Op-Ed on Donald Trump by Jan Van Schaik MD

Dropped on:September 14, 2020
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Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Proclivities: A Personal Perspective

As an immigrant who came to the United States to escape the potential threat of Soviet authoritarianism, I have grave concerns that Donald Trump has authoritarian desires and, if given the chance, would move America in an authoritarian direction.

My viewpoint is deeply informed by my personal history. Nearly two decades ago I was struck by the following quote: “The most important event of my life occurred before I was born.” This quote from the son of a Holocaust survivor, was cited by Dora Apel, in her 2002 book, Memory Effects: The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary Witnessing. Although I’ve had my share of trauma, I resonated deeply with this quote ever since I first read it.

I was born in postwar Europe in 1953. My parents immigrated to the US with my sister and me in 1959, after they feared Soviet expansionism into Western Europe following the invasion of Hungary. Both of my parents were prisoners in Hitler’s Germany. I am named after two uncles who were killed in Germany. My uncle Jan, was hung by razor wire in a concentration camp after being involved in the Dutch resistance. My father worked on a barge on the Rhine River in Germany in the spring of 1940. When buying provisions for the barge, a local merchant told my father that the Führer would soon liberate my father’s country of The Netherlands from their queen. My father responded that “The Netherlands didn’t need Hitler’s damn liberation”. This resulted in his arrest by the SS and subsequent imprisonment for the duration of the war at a camp in Obermenzing near Dachau. My mother who was from Poland, was taken from her father’s home at gunpoint by Nazi soldiers and sent to the same camp where my father was imprisoned. They met in the camp and ultimately got married after being liberated by American troops at the end of the war. Following World War II, my mother’s family suffered under the oppressiveness of Soviet domination in Poland. Not wanting to suffer the same fate as our Polish relatives, we came to the US seeking liberty and freedom. My father would frequently tell me what was wonderful about America was that we did not have an authoritarian government like Nazi Germany or Soviet bloc countries. Additionally, my father-in-law, who served in the US Navy at D-Day, became a strong advocate for freedom, equality and social justice after his experience in fighting Nazi-ism. He voiced deep concerns about Trump’s authoritarianism prior to his death in 2016.

Thus, the importance of championing democracy became deeply embedded in my psyche. Given my personal family history, I became concerned during the 2016 presidential campaign, that then candidate Trump could move the US in an authoritarian direction. Out of that concern, I obtained tickets to a Trump town hall in August 2016. I planned to submit a written question to candidate Trump about what would happen to liberty and freedom under a Trump administration. Three Trump supporters near the entrance to the venue asked to look at my question. When I showed it to them, they said, “You’re a freak. If you don’t leave right now, we will have those (nearby) policemen arrest you.” I was appalled that I was threatened to be arrested over a freedom of speech issue, just as my father had been arrested and imprisoned over a freedom of speech issue 76 years earlier in Germany. At that point, I made a vow to myself to do all I could to support candidates who would try to protect our democracy from what I believe to be Trump’s authoritarian proclivities. Since then, I have peacefully protested, volunteered to get out the vote, contributed to political campaigns, joined organizations that promote civil liberties and have had an active social media presence. I love my adopted country too much to have it continue to move down the authoritarian path which I believe Trump is taking America.

Jan Van Schaik M.D.
Whitefish Bay, WI

Distinguished Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association
American College of Psychiatrists
Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst, Wisconsin Psychoanalytic Institute and Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis
President Emeritus, Wisconsin Psychoanalytic Institute
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Medical College of Wisconsin

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