a president-elect receiving the endorsements of genocide-endorsing hate groups without criticism?
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody.” I can’t get those words out of my head. I can’t erase the imagery that those words recall, in black and white, because those words recall a specific scene from the movie Schindler’s List. I can’t believe that the Nazi sympathizers who successfully rebranded themselves innocuously as “the alt-right,” are performing Nazi salutes to our president-elect in a federally owned building in Washington, D.C., and I can’t believe that almost all groups–with exceptions such as the United States Holocaust Museum, which has put its alarm on the record–have been silent about it. An Italian restaurant that didn’t realize it would be hosting Nazis issued a public apology and explanation; no one else has. Last weekend, President Obama–who to my knowledge is actively serving as President of the United States of America–told Americans to “wait and see” what happens. To my knowledge, President Obama has not publicly condemned or even questioned this week’s Nazi rally and the party’s support of Donald Trump. Nor has Hillary Clinton, nor has Bernie Sanders, nor Schindler’s List director Steven Spielberg, nor any other known or influential person with a reason to speak up.
I have never been frightened, really, by horror movies. I was absolutely traumatized by my 10th grade education, during which I was made to read Elie Wiesel’s concentration-camp memoir Night, to visit the newly opened U.S. Holocaust Museum, and to watch Schindler’s List.
While Schindler’s List and Night focus primarily on the death camps, the Holocaust Museum also details through archival film and photography medical experiments carried out by the Nazi movement that rival and almost certainly inspired some of the scenes depicted in Game of Thrones. These experiments included bone, muscle, and nerve transplants; inflicted head injuries; freezing experiments; intentional infection with contagious diseases; mustard gas exposure; intentional starvation and dehydration with seawater; poison; bombing; high-altitude exposure; and blood coagulation–tortures beyond even George R. R. Martin’s imagination, and all carried out on living human beings with no anesthesia.
A notable and well-remembered experiment by Josef Mengele, head Nazi doctor, involved injecting the eyes of living children with dyes and bleach in an attempt to convert brown eyes to blue. Of course, it is impossible to convert one eye color to another in this way–just as it is impossible to convert a gay person into a straight person through the kind of torture that Vice President-elect Mike Pence has endorsed in the past. To be sure, Pence-supported conversion therapy is no less tortuous than Mengele’s eye color experiments, often involving drugging and electrocution of LGBT people to induce seizures while exposing these people to homoerotic pornography. It’s torture. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter: America’s next vice president has written it into legislation in the past, and he will not denounce it today. And why would he, when a rapidly expanding Washington, D.C. think tank of Nazi sympathizers is hailing Donald Trump as an aghast world idly stands by? We’re not only confronting a reality of a president-elect who won the office by joking that he could get away with murder as a public spectacle, but also with the proposition of torturing living human beings because those in power believe their natures to be inferior.
Before the mid-century European holocaust, there was no documented precedent for the horrors that unfolded, and many of those horrors were not revealed until after the war had ended.
The Nazis set the precedent for real-life horror. As a result, the Nazi party, and its signature salute, have come to embody humanity’s most evil potentials to the extent that Nazi uniforms as costumes on Halloween–the day of the year when we take the wind out of horror by making light of it–remain taboo, and wearing a Nazi costume even in jest can have severe consequences.
Or at least it could until recently. Donald Trump, in a concerted effort with Breitbart News, has courted those who see themselves as the heirs to the Nazi party, and who have rebranded themselves as the alt-right–with unimaginable success. News media have accepted this rebranding, and refer consistently to the seemingly innocuous term “alt-right” rather than the loaded “white supremacists” or the honest equivalent neo-Nazis. Undercurrents of Naziism being mainstreamed and even represented as “cool” trace back at least to 2011, when the esteemed The Atlantic published an article called “How To Ask for a ‘Hitler Youth’ Haircut,” which author Alexander Abad-Santos calls, “…a new trend in haircuts, and it’s dangerous, sort of awesome, and really offensive.” In one stunning sentence, the deaths of six million-plus people, and the unholy tortures of unknown numbers of others through human medical experimentation, undermined. Naziism is cool again for the first time ever.
The horrors of the Holocaust are far more terrifying than any fiction, and what is happening today certainly would not be believed if these events were written on paper or projected onto a screen. Is anyone going to do anything about this? What the hell happened to our country humanity?