This is the mistake we make: We think that the troops and the tanks and the ovens appear all at once, a firestorm of evil that we can track from a distance and wall out of our towns and our jobs and our decisions.
But these are the ways it actually happens:
- Your boss tells you to do what is ordered or lose the paycheck that keeps your kid out of jail or keeps your sick loved one out of the morgue.
- As an employee, you simply know, you are certain beyond all doubt, that a national leader this horrific cannot possibly last in a society like ours. So you keep your head down and you do what you are told. And you wait for it to end. And you wait. And wait.
- The incredible days of incredulous journalists reporting impossible things begin to blur together until it feels less and less unusual for the president to talk not just like a cynic or a crook, but like a madman.
- Police officers and soldiers, who swear to an oath that assumes that obedience to official authority in our society is a just cause, follow their oaths. For some uniformed recruits, the jackboots and shields of a bullying posse are irresistible perks.
- Politicians, who assume that the public deserves what it submits to, hold their noses and stow their valuables and follow their fortunes. Or they quit politics.
- Teachers teach what they are told to teach or, in growing numbers, they quit teaching.
- Health practitioners, including mental health specialists, make choices: they condemn and fight against the mad leadership and the physical and mental torture embraced by their freshly unleashed nation, or they calculate to aid and abet it, or they shut up about it.
- Reporters make choices, too: they defiantly report reality in the face of blacklisting by a regime of “alternative facts,” or they quit and denounce the amoral enterprise of filtered storytelling, or they smile and cooperate with the authorities.
We are all making these choices. Right now. So I am talking to myself as well as to you: Please. Do not confuse what is expedient with what is true.