If I run across another person who tells me that they are surprised by anything that President Donald Trump is doing, I will … Well, I’ll leave it at that. For all the warnings that were given prior to the election about the maniacal administration that would be led by Trump, there were simply too many people who thought that his rhetoric was nothing more than a version of stand-up comedy.
Turns out it was anything but.
Trump’s executive order blocking refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations is yet another example of why it was important to take this man seriously. Most of the world is in a furor as a result of this xenophobic stand, but the administration presses on regardless. And, to make matters worse, there apparently is little historical memory in the U.S. of the potential implications of this stand.
In 1939, Nazi Germany pulled off a public relations stunt that, to this day, embarrasses much of the world. They filled an ocean liner with Jews and sent them to the Western Hemisphere. The argument raised by Hitler was that not only did Germany not want the Jews, no one else really wanted them either.
Despite the fact that the leaders of most countries in Europe and the Americas were fully aware that the Nazis planned on locking up the Jews, if not exterminating them, not one country, including the U.S., opened its doors to these refugees. The ocean liner was refused landing rights and, ultimately, had to return to Nazi Germany where its passengers were transferred to concentration camps and a future that most did not survive.
Yes, the U.S. refused entry, a point that must be emphasized. Anti-semitism and anti-immigrant furor was a strong current in America during the 1920s and 1930s. The ’30s was the decade during which 500,000-2,000,000 Mexicanos and Chicanos were deported from the U.S., regardless of their citizenship status. It also was the decade that witnessed the rise of various right-wing nationalist movements, including one that seems to hold a special place for President Trump: “America First.”
The “America First” movement was a right-wing isolationist movement known for one of its leaders, Charles Lindbergh, the aviator who flew across the Atlantic by himself. It was opposed to U.S. involvement in international affairs, particularly the approaching war against fascism. Indeed, it was quite soft on fascism in general and Nazi Germany in particular.
Movements such as America First were among those that wanted nothing to do with refugees from fascist aggression. The worst elements of U.S. xenophobia were evident at that time and the consequences included many people in America turning a blind eye to the unfolding of the Holocaust.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former President of TransAfrica Forum and is a writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.