A story has come out that doctors at immigration detention centers have performed hysterectomies on detainees without their explicit consent. ICE is denying the charges and Trump supporters are (of course) labeling it “fake news.” Right now there’s not enough evidence to make a conclusion either way, but if the story is eventually proven true it won’t be the first time in American history that it has happened.
Back in 2015 I wrote a review of Stanley Kramer’s 1961 film Judgement at Nuremberg. Natural hipster that I am I was calling Trump a Nazi before it was cool. At the time I was being deliberately provocative. I don’t think I really believed what I was saying. I was simply using the film, and Trump, as an excuse to express just how much I disliked my fellow Americans.
In Donald Trump, I fear, we may have found our Hitler. I know how Germans like Thomas Mann must have felt when the Nazis used Goethe and Beethoven, Mozart, and Luther to justify the mass extermination of “inferior races” in the name of Aryan supremacy. The front runner for the Presidential nomination of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, Grant, Frederick Douglass, Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, is now a man who calls for the ethnic cleansing of 11 million Mexicans from the United States, and who stands by and says nothing when a supporter calls for the extermination of American Muslims. In and of himself, Donald Trump is nothing. Anybody paying attention has long known he was a racist clown, at least since he called for the execution of 5 innocent black teenagers during the Central Park jogger hysteria back in 1989. What’s troubling is the way Americans now seem ready to anoint him as their leader.
Probably the best scene in Judgement at Nuremberg involves an exchange between a mentally handicapped man played by Montgomery Clift and a brilliant defense attorney played by Maximilian Schell.
It’s a masterclass in acting. A man with an IQ of 150 or 160 goes up against a man with an IQ of 85 or 90, and loses. It made me think about the kind of American, usually a “conservative” who likes to argue that human beings can be “legal” or “illegal.” Schell’s character wins the legal argument. He proves that while his client did order the forced sterilization of a mentally handicapped man he doesn’t deserve to go to jail. He was simply carrying out the established laws of his country. But when Cliff’s character holds up a photo of his mother and pleads that even though she was only a simple working class woman her life did have value, he wins the moral argument. In every society, there are always slick, well-educated monsters who can twist words into elaborate logical pretzels to justify treating society’s most vulnerable people with contempt. There are also plenty of lower-class men and women whose lives are actually worth more than their elite tormentors, people who Montgomery Cliff, a genuine artist who gives voice to the voiceless, speaks for so very well.
So here we at, forced sterilizations, the endgame of the Trump Presidency. I have no confidence that very much will change under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. In fact, once the embarrassing Trump Administration is gone, there will be plenty of brilliant, upper-middle-class liberals willing to argue, like Maximillian Schell in Judgement at Nuremberg, that there are some people in the world who’s lives simply have no value.