CNN: Obama invokes Nazi Germany in warning about today’s politics

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Obama invokes Nazi Germany in warning about today’s politics

By Miranda Green, CNN
Updated 2:11 PM ET, Fri December 8, 2017

Washington (CNN) – Former President Barack Obama urged voters this week to stay engaged in democracy, warning that complacency was responsible for the rise of Nazi Germany.

“You have to tend to this garden of democracy, otherwise things can fall apart fairly quickly. And we’ve seen societies where that happens,” Obama said at the Economic Club of Chicago on Tuesday, according to video of the event.

“Now, presume there was a ballroom here in Vienna in the late 1920s or ’30s that looked and seemed as if it, filled with the music and art and literature that was emerging, would continue into perpetuity. And then 60 million people died. An entire world was plunged into chaos,” Obama said. “So you got to pay attention — and vote.”

During the event, the former President mentioned similar themes of responding to a changing political landscape, mentioning examples from America’s history.

“FDR is one of my political heroes. In my mind, the second greatest president after Lincoln. … But he interned a bunch of loyal Japanese Americans during World War II. That was a threat to our institutions,” he said. “There have been periods in our history where censorship was considered OK. We had the McCarthy era. We had a President who had to resign prior to impeachment because he was undermining rule of law. At every juncture, we’ve had to wrestle with big problems.”

Obama also defended the necessity of a free press.

“During my presidency, the press often drove me nuts,” he said. “There were times where I thought reporters were ill-informed. There were times where they didn’t actually get the story right. But what I understood was that principle of the free press was vital, and that, as President, part of my job was to make sure that that was maintained.”

Obama over the past year has occasionally voiced thinly veiled criticisms of the Trump administration’s policies, particularly on climate change, though it’s not clear from the video that he was directly addressing his successor.

OP-ED: Karen Korematsu in The Washington Post

My father resisted Japanese internment. Trump’s travel ban is just as unfair.

We must not make the same mistake now that the United States did during World War II.

By Karen Korematsu, Dec. 4, 2017

Read the op-ed here.

At the beginning of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, now remembered as a shameful precedent in our nation’s history. With Roosevelt’s signature, my father, Fred T. Korematsu, and almost 120,000 other Japanese Americans were unconstitutionally incarcerated on the theory that they would be disloyal and engage in espionage against the United States.

My father resisted and stood up for what was right. He was not going to submit to an order rooted in wartime hysteria, racism and xenophobia. Instead, he stayed in San Leandro, Calif., and tried to hide from authorities. He was arrested and convicted of evading the order, and he eventually appealed to overturn it. His case, Korematsu v. United States, reached the Supreme Court in 1944. Instead of asking probing questions, the court acquiesced to the government’s position, failed to scrutinize whether the government’s claims had any basis in fact, accepted the government’s contention that the incarceration was a “military necessity” and ruled against my father. The court not only abandoned its critical role as a “check” on executive power, but disregarded the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. In Justice Robert H. Jackson’s dissent in Korematsu, he called the decision a “loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority who could bring forward a plausible claim of urgent need.”

In 1981, evidence was discovered that the government had suppressed, altered and destroyed material evidence proving Japanese Americans were not engaging in espionage and the mass incarceration was unnecessary. My father was able to use the evidence of government misconduct to overturn his conviction by the U.S. District Court, utilizing a rare legal action. Today, conservative and liberal legal minds agree that Korematsu and Executive Order 9066 were wrong, and should not be repeated.

Earlier this year, President Trump issued Executive Order 13780 followed by Proclamation 9645, ostensibly for “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” This order banned visas and U.S.-bound travel from certain countries — all countries that happened to have majority-Muslim populations. Widely known as the Muslim Travel Ban, this executive order echoes the World War II incarceration camps separating those of a different ethnicity under the guise of national security. Both executive orders under Trump and Roosevelt target and discriminate against minorities, tear families apart and preach intolerance. And I believe we will soon see they are found to be unconstitutional.

Because my father’s conviction was vacated, the Supreme Court never had the opportunity to overturn its ruling in his case that upheld the mass incarceration, nor to define the limits of executive orders. This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will have a chance to do just that when it reviews Trump’s executive order.

If the courts uphold the travel ban, it will affirm that bigotry and intolerance take precedence over our core constitutional rights. We must stop repeating history by ignoring our past indiscretions. Korematsu is a reminder that while we may sometimes be afraid during times of crisis, fear should not prevail over our fundamental freedoms. The purpose of the Constitution is to protect the liberties that were given at the founding of our country.

In 1995, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg optimistically wrote in a dissent in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena that “a Korematsu-type classification … will never again survive scrutiny.” In 2014, Justice Antonin Scalia unequivocally stated that the ruling from Korematsu was wrong. And Scalia gave a darker premonition: “But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again … In times of war, the laws fall silent.”

The courts must not “fall silent” and must act diligently not to repeat the mistake the legal system made in my father’s case. His liberties were compromised in 1944. It must not happen again. We need to be vigilant and remember my father’s words: “Stand up for what is right!”