The word complicity comes from the Latin root complicare, meaning to fold or weave together. When scholars talk about the moral complicity of the German people under Adolf Hitler, this Latin root cuts to the heart of the question we must be asking about ourselves: How do good people become folded into a program of genocide?
As historian Peter Fritzsche says in this interview, “I don’t think the Germans would have voted for the Holocaust, but they accepted the exclusion of people who had previously been considered German citizens.” Acceptance is the key to complicity. Through acceptance and normalization, more and more people become folded into a society that legitimizes a fascist regime capable of greater and greater horrors. The majority of people don’t have to agree with the rhetoric and actions of the regime. They just have to accept it.
Since the midterms, Trump has doubled down on his attacks on his opponents and the press, sent troops to the border with orders to use lethal force against unarmed migrants, promised to keep expanding tent cities to lock up immigrant children, and continued his climate denial despite the latest dire warnings that we are running out of time. He leads a regime that has locked down a pro-fascist majority on the Supreme Court, imminently threatening the rights of women and LGBTQ people, and has never stopped his white-supremacist scapegoating and demonizing of group after group with hateful and genocidal language.
A growing number of people, with absolute certainty and little evidence, are predicting the imminent end of the Trump presidency from above. They say the Robert Mueller investigation and the Democratic majority in the House will bring Trump and Vice President Mike Pence down any day.
Yet this is a regime that remains in power despite numerous outrages that should never have been accepted, all because massive, public displays of opposition are either non-existent or fleeting. Ask yourself: What have you accepted in the last two years? What will you be forced to accept by 2020 if everyone predicting Mueller indictments or Democratic impeachment is wrong?
At the same time, prominent voices love to warn Republicans about their complicity, as if the Republicans should be the ones counted on to stop a program they gleefully endorse and advance. Charles Blow has beseeched Republicans to search their souls and stand up to Trump and be on the right side of history. Paul Krugman has called out congressional Republicans for being “careerists” on a “slippery slope of complicity.” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement on House Republicans’ complicity on family separation, asking why “Republicans believe that vulnerable immigrant children do not deserve the same basic human rights protections as their own.”
This is a complete and willful misunderstanding of complicity. First off, Democrats like Pelosi who go on about the “bipartisan marketplace of ideas” would do well to look in the mirror at their own complicity with a fascist regime. Moreover, falling in line with these voices, too many people think of complicity as collusion, confining the word to narrow legal parameters that can be uncovered by the Mueller investigation. In so doing, they propagate the lie that our only hope is to wait for a smoking gun that will lead to an indictment, or that we can only either vote out the Republicans or appeal to their moral conscience to somehow shame the very forces that are driving this nightmare forward.
If you accept the lie that your only power is to wait for a savior from above and succumb to the passivity that emerges from that, you have forfeited your own morality. Yes, the Republican Party is guilty of carrying out the crimes of this regime, but complicity is a question for the rest of us. Looking back on Nazi Germany, we don’t ask, “Why didn’t the Weimar officials stop Hitler?” We ask why the German people did not stop Hitler. How did they allow these horrifying events to happen in their name? Why did they allow themselves to become complicit?
Millions of people, including those most targeted by this regime, are counting on the American people to take bold and determined action, including protesting Trump and his regime at every turn and mobilizing millions into a nonviolent movement demanding that they must step down from power.
In the eyes of many people around the world, the majority of Americans are already complicit. If this is true, then every one of us with a conscience has a responsibility to transform this reality. It is not enough to say, “This is not who we are.” In fact, this “Make America Great Again” fascism is deeply rooted in the country’s history of white supremacy, slavery and genocide. If you are relying on your faith in that system, hoping it will correct itself and give us something slightly better eventually, you are accepting horrors that are only going to get worse, and making excuses that history will not excuse.
Ending injustice has never come about by the system magically correcting itself. It has always come from the struggle of people acting courageously against tremendous odds to demand change. It’s time for us to rise up, in our millions, nonviolently but disruptively flooding the streets to demand that the Trump/Pence regime must go.