Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Trump Ghetto

The sun is going down, and the young man looks up at the darkening sky and hurries home from his job in the city of Venice, Italy. He is Jewish, and in his time, five hundred years ago, he and all Jews had to be within the confines of their island ghetto by dark. The doors to the bridges over the canals that surround the ghetto were locked. Venetians patrolled the canals throughout the night to make sure the young man and the other Jews in the ghetto did not come out before morning.

One entrance to the Jewish Ghetto in Venice
Jews came to Venice beginning in about 1250. They came to escape persecution. They were allowed to stay, but only if they wore clothing that identified them as Jews: a yellow hat at first, then red, then yellow again. They could only work as money lenders or pawn brokers, or in textiles or as doctors. In 1516, the ruling council of Venice met to decide whether to send the Jews away. They let them stay, but nighttime confinement in the ghetto was the condition they imposed. 

The lodgings the Venetian Jews were forced to accept were in an area of foundries, the word for which was getto. This is where the term ghetto, as we use it today—a place of poor living conditions in which people are crowded together—originated. 

Unlike sixteenth-century Venetian Jews, residents of today’s American ghettos are forced to live there by economic circumstances, not by government edict. Soon, though, if Donald Trump has his way, we may return to the original meaning of the term. It would not be Jews who are forcibly segregated this time—at least Trump has not yet proposed that—but Muslims and undocumented Hispanics. 

He plans to round up both groups and deport them. He’ll have to have somewhere to keep them while they are being processed. We don’t have canals, but we could throw up some walls—he loves walls—and have white supremacists in pickup trucks patrol the perimeter. They’ll be carrying, of course, because this is America and we all carry, or want to carry, or should want to carry if we weren’t loser gay sissies. 

Ethnic cleansing is a go-to tactic for paranoid autocrats. We know that. We remember that. I mean, it hasn’t been that long. We know what it will mean if we go along with Trump’s plan. We know what it will mean if if we put him in office to carry it out. We know what we will be approving.

The Jews hung in there in Venice for a long time, but gradually most moved away. When the Holocaust came, the number of Jews in Venice was down to twelve hundred. Of those, over two hundred were shipped off to extermination camps. But the city had marked them and segregated them and humiliated them for hundreds of years by then, so I imagine it was an easy enough thing, a kind of natural and inevitable progression, to send them off to death camps.

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