Like most of the early Boomer kids, I was fascinated by WWII. Many of our dads had come back from the fighting and our basements would have old steamer chests full of treasures - uniforms, medals, the odd bit of ordinance (shhh, keep that to yourself), canteens, gas masks, bayonets and the occasional fighting knife, helmets and, my favourite, that camouflage netting that doubled as a scarf. Neat stuff.
I can remember quite clearly a bus trip when I was probably eight of nine. I began thinking about the Nazis and how the German people could ever have supported such a monstrous movement. Eventually my meanderings led me to a very unsettling thought - could it happen here? Would our society instinctively reject similar appeals to ugly, base instincts? What made us so much better than those Germans?
For years I had to take it for granted that we were made of better stuff than those Germans in the 30s. We would never tolerate that sort of thing, not in North America. Why we had democracy - and cars. Some even had colour TV.
Seasons of faithfully watching Ozzie and Harriet had surely immunized us against such contagions.
Then ensued the civil rights movement and all the excesses it triggered. We watched plenty of it in black and white on the decidedly "small screen". The anger and hatred and fear were palpable, sickening. Racist cops unleashing dogs on peaceful protesters gave way to lines of soldiers with fixed bayonets holding back rabidly furious, menacing crowds of white bigots. As disturbing as that was I also noticed a widespread ambivalence to it among middle class whites in the north. Would Harriet Nelson or Ozzie or Ricky or David sit by and just let that happen? I don't know but I didn't see them joining any marches either.
In VietNam the Americans butchered "gooks" by the thousands. I was at the bar in a pilots' mess once (relaxed dress code) standing beside an American colonel who was just a bit tight. On his flight suit he sported a badge reading "100 Missions Over North Viet Nam" with the image of a F-105 Thud. I started talking with him about his experiences flying combat over there. At one point he decided to tell me a joke: "Why is napalm like Ban deodorant? 'Cause it takes all the worry out of being close." The joke was bad enough. The yuk, yuk that followed it was positively crispy.
Then came 9/11 and the wars on them there "moozlums". Lots of those folks discovered what awaits when America gets up on the wrong side of the bed. Like gooks before them, they were dehumanized in the public conscience. "If you didn't want us wiping out your mud-walled compound and killin' your women and kids, you shouldn't have supported those guys." As though any of them had any choice.
But now America has got this apparently charismatic guy who has the scapegoat game down to a T. This time it's those Mexicans, those diseased, drug-dealin' rapists flooding across the Mexican border with the worst of the lot actually being sent over by the Mexican government itself!
That strain of virulent racism has propelled this bigot to first place in the Republican presidential nomination race. He's got those people whipped up into a frenzy.
Arizona senator, John McCain speaks for many mainstream Republicans when he reveals the contempt in which he holds Donald Trump, the man with the multi-billion dollar narcissistic disorder by which he now is the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
To McCain, Trump is a wrecking ball who threatens to destroy the Republican Party.
“This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me,” McCain said. “Because what he did was he fired up the crazies.”
“We have a very extreme element within our Republican Party,” McCain said. He then noted that he was personally censured by Arizona Republicans in January of 2014 and has been fighting to push out the extremists in the state G.O.P. ever since. “We did to some degree regain control of the Party.”
But McCain fears that Trump may be reversing those gains. “Now he galvanized them,” McCain said. “He’s really got them activated.”
"He's fired up the crazies." He certainly has but he's just a bit more open, more outspoken than some of his more genteel rivals, the sort that allude to these same things, play on the same instincts only in less outlandish language.
Trump has tapped into a vein of support, enough to propel him past the rest of the pack of admittedly odd Republican nominee contenders. What we don't know is how deep that vein runs, how much ore is in that mine.
It would be horrifying if Trump's campaign doesn't collapse under the weight of his vile rhetoric but, still, I'm back with those same nagging questions that vexed me on that bus ride in the 50s.