NEW YORK – To the French, it felt like the end of the world. 1940: defeated in six weeks, surrender, subjugation, overrun by German soldiers whose power of life or death were absolute and absolutely capricious. Fascism triumphant; organized resistance as yet unimaginable.
Simone de Beauvoir, who dedicated herself to the study of ethics, struggled to adjust to everyday life in Nazi-occupied Paris. On the Metro, a German soldier — Wehrmacht, low-ranking and therefore a conscript? — asked for directions. Seemed like a nice kid. Besides, refusal was dangerous. But he was an invader. What was the right thing to do: a little treasonous help, or send him to some dangerous neighborhood?
On a macro level, the French had to decide to what extent to cooperate with the terrifying new regime.
On one extreme were the collaborators and war profiteers who exploited their fellow citizens, welcomed every chance to advance their personal fortunes and thereby legitimized the Nazis and the Vichy-based puppet regime led by Philippe Petain. Many were executed by extrajudicial tribunals after liberation in 1944.
At the opposite end of the behavioral spectrum were the Communist “resistants de la premiere heure” and the men and women of the Maquis. Abandoning jobs and families, these people of principle lived rough lives underground, risking everything to terrorize the Germans and their French fascist allies. Many were tortured and murdered.
Though it’s premature to draw a direct comparison between Nazi Europe and Trump’s America, it’s never too early to start thinking about the ethics of resistance in a United States whose government’s repressiveness is likely to feel unacceptably severe to a significant portion of the population.
What is the correct way to behave after Jan. 20? Should one Keep Calm and Carry On? (Given that those now-cliched posters were supposed to have been plastered on walls by a retreating British government in the face of a Nazi occupation of Britain, my inclination is to say no.) Ought one take to the hills and practice shooting down drones?
Like the French during World War II, most Americans opposed to/afraid of Trump will muddle through some murky middle ground. In times that try souls, ambiguity abounds.
We Americans may not be familiar with them, but there are standards. Everything does not go. There are clear rights and wrongs. Now, as we plunge into the moral abyss, it is important to learn, spread and enforce the rules of resistance for people who want to be able to hold their heads high when their children ask “what did you do during the war, daddy/mommy?”
Rule 1: Anything for survival.
As a teacher, Beauvoir would have lost her food rations, ID papers and livelihood if she hadn’t signed an odious Vichy-required certificate swearing that she wasn’t a Jew. Though she was appalled, she signed. You’re not required to starve to death over a principle.
Rule 2: Nothing for Trump.
Even though Jewish writers were banned from publication, Beauvoir submitted her novel for a literary prize. “If I had been awarded the Prix Goncourt that year I should have accepted it with wholehearted jubilation,” she recalled. Disgusting. Her participation legitimized the regime’s anti-Semitism.
The Rockettees and the singer Jackie Evancho will perform at Trump’s inaugural. “I just kind of thought that this is for my country,” Evancho said. Jennifer Holliday initially said she’d do the gig as well: “I’m singing on the mall for the people,” said Holliday. “I don’t have a dog in this fight.” They are wrong: It is precisely for their country that they ought to have opted out, as Ice-T and Elton John did. The one thing Trumpism offers is ideological clarity; at times like this, everyone has a dog in the fight, ostriching not allowed.
When you’re considering whether or not to participate in something Trump-y or government-y during the next few years, get educated. Then ask yourself: what would I think if I were one of the people being targeted by Trump and the Republicans? How would an immigrant awaiting deportation feel about Holliday while watching Holliday croon on TV in a nasty U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prison? How will someone dying of a disease because she can’t afford treatment after losing Obamacare feel about the Rockettes?
Normally, when your president calls, a patriot heeds his call. But Trump isn’t normal and these aren’t normal times.
Rule 3: Ignorance is no excuse.
Whether you live under Nazi occupation or Trumpian oppression, refusing to keep informed is no longer acceptable.
To her credit, Holliday backed out of her scheduled inaugural performance in response to a social media firestorm, explaining that she had been “uneducated on the issues.” She continued: “Regretfully, I did not take into consideration that my performing for the concert would actually instead be taken as a political act against my own personal beliefs and be mistaken for support of Donald Trump and Mike Pence … I HEAR YOU.”
Everything is always a political act. Now the stakes are even higher.
If you’re a member of the armed forces or the police, you are morally required to resign and find another job.
If you work in a political post within the federal government — the diplomatic corps, for example — or a post that has policy implications, like the NSA or CIA, a morally upright person has no choice but to quit in protest.
If you have the opportunity to expose wrongdoing from within, you must act as a whistleblower.
If you have the chance to resist Trump’s proto-fascist policies, you must do so. You must hide the undocumented immigrant on the run. You cannot submit a bid to construct the Wall. You must, if you work for an insurance company, try to avoid enforcing rules that deny health care.
One of the things people overseas tell me they like about Americans is that we’re happy-go-lucky. That has to change. It’s time to get serious.
Cartoonist and writer Ted Rall’s latest book is “Trump: A Graphic Biography.”
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