One View from Eastern Europe

They’ve Already Experienced the Ravages of Authoritarian Rule…No Debates Required

Traveling abroad during the U.S. election season is always enlightening. For the most part, foreigners think we’re stark raving mad for having campaigns that go on forever — and in this particular season, they think we’re totally nuts for even entertaining the notion of Donald Trump as President.

In London, I kept getting the question, “Didn’t you see what happened with Brexit? Are you really going to follow some nut-case down a similar path?” Of course, they were much nicer about it, but that was the gist of the questions and comments I got there.

And they were quick to remind me that those who favored Brexit had laced the campaign with boldface lies — uncovered too late — and that those afraid of incurring the wrath of the electorate sat quietly on the sidelines and did very little to stop Britain from shooting itself in the head. Little wonder that the leader of the Brexit Liars Brigade, Nigel Farage, came to America to campaign for Donald Trump. They have so much in common.

In Eastern Europe — specifically Prague, Krakow, Warsaw and parts of old East Berlin — the reaction was even more incredulous. These people lived under fascist rule during World War II and saw the ravages of divisiveness and racism and misogyny in all its forms. As I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and saw for the first time with my own eyes what happened to 1.3 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and political dissidents (of the 8 million total murdered by Nazis across Europe), the images and words of our orange-haired demagogue kept echoing in my head.

People I met in hotels and restaurants and bars were aghast at the very notion of Donald Trump as President. In so many words, they told me they thought the guy was as unbalanced and biased as the guy with the little mustache who enamored Germany and took power in 1933. In effect, they asked, “Didn’t you see what happened here?”

And some stories, like those of my driver in Krakow, were in their own way just as sickening. If life under the Nazis was a nightmare, his descriptions of living under Soviet dictatorial rule gave me a very long pause.

“Never,” he said over and over. “Never again will that happen here.” When he learned that my next stop was Warsaw, he described how Hitler had reduced the entire city to dust and rubble after The Uprising as the Soviet forces sat just across the river and watched it all take place without any intervention — all just months before the war in Europe was over.

Fortunately, I saw for myself how the people of Warsaw painstakingly restored their beautiful cathedrals and palaces and universities, so authentically replicated that I couldn’t imagine, but for the vivid photos and newsreels, that Hitler’s forces really had flattened “anything that mattered,” precisely according to his orders. And then I went through the parts of Warsaw that still reeked of the Soviet presence with their bland blocks of concrete buildings still in use today. I suspect Trump’s pal Putin drives through those same areas with a satisfied smirk on his face.

So, while we watch the first debate tonight, I have a distinct feeling that at least several hundred thousand people in London and in Eastern Europe are wondering how we got to this place. How did the orange-haired man fuel the hatred and bitterness of so many in this country that we’re even bothering with a debate? And why are those who know better acquiescing and looking the other way?

Even with a whiff of fascist nationalism starting to surface across Berlin and some elements of racism increasingly obvious as refugees find refuge, going back to the dark side really is not a matter for debate. They’ve been there and they’re not going back.


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With an increasingly pointless amount of arguably useless information packed inside my head, and a totally inappropriate number of opinions about virtually everything, and a family who must suffer through listening to both, it seemed only fitting to foist them upon others who care to read and react. Now well past 60 years old, this is an outlet intended not to unleash but enlighten, myself much more than others.

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