From time to time it occurs to me that I’m a collaborator, that I play a small but essential part in the Trumpification of the country. Essential, in that I and millions of my ilk are as vital in our way to his success as is his base of supporters; “our way” being that we disapprove and complain but do nothing else, nothing effective.
My latest bout with this idea came from a discussion with a friend about the 1969 documentary film The Sorrow and the Pity. If you don’t know it it’s a French film about the German occupation. After its release it was discussed throughout France for months on end. It revealed, really for the first time, the extent to which the French mostly collaborated passively with the Germans and their sympathetic government in Vichy. Few people argued with its conclusions, and none of those who did convinced many people. The almost universal response was “This is terrible, but we didn’t know!” Yet among those who didn’t know were those now revealed to have been passive collaborators. How was this possible?
It was possible because most of those collaborators imagined that they had resisted. These were people who had fallen into a strange state during the war. Their world contracted to their families, their jobs, and a very few trusted friends. They did not actively collaborate. They ignored the Germans, they cut them dead on the street, and in their minds they were resisting. But they actually did nothing. After the war they told their children “Oh yes, we all did our own little bit to resist” and they mostly came to believe it. This is why they were so ready to accept the universal resistance myth that countless books and films had been spreading since the end of the war.
A friend of mine who had lived through the occupation as a teenage explained it like this: It’s not like people talked about it, you know! Sure, with your close family and your very closest friends, but not with anybody else. That would have been incredibly foolhardy – everyone knew that they were everywhere, everyone knew who some of them were (you could read it in their faces), but everyone also knew there were a lot more who would do anything for a few extra ration coupons.
To be sure, conditions during the occupation were very different than they are here today, Even talking against the government and especially against the Germans could get you shot – maybe even tortured and then shot. Nothing like that is going on here. Nobody has yet been stood against the wall. Not so in France. In the movies it failed to intimidate the populace. In reality it paralyzed almost everyone. That’s understandable, in a way that our own widespread paralysis is not.
The French passive collaborators have their counterparts today: me, for instance. In my mind I allow myself to believe I’m somehow opposing Trump. In fact I only disapprove of him mightily, which I’m sure is just fine with him. I tell myself that at least I haven’t put a “Resist!” bumper sticker on my car and pretended to myself that I’m thereby a hero of the Maquis – but what would change if I did fall for that silly idea?
I suppose that the biggest obstacle to becoming non-collaborators is genuine bewilderment about what actual and effective non-collaboration would be like. Write a check or two? Done that. Join a march? Sure. Work to get the vote out when and where you can? Of course, it goes without saying. Most of all, talk about it. And we do, till we’re blue in the face. But there comes a point where we ought to admit that we’re doing nothing effective. And maybe there really is nothing effective to be done, but I’m not quite ready to admit that. Not because I have any inkling about what that effective something might be, but simply because I do not want to be remembered as the passive collaborator that I well and truly am today.
So, once more: anybody have any ideas?