History Lessons: 1918, 1944, 1960

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”–George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.

What history teaches is that men have never learned anything from it.” — Hegel

Movies and television programs in the 1960s had us thinking that by the year 2000 we would be living a futuristic Jetsons lifestyle. Although there has been technological progress, we have regressed as a society as we refuse to learn from history and ignore the warning signs that threaten life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and democracy the Constitution intended.

Spanish Flu 1918 & Coronavirus 2019

2020 has dealt us a horrible reminder that history will repeat itself. COVID19 is a new pandemic, yet the U.S. government and Trump’s response is exactly the same as Woodrow Wilson’s response to the Spanish Flu of 1918.

American Fascism 1940 & America First 2016

I wrote an article about Trumpism in comparison to Martin Niemöller’s “First They Came for the Socialists.” However, two writers explain American fascism and Trumpism with more historical context. Henry S. Wallace, grandson of former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, wrote American Fascism in 1944 and Today. Irish writer Fintan O’Toole wrote, Trial Runs for Fascism are in Full Flow. For those who still doubt America is in crisis, former Vice President Henry Wallace said this of fascism in the 1940s:

“The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity… They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.” – Former Vice President Henry Wallace

This statement describes Trump’s presidency. Just when you thought babies in cages, not returning them to their families, and a two-year old in immigration court by herself was repugnant, the US Border Patrol used tear gas on the migrant caravan. In the words of Fintan O’Toole, “Babies in cages were no mistake by Trump but test-marketing for barbarism.”

Trump attempted to violate the constitutional right of a free press, revoking Jim Acosta’s press pass under dubious allegations. Welcome to fascism American style, a la Trumpism. Hitler started with political opponents, Jews, and euthanasia killings of the physically disabled and mentally ill. Anyone that was considered “other” or opposed his policies was a target of imprisonment or death.  Stefan Kanfer explained that Hitler “concentrated on an inflammatory speaking style flashing with dramatic gestures and catch phrases:”Germany, awake!” Likewise, Trump uses “America First” and “Make America Great Again.”

Trump has attacked almost every marginalized group in America. Where is the modern-day equivalent of Republican Senator Margaret Chase-Smith? Senator Smith denounced McCarthy and his rhetoric on principal. Many of her “colleagues said that this was political suicide.” Her famous Declaration of Conscience speech on the Senate floor made history.

A Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I do not want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear. I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.” – Republican Senator Margaret Chase-Smith

Civil Rights Movement 1960s & Black Lives Matter

George Wallace and Eugene “Bull” Connor were the consummate example of white supremacists and racists in government – dogs attacking protesters, water cannons, and the National Guard. Their commitment to segregation and racism was as dedicated as Pharaoh’s resolve to not free the children of Israel. Both are credited for the phrase “when the looting starts the shooting starts.”

One would think, surely America could not return to a George Wallace era. Trump quoted George Wallace in response to Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Trump sent federal agents to Portland and Chicago in unmarked vehicles, wearing camouflage gear with no insignia, attacking veterans and kidnapping American citizens protesting police brutality and demanding justice. American citizens are being treated like terrorists rounded up in the middle of the night in unmarked cars. Whatever happened to Miranda rights and due process?

We have recently lost two Civil Rights leaders: Congressman John Lewis (whom Trump insulted) and Rev. C.T. Vivian. Now more than ever, we need to be committed to activism, protesting injustice, and supporting Black Lives Matter organizations because the very fabric of democracy is under attack. Like the vile McCarthy trials of the 1950s, Trump is using the flag and anthem as a guise for patriotism while violating the Constitutional rights of citizens.

Now is the time to take a stand. We are at a critical juncture in American history. 2020 is a litmus test. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while imprisoned in a Birmingham jail wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

The fight for civil rights, equality, and civil liberties is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not enough to not be racist; one must be actively anti-racist. Will we learn from our past mistakes as a country and move towards progress (defund the police and dismantle systemic and institutional racism) or will we regress?

Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.