Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is a day when people around the world are asked to keep in their memory the six million victims of the Holocaust. For some of us, that means recalling parents and grandparents and people from our neighborhoods. For most, who lack a direct association with the genocide, it is supposed to be a day when we pay attention to the danger signs which led to one of history’s most notorious and mechanical mass murders, things like racism, blind nationalism, hatred, and autocracy. Never forget, we are told.
It is an important message. It is regularly used, properly, to caution against dehumanization of any group, not only the Jewish. Like any good message, it is often perverted by focusing only on one aspect; by framing it as “never side with a majority against a minority”, for example, Israelis who have sought peaceful integration have been portrayed as the victimizers against a Palestinian minority which has pledged to see all Jewish people killed. By framing it as “never forget what happened to Jewish people” American nativists were happy to teach lessons about tolerance and the importance of freeing the oppressed even as children were being stolen from refugee families along the border. As adults, we are expected to remember, but we are also required to know exactly what it is we are supposed to be remembering.
Hank Aaron’s funeral will be held today. He will be recognized as a great man, not simply a great athlete. His work off the field was inspirational, and served as a reminder to everyone of the value of personal character. The Atlanta Braves were honored by their association with him. What they were not honored by was their continued association with relief pitcher John Rocker, who was shown to be handy with racist, homophobic, and just about any other type of slur known to exist during his many years with the Braves… years while Aaron was a member of upper management in the organization. This will be a time to honor Hank Aaron and to praise the Braves for their long association with him, but his presence within the team should not render it immune to just criticism. It’s easy to focus on the many good years right now and brush aside the bad, but when that is done it opens the door for other abusers to flourish… and professional sports has seen, among its exceptional athletes, many stories of terrible people among the heroes.
This is also a day where the Senate is arranging the impeachment trial for former President Donald J. Trump. Most Republicans have settled on the strategy of trying to move past Trump’s Presidency as if his personal offenses never happened, and to that end they are pushing the rubric of “we need unity”, claiming that focusing on the actions of the prior President are nothing but cheap attacks on a person who is no longer influential. This is an appeal to everyone to forget… forget the officers who died as a result of the Capitol attack, forget the assault on the foundations of our country, forget the damage done to the perceived value of free elections throughout the world, and forget the massive national security breaches experienced during the attempted coup. An amazingly short memory would have the benefit of preventing them from going on the record against the conspiracy theories which have been pervasively accepted by their base, and would insulate any who may have ties to the insurrectionists from paying any price for their role in the attack.
If the Republican party survives the crisis… and there is an excellent chance it will, unless (as I hope) a third party rises to eclipse it because of the blatant corruption on display… it will need to learn from the example of the Braves, who flushed John Rocker, elevated Hank Aaron to leadership and has worked hard for a decade and a half to rehabilitate the team’s image. If it does not, members will never mitigate the taint of the racists and nativists among them, no matter how much they may delude themselves into thinking otherwise. Nor should they… because whether or not they admit it, the type of rationalization in which they have engaged for the last five years is what Hitler used to take power.
This is not simply a day for remembering, it is a day which reminds us of the need to learn from those memories and hold firmly to that lesson every day of the year. It is a day which warns us of the values of vigilance and honor and the soul-deadening danger of accepting evil.