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Standing with tyrants

Oklahoma lawmakers at the shipyard



Workers at the Blohm + Voss shipyard salute Adolf Hitler in June 1936. All except one.

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

It was 1934, and August Landmesser was in love. He had just met Irma Eckler and they planned to marry, but Eckler was Jewish, and Landmesser was a member of the Nazi party. This was, of course, not allowed, for Jews weren’t people. They were interlopers, vermin. Not only was their wedding application rejected by authorities, Landmesser was thrown out of the Nazi party for simply asking, for loving the wrong kind. 

Still they married.

A baby girl arrived soon. 

In 1937, the family tried to leave Germany and settle in Denmark, but they were arrested. Landmesser was charged with “dishonoring the race” and jailed. At trial, he lied about being aware of Eckler’s Jewish heritage. Inexplicably, the ruse worked and he was freed, albeit temporarily, for he was sent to prison a year later for 30 months for not abandoning his wife. She, too—now pregnant with their second child—would be arrested.

The Landmessers would never see each other again.

After giving birth to another child, she was sent to (and would later die in) what the Nazis referred to as a “euthanasia center.”
But this is a story about what happened in 1936.

In June of that year, Adolf Hitler came to the Blohm + Voss shipyard, where Landmesser worked, to speak at the unveiling of a new fighter plane, the Horst Wessel, that had just been completed. His co-workers—the company had thousands of employees by then—both surprised at and intimidated by Hitler’s appearance, cheered and gave the Nazi salute when he began to speak.

One man, with his arms crossed, did not cheer.

Landmesser.  

* * *

So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly ... and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came? 

That was the July 15 tweet of the President of the United States.

There it is, in the last line: the belittling bigotry, the dog whistle of xenophobia and exclusion, and the willful, arrogant manipulation of facts and emotions. Three of the four congresswomen Trump mentioned were born in America; the other, Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, from Somalia, spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp. She became a U.S. citizen when she was 17, almost 20 years ago. She has been an American citizen longer than Melania Trump.

Our Oklahoma representatives, over these past few weeks, like those workers at Blohm + Voss, stood for the president and signaled their support.

Worse, they stood up for him.

Speaking in our name, here’s how they reacted. 

Sen. James Lankford:

“As a nation, we can and should debate ideas and policies, but we should also acknowledge that we are all Americans. Both sides of this situation should choose to work on building trust instead of seeking to ‘one-up’ each other with increasingly caustic and racially charged comments. The American people sent us to Washington to stand up for their values and actually solve the problems we face. Escalating personal attacks do not help that already difficult process.” (Fox 25)

Sen. Jim Inhofe was even less committal. Glazing over the president’s racist trope, Inhofe waxed on wall-building and “asylum abuse,” reiterating that he is “proud to work with President Trump.”

In a Facebook post, First District Congressman Kevin Hern focused his ire on the four congresswomen for “normalizing radical views.”

Then there’s Second District Congressman Markwayne Mullin:

“Our president isn’t always politically correct, and I like that. … The fact is, what he says is still meaningful. If you don’t like the foundation that this country is built upon, then go live underneath the style of country you choose to. … I support the president 100 percent.” (Tulsa World)

Notice the conflation, the both-sider-ism, the Aw shucks, he’s just being Trump, the victim blaming, the hiding behind clichés, and yes, the fear to say anything against the leader of their party lest he aim his tenuous, almost comical grasp of the English language in their direction. 

Obsequious, flaccid puppets they were. 

And for good measure:

The Oklahoma Republican Party, in a statement first reported by KTUL, said it is “deeply proud” of Trump and supports his tweets. (Tulsa World)

Tell me again about the good people on both sides. 

* * *

No matter how disgusted you get, you can’t keep up.

President Donald Trump attacked another prominent African American lawmaker [Elijah Cummings] on Saturday, tweeting that his Baltimore district is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” (CNN)

Whatever you think of Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, Representatives Kevin Hern and Markwayne Mullin—whatever you think of Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland)—keep this in mind: They are all colleagues. Equals. They all swore to uphold the constitution of the United States, not feed the ravenous ego of a president. 

And this, of course, is just a coincidence:

A South Florida man was arrested Friday after being accused of threatening to kill several high-profile Democratic lawmakers, specifically citing his support for President Donald Trump and his disdain for Rep. Ilhan Omar in light of her comments about the 9/11 terror attacks. 
(USA Today)

Thanks to Godwin’s law, Hitler analogies to Trump are aplenty on the internet, with a virtually endless arsenal of memes comparing the two. Over the top, sure, but Hitler wasn’t Hitler until he was Hitler. Each tyrant has his own unique stamp on a generation, and we should be able to hold two evils in our minds simultaneously without subordinating one to the other. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Clint, Texas is not the killing fields of Babi Yar in Ukraine, but Babi Yar was once just a suburb of Kiev. 

On a related subject, Sen. Lankford went down to inspect the Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center and wrote on his website:

I visited supply rooms at each facility, and they were well stocked. This supply room was at the Donna soft-sided facility … I saw toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other hygiene products available at these facilities. I also saw people brushing and waiting to brush their teeth. 

Do what you will with the following

The Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Prisoners planted gardens, painted housing complexes, renovated barracks, and developed and practiced cultural programs for the entertainment of the visiting dignitaries to convince them that the “Seniors’ Settlement” was real … a soccer game in the camp square complete with cheering crowds; and a performance of the children’s opera, Brundibár, performed in a community hall built specifically for this occasion. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum encyclopedia)

How about this:

Teens terrorize family of undocumented immigrants with BB guns in metro neighborhood … Quintero tried to get him to report the crime to police or let her take them to the hospital but he refused. The family is from Honduras. Because they’re undocumented, he didn’t want to involve authorities for fear of deportation. (KFOR)

This is what happens when a nation proudly loses its way and those in power speak to the darkest, damaged angels screaming their approval in midsized arenas. 

Send her back! the crowd yelled in Greenville, North Carolina, while a president stood soaking in the refrain and watching them gorge themselves on the rhetorical red meat he had tossed them.

So smug.

He then lied about trying to stop it.

So typical.

For our Oklahoma congressmen, this moment in America isn’t life or death—far from it. Had they expressed their revulsion—if they were revulsed—what would have happened? They would have been subject to insane tweets, a primary opponent, even the loss of an election?

So be it.

Sen. Inhofe, who has served in the Senate longer than Nebuchadnezzar II was king of Babylonia, could have literally ridden out his retirement on his horse Speck in every Oklahoma Christmas parade until Jesus returns. 

Sen. Lankford, former evangelist specialist (yes, that was his title) at the Baptist General Convention, who continues to have good will on both sides of the Senate, could write books and make the Sunday morning talk shows, lecturing us on the breakdown of civility.

Rep. Mullin, a member of the Cherokee Nation—who should be more sensitive to racist chants, and who never wanted to be in politics anyway—could return to his plumbing and ubiquitous red trucks and no longer have to deal with the indignity of people thinking they’re paying his salary.

And Rep. Hern, who always thought of elected office as a bauble, could return to pushing cheeseburgers and bloviate on conservative talk radio about how the government makes it hard to be an entrepreneur. Even Rep. Kendra Horn, the Democrat from Oklahoma City, who was supposed to make us all proud we had turned a political corner in the state, only attempted a weak swing, saying she was “troubled” by the president’s remarks.

Their outrage is the arf-arf-arfing of small dogs.

Once upon a time in America, they told the Irish, the Germans, the Jews, the Italians and the Poles to go back, too. 

August Landmesser died in a concentration camp before the war ended. 

He refused to salute.

Was it worth it?

Who knows? But we are talking about him today, so perhaps that is how history tries to apologize. 

In 1951, years after the Landmessers had been killed, the city of Hamburg, Germany recognized their marriage. And there is that picture of him in a sea of sycophancy. 

It’s what courage looks like. 

Croatian novelist Slavenka Drakulić wrote in her book They Would Never Hurt a Fly, “The more you realize that war criminals might be ordinary people, the more afraid you become.”

It was not that Inhofe, Lankford, Hern and Mullin stood like trained seals barking, winking, nodding and dutifully repeating bankrupt talking points. It was that nobody in America seemed surprised. 

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