Friday, December 08, 2017

We Hate Illinois Nazis


So, this actually happened:

Last December, as my partner Susan and I were on our way to O'Hare Airport, our interurban bus driver struck up a conversation with us about the new president-elect. The driver, a white man in his sixties or early seventies - we'll call him Reinhard - expressed great satisfaction with Donald Trump's electoral victory. Now the United States could do something about all the dangerous immigrants crossing its borders and endangering its people.

It was early in the morning, and Susan and I were as yet the only passengers on the bus. Susi maintained a polite if deeply uncomfortable silence,. I decided to talk with Reinhard and see where he was coming from. I asked him which countries he thought had the most dangerous immigrants. "Oh, Syria, Iran..." He stopped there, acknowledged that his familiarity with current affairs didn't extend exceptionally far, but assured me that we Americans needed protecting. We talked a little about our own immigrant ancestors, and found we both had people from Germany. My predecessors (on my mother's side) came from the Palatinate, his from, IIRC, Saxony. Reinhard reported that two of his uncles had immigrated from Germany as recently as the 1950s. Both had to lie about their identities, he said, because both had been in the SS a decade earlier. "It had been expected of them," Reinhard said of his uncles' service to the Third Reich, because they both came from respectable families. He did not seem to see the irony of fearing allegedly dangerous immigrants when his own uncles had belonged to a dangerous, indeed famously hostile, terrorist military force, and had then entered the United States illegally. I suspect he and his family would describe his SS relatives as "some very fine people."

People will tell you the damnedest things if you'll just listen to them, sometimes.

I let the conversation dwindle, and Susi and I kept to ourselves for the rest of our trip to Chicago and our subsequent flight to Taiwan. I was only reminded of our encounter with Reinhard and his Illinois Nazi relatives when his employer made national news for its blatantly racist, anti-Asian advertising. Our driver worked for Suburban Express, you see, and on December 2nd of this year the company advertised itself as a university shuttle service for white people, promising "You won't feel like you're in China when you're on our buses." When their ad met with protests, SubExpress issued a non-apology, asserting that Chinese students imposed an unfair burden on Illinois's institutions and taxpayers, and claiming that anyone critical of the company was merely advancing a political agenda. I wonder if Reinhard has moved from driving the company's buses to running its public relations department?

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