Alan Abrams
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Real Nazis and the cosplay ones of the Capitol rotunda

When we group Trumpists together with real Nazis, we blind ourselves to pain they feel - which we must see before we can expect them to see the pain of others
Time for a selfie? Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol's Rotunda on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
Time for a selfie? Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol's Rotunda on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

In the Philippines, they know what real facism is. It’s where the authoritarian forces regularly murder their political opponents. And where, when they actually get to hold the levers of power, like Phillipine President Rodrigo Duterte has since 2016, they can use government officials to do so.

In an interview, Duterte “admitted that he killed three people on camera,” journalist Maria Ressa told NPR’s Terry Gross recently. And, thousands of people have been killed in extrajudicial killings by police and their agents” during his rule, according to Human Rights Watch.

Now, I would not for a moment defend the deluded fools who stormed into the US Capitol. But have you seen images of what they did when they actually got into the rotunda? They’re just milling around aimlessly like people in a lobby at a Comic-Con convention.

Hitler’s brownshirts would not have just been milling around. They would have been looking for things to break, and, more importantly, people to kill — to silence politically, not just for one election cycle, but forever.

Too often lately people on the left have lost sight of the crucial difference between real facism and what we are seeing from Trump and his ilk. It’s not that the Trumpists are not doing terrible damage; it’s not that people are not getting hurt as a result of what they do. But when we group them together with real Nazis we are doing damage to our own souls, to our own minds. We’re blinding ourselves to the true nature of what’s before us. And how we can truly fight it.

Despite all the damage it’s taken in recent years, the American collective soul, and heart, remains the kind that Mahatma Gandhi saw among the British and Martin Luther King saw among Americans — the soul that will ultimately respond to non-violence.

The reason to use non-violence is not just that it works to bring about change, but because it helps preserve our own souls from becoming infected by hate and violence. We must strive, even in the most challenging times, to remain people who walk in the ways of the Holy One.

Ultimately — and I know this is an unpopular thought among my friends and allies — that does mean listening to the kind of people who voted for Trump. Not to their ideas. Not to their politics. But to their hearts and souls.

That’s not the same thing as seeking common ground. I’m not interested in finding common ground with haters. But I can still look into their eyes and see the spark of the Holy in them. I can still listen to their stories of their pain and loss. And, my deepest faith tells me, people can only see the pain of others when they feel like their own pain has been seen, and heard. Only then will they be willing to make change to lessen the pain of others, including the deep pain caused by systemic racism and the other deep ills of the American soul.

I know this call to listen will be unpopular among many of my friends. But it’s what’s in my heart. It’s all I have to give. It’s my prayer.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who made Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their two "sabra" children. Alan is the founder of HavLi and the HaKen Institute, spiritual care education and research centers based in Jerusalem. A rabbi, Alan received a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.
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