To change the discussion from his verbal and tweeting indiscretions, President Donald Trump took to the airways last week to invoke the commander in chief mantra — “war solidifies power and leadership strength.” But the broader question remains, does Trump have the moral authority to lead the United States?
Here is a look at the answer through my lens — steeped in my own family’s history.
My grandfather Berhn Ottenheimer was born in 1856 in Germany, where he and his brother became butchers in the small town of Bonfeld. My father, Albert, was born there in 1886.
Albert was the ultimate self-made man. He started as a salesman of steel products and went on to own one of the largest steel mills in Germany at the start of World War II. He employed 5,000 people and provided them with health care and created a trust fund for the residents of Bonfeld’s betterment, which the Nazis stole.
His gutsiest move was refusing to make shell casings for the Third Reich.
As my father told it, Adolph Hitler, accompanied by some of his Gestapo goons, came to his office to make the demand. Albert refused, and he was immediately arrested. He faced certain death were it not for his Christian lawyer, Bruno Potthast, who convinced a local magistrate to release him. Dad gathered his personal possessions and fled. He traveled through Mexico and Canada and by the 1940s finally made it to the United States, where I was born.
This past weekend, I was visited by my cousin Paul who was born to my father’s niece in 1938 and is a decade older than I am. His parents escaped to Holland and then were forced to the only alternative — Switzerland. They were granted sanctuary there in 1943 solely because Paul was then only 5 years old and Swiss rules said he was too young to be deported back to Germany. Although they were moved to a harsh work camp, their lives were saved.
That is just one truncated family story of survival. We were the lucky ones, and yes, that comes with survivor’s guilt. Nazis are not an abstraction to us.
Trump, on the other hand, has no clue what it means to be persecuted. He poofs up his hair and pontificates and tweets. He surrounds himself with an array of yes people, generals and business leaders. The smart ones have already fled from under his small shadow.
He should have said he has zero tolerance for Nazis. And until he does, until he unequivocally proclaims that neo-Nazis, whose sworn goal is to rid America of Jews, African-Americans and countless other minorities, are a scourge on humanity, Trump will not be my president.
I am one voice in one family whose lives were changed forever by the Nazis, and now I’m not afraid to call Trump out for what he truly is — an unfit leader with no concept of what persecution is, and how it is spread. So he can attempt to change the subject, but until he decries the evil he has empowered, Trump is not my president.
To my cousin Paul Joseph, all my surviving relatives and family, to all those who have been persecuted and are being persecuted, I apologize for voting for Trump. My guilt is magnified, and I live with an increasingly heavy heart. My hope is that somehow we can ignore Trump and work around him, and I promise not to make the same mistake twice.
Les Otten of Greenwood is owner of Maine Energy Systems, a former part owner of the Boston Red Sox and was a Republican candidate for Maine governor in 2010. This column was originally published in the Boston Herald.