Care enough to stop them

Vice President Mike Pence spent his Sunday at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, where 188,000 Jews and other prisoners were murdered by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Presumably, Pence made this trip as a way to show that, actually, the Trump administration cares about Jews after all the anti-semitic attacks that have happened in Trump’s name since the election. It was a PR stunt to rehabilitate the Trump administration’s image.

At the same time, the rest of the Trump Administration spent its day pulling a page out of the Nazi playbook.

Trump has vowed to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, but has run into the problem that, as a whole, undocumented immigrants are vital to the U.S. economy, and deporting them would be costly and a detriment to the country.

So, Trump is resorting to fear. Just like the Nazis created a false narrative about the danger Jews posed to German society, Trump is planning on doing the same to undocumented immigrants. A new initiative announced by John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, will create a whole office dedicated to bringing awareness to crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

The intent is clear: Show undocumented immigrants present a danger to society, and use that as justification to deport them all, tearing apart families in the process.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: There is absolutely no evidence that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to American families. That is a fact, and if you deny it, you are simply denying statistics and facts in order to promote bigotry.

Scientific studies show that immigrants as a whole are less likely to commit crimes than citizens. This includes studies done by conservative think tanks. There is very little data on crimes by undocumented immigrants, but there is also absolutely zero evidence that they commit crimes at a disproportionate rate, and it would be wrong to assume that they act differently than their fellow immigrants. Trump has often said that “sanctuary cities”—municipalities that, in the interest of ensuring all crimes are reported and residents aren’t scared to go to the police, don’t do the work of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for them—have more crime than other cities. However, that is demonstrably false. Sanctuary cities have less crime than other cities.

Not only is there no evidence to support Trump’s claims, there is ample counter-evidence to prove him wrong. He is not worried about a problem supported by data. He is trying to create fear in order to push forward an inhumane agenda that will needlessly separate families and ruin lives—undoubtedly killing many—in the name of xenophobia.

This does not mean Trump is going to start another Holocaust. As I’ve written before, that’s unlikely to happen again, but it also doesn’t need to be the bar. We’ve seen this before, and we know why leaders vilify groups with false data: They do it to create fear against groups of people they have deemed the enemy.

This is where the lessons of Nazi Germany are the most prescient. It’s not like everyone in Germany always hated Jews. Rather, Hitler used propaganda to 1) Create enough fear that people started to hate them, and 2) Make sure people didn’t care enough to stop them.

The latter is the most troubling aspect of the Nazis’ rise to power, and it’s why I feel so helpless in my fight to defend immigrant families from whatever Trump decides to do to them. I’ve written extensively about my own family history with the Nazis. My grandpa escaped Nazi Germany in the months before Kristallnacht, while many of his extended family stayed behind. My family tree includes the phrases “killed at Auschwitz on October 30, 1943” and “shot in Riga on their honeymoon.”

My great grandfather, who owned a butcher shop in Frankfurt, had plenty of non-Jewish associates and acquaintances. They certainly didn’t hate him, but they didn’t do anything to stop what would happen to his brother, who co-owned the butcher shop and was sent to die at Auschwitz.

Years after the war, when my grandpa had already been living in America for years, he met someone he had known in Germany. The man told my grandpa they were sympathetic to the Jews, but they had to take care of their own family, so they did nothing. As my grandpa once said, everyone from that era claims they were sympathetic, but nobody did anything to stop it.

That’s unfortunately what is happening now, even if—for the time being—on a different scale.

Take Mike Pence. By visiting Dachau, Pence wants you to know that he would be on the right side of history. He wants to you know that he cares about Jews and will gladly get up to a pulpit and say “never again,” thinking that’s enough.

But we know what side of history Pence would have been on. While he attempts to push empty, and frankly insulting gestures like visiting Dachau, he is rationalizing and standing by Trump’s attempts to convince the nation that undocumented immigrants are terrorizing the nation. He said that a Muslim Ban is “offensive and unconstitutional,” but is standing by a president who is banning people from Muslim countries (except the non-Muslims living there).

Were he living in Germany at the time, Mike Pence would have either supported the Nazis or stood by and done nothing, because that is what he’s doing now. That’s also what Paul Ryan is doing, ignoring Trump’s bigoted and hateful plans just so he can lower taxes. It’s what supposedly anti-Trump Republicans like Ben Sasse are doing, framing undocumented immigrants, as a whole, as a danger because one undocumented immigrant killed someone in a drunk driving accident. It’s what commentators are doing by pushing false numbers about the incarceration rate of undocumented immigrants.

Trump has already started using his lies about undocumented immigrants to push his agenda. He said he is only deporting criminals, as Obama did, but he discretely expanded the definition of criminal to include pretty much everyone, and he has started deporting non-criminals, ripping families apart.

As Trump uses propaganda to build up more hatred and fear about undocumented immigrants, he will push the envelope even further. He will use lies and ignore statistics to push this narrative.

When he does, you have two choices: You can stand up to the lies or you can ignore them, because they don’t effect you.

We already know what happens when we don’t care enough to stop them.