Why I Keep Writing about this Presidential Election: It’s Personal
For the seventeenth time since they became U.S. citizens, my parents just voted for President of the United States. They cast absentee ballots because they wanted to make sure that bad weather or ill health did not prevent them from voting for Hillary Clinton. By birth and experience, my parents are German Jews and survivors of the Holocaust. However, their identity is American. That’s what my parents love about the United States, and that’s what is at stake in this election for them and for me. They know that Donald J. Trump is not the equivalent of Adolf Hitler and that America’s democracy is more resilient than the fragile Government of Weimar Germany. As nonagenarians, my parents aren’t worried about their places in America. They are worried about the America of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My parents were the children of middle class Germans when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor. Shortly after the Gestapo raided my grandparent’s apartment in early 1933, my father’s family left their middle class life behind to try to eke out a living in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. Two year’s after Hitler’s rise to power, my mother’s family moved to Brussels, Belgium, because life in their hometown, Hohenlimburg, had become impossible. Within little more than 24 months, both families were no longer Germans or middle class. They were refugees, and their survival would become tenuous once the war began. Moreover, they were refugees desperately trying to come to the United States. They would have to survive World War II and the Nazi persecution before they were finally admitted to the US in the late 1940s.
When a candidate for President disparages Latinos, Syrian Refugees, African Americans, and the disabled, it threatens my parents’ identity as Americans. When a candidate for President uses violent rhetoric, my parents know that it can shred the invisible strands that hold together civil society. When a candidate has no respect for the rule of law and the constitution, my parents know that a government can become dangerous and arbitrary. When established politicians fail to repudiate an unfit candidate for President because they think they’ll be able to control him if he is elected, my parents know that this is a serious miscalculation. They’ve seen it happen, and they have seen how quickly decades of economic and social progress can be undone.
My parents came to this country without money or a high school education. Within five years, they were active in politics and proudly American. When you are born in the United States, you may have a tendency to take your American identity for granted. However, if you’ve spent years surviving persecution and begging to be admitted to this country, I think you may have a deeper understanding about the meaning of being an American. For my parents, this election isn’t about economic growth, college affordability, or even global warming, although those are critical issues. For the first time in 17 Presidential elections, the meaning of America is on the ballot. For Peter and Lore Silton, there is no question: you must vote and vote for Hillary Clinton.