A dark descent we’ve seen before
Between the election on November 20th, 2016 and January 20th, 2017, at least 91 people have walked for miles through snowy fields and sub zero temperatures to seek refugee status in Canada. Two lost all their fingers to frostbite and nearly froze to death.
“We haven’t had something before like this,” said Maggie Yeboah, president of the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba, which has helped refugees get medical attention and housing. “We don’t know what to do.”
According to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) more than 7,000 refugee applicants entered Canada in 2016 through land ports of entry, up 63 percent from the previous year.Another 2,000 more entered “irregularly” during the same time period, without official authorization, such as across unmonitored fields.
Because of the contrast between Canada’s liberal government welcoming refugees and the American autocratic government’s anti-foreigner rhetoric, these swelling numbers are expected to continue. Because the country these people are fleeing is allegedly the wealthiest, most free country on the planet; the United States.
“So what?” some might say. “They’re refugees. Some are probably terrorists. They snuck into the United States and Trump doesn’t want them so they move on.”
By definition refugees are fleeing terrorism. Turning our backs on them only force them to return to their war-torn countries, as Jews attempting to flee Nazi Germany were forced to do when countries wouldn’t take them.
Still, it’s far easier to think of people in need as “them”; it makes it not a problem effecting US citizens. Except when it is.
Sidd Bikkannavar, a US-born a NASA/JPL employee, flew back into the United States after spending a few weeks abroad in South America. Bikkannavar had been on a personal trip pursuing his hobby of racing solar-powered cars. He had recently joined a Chilean team, and spent the last weeks of January at a race in Patagonia. He left the United States on January 15th, under the Obama administration. He flew back from Santiago, Chile to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas on Monday, January 30th, just over a week into the Trump administration and the day after Trump signed his executive order.
Bikkannavar was stopped at the border and denied entry until he agreed to give Customs & Border Patrol agents unfettered access to his NASA-issued phone containing secured information.
Trump’s travel ban, allegedly only on people from 7 of the middle eastern countries he doesn’t do business with, caused chaos at airports across the United States. People with otherwise valid visas and green cards found themselves detained or facing deportation. Canadians with “muslim sounding names” were stopped and held or turned away.” US citizens like Bikkannavar were detained.
Within days of its signing the travel order was stayed, but not before more than 60,000 visas were revoked according to the US State Department.
Trump and his staff have worked hard to undermine the media, referring to any news item or poll that reflects unfavourably on them as “fake news”. Trump is now working to undermine the judicial branch of government, lately going after Federal District Court Judge James Robart, a Republican who was appointed by President Bush and who upheld the reversal of the travel ban.
Attempting to sew distrust with the press and with the judiciary isn’t something the leader of a free country does; it’s something dictators do.
At rallies Trump has encouraged people to use violence on other, encouraging his followers to punch people who don’t look like they belong, and talking tough about killing the families of suspected terrorists – an action that itself is a war crime. After his election bigots emboldened by Trump’s xenophobia towards non-white immigrants were chanting “white power” in the hallways of schools. Spray painting Nazi themed graffiti. Richard Spencer held his infamous meeting with Nazi salutes and cries of “Hail trump! Hail victory!”
We’ve seen this before.
In 1935 Sinclair Lewis wrote the novel “It Can’t Happen Here” in which a popularist was elected President of the United States after whipping up fear of immigrants and other races, promising sweeping social and economic reforms, and pushing for a return to “traditional” values and jingoistic patriotism.
At the time Lewis wrote the book Hitler was of course on the rise in Germany. He had won the 1932 German election and the lashing out against non-christians, gays, and minorities had begun.
What some don’t know is at the same time there was an American fascist party; they literally wore brown shirts, marching through the streets yelling out similar racist, sexist, homophobic platitudes to the Sturm Abteilung they were aping.
There were Americans were very concerned, notably ones in Hollywood; at the time studios were headed by men who were primarily German and Eastern European Jews. Men like Jack Warner argued with Goldwyn and Meyer about how they should handle it, realising that rocking the boat could have a substantial backlash against them. From their fellow Americans.
It wasn’t until America joined in the fighting in WWII that the American fascist party lost steam. GIs returning home, having seen how eugenics and racism can tear a country, a continent, even a world apart, weren’t having any of it and American Fascism – at least openly – was no more.
As Sinclair saw the rise of fascism in Europe (and the beginnings of it in the US) a man who said outrageous things, who talked funny, who the media refused to back and called a buffoon, had taken power. He didn’t win the popular vote, but had enough that under the German system of elections he was put in charge anyhow.
*There’s inflation? It’s because of them. You lost your job? It’s because of them. Our country was once great, but it’s fallen. I will make it great again.*
White power. Expel the others from this country.
This is how strongmen rise to power; dividing the people, and casting some as the other. We’ve seen it in Franco’s Spain. In Hussein’s Iraq. In Modi’s India. And in Putin’s Russia.
If there is a silver lining to this happening over and over throughout the 20th and 21st century, it’s that we know what to look for. We see it not just at the end, when people are being massacred, but at the beginning, when it’s rumblings about the press and the judiciary. We can recognise the path that they are trying to put us on, and refuse to go that way.
We can #resist.