With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris about to take up the mantles of President-elect and Vice-President-elect of the United States of America, today ranks among the most significant days in the life of our free Republic. Whether you’re a Democrat, Independent or a brave Republican who sought the repudiation not merely of Donald Trump but also of Trumpism, and are disappointed Democrats did not capture the Senate and even had modest losses in the U.S. House and some state legislatures, you are missing this glorious moment in history.
The United States has lived for the last four years under the vice-grip of fascism. To many of us who once asked, “Can it happen here?” it did happen here. Each of us has lived through fascism in our own land, and we have now survived to be sentinels so that fascism never takes control of our country again.
Allow me to speak to you from the core of my identity: I am a Jew. I come from a people who know from fascism. After I founded Garden State Equality and we won marriage equality in New Jersey, I ran a national Jewish organization, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust to ensure that the worst of history never repeats itself. These days, I am in training to be a rabbi at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York.
I have always flinched whenever anyone compared Donald Trump to the leader of Nazi Germany. Trump did not kill six million Jews and nine million other people. Such comparisons were, and will always be, irresponsible.
But I’m not talking about Nazi Germany from 1942 to 1945. I mean Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1942, when the Nazis rose to power and laid the foundation of hatred that made the genocide possible.
From 1933 to 1945, the Nazis perfected, with all their evil precision, every successive stage of fascism. First, they scapegoated us Jews for the country’s ills. Then the Nazis established laws that enshrined discrimination and harassment to make Jews seem subhuman. With dehumanization under way, the Nazis extracted Jews from the rest of society and removed them to prisons of hell. Then came the genocide.
That is what Donald Trump did to Muslim refugees. That is what he did to Latinx immigrants whose children he snatched away and put in science-experiment cages worthy only of rats. That is what he did to African-Americans, whose right to participate in American democracy he challenged at every turn, and is still challenging in this immediate aftermath of the election.
And that is where he was going with Jews. I, for one, have not forgotten his team’s referring to us “globalists,” that time-honored Antisemitic code-word for Jews. I, for one, have not forgotten his calling White Nationalists who shouted “Jews shall not replace us” in Charlottesville to be very fine people. Don’t you dare throw Trump’s alleged support of Israel in my face. I am a passionate Zionist for whom the survival of the modern state of Israel is essential to my being. But when you use Israel as a wedge to make me choose, in cynical posturing, between Israel and the United States, you are a shameful Antisemite who is the enemy of my ability to love America as I maintain my religious and ethnic pride.
Every nightmare millions of Americans had about Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign came true, and then some. Today, Trump’s wrecking ball to the moral infrastructure of America has left our nation’s soul in tatters as if a city bombed out after a war. The memories of nearly a quarter of million dead from COVID, and its genocidal disrespect of human life, lurks around the tatters of a weeping terrain.
But it could have been worse. Compare Donald Trump to the other authoritarian leaders of history. Hitler ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. Mussolini ruled Italy twice as long, from 1922 to 1943. Iran’s current leader, Ali Khamenei, has been President and Supreme Leader since 1981. And in North Korea, the Kim family has been in power since 1948.
Perhaps you believe Donald Trump, as dangerous as he has been, does not belong in their league. Let me remind you of the dreams he shared at MAGA rallies to change the U.S. Constitution to serve more than two terms. Let me implore you to turn on your television right now to witness his attempts to end the counting of ballots and to his idea, floated by allies, of foisting his own electors upon electoral college gatherings in key swing states.
Every fascist ruler, whether Donald Trump or any of those abroad, enshrines himself in the power of cultism. Absorbed in the trances of false hope to fight from the trenches of true hatred, the cultist’s blind followers make it nearly impossible to remove the leader from power. How naïve for any of us to believe that one democratic election would remove the fascist from power and his followers from feeling empowered. Absent a civil war, a world war, or a successive undemocratic regime, post-fascist reform does not happen in one fell swoop.
In 2020, our nation summoned the power of freedom to remove its fascist leader after four years. Don’t get me wrong: These have been four of the most painful years in our respective lifetimes. But they could have been eight, 16 or 50 years. If not for this election, America would have died.
Instead, as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris assume their democratically earned roles as President-elect and Vice-President-elect of the United States of America, our nation has survived. Each of us has reason to rejoice.
So put on a face mask, find a photo on your laptop of Americans celebrating in Times Square in May 1945, and kiss the screen as if you were there. Because you are.
This is V-Day 2020 and it’s a good day to be alive.