When I was growing up, part of the history I learned was a poem written by a German pastor somewhere between 1946 and 1950. It was part of speeches he wrote after being liberated by the Allies from Dachau after eight years in concentration camps. It hit home, and I could see it being applied in places around the world. But I never placed it so strongly in American life as I did the day Donald Trump took to the escalator and said Mexicans were criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller
I felt that dread because I knew that Nazi Germany started small, gained a toehold, then gained both broader support and even broader apathy. Something that starts with hate and belittlement never stops with just one group. It expands. It infects. It poisons. It invites greater hate and it beckons backlash which inevitably crosses lines as well. I also knew that a leader who gains power using hate with no shame other than the wink-of-an eye strengthens that power by going further.
What we’ve seen this week has been a prime example. On word of the administration working towards defining gender as fixed and binary at birth, Caitlyn Jenner said she was wrong about thinking he’d be good for the LGBT community. That hasn’t worked out. Then we had the following sequence of events in four days:
- A man in Louisville, KY went to a black church to kill people but couldn’t get in. As a fallback, he went to a Kroger shot a couple blacks down. Then fired more rounds into them as they lay on the ground.
- A Floridian sent bombs in the mail to fourteen people including two past Democratic Presidents and a candidate/Secretary of State, a past Vice President, members of Congress, donors, and more.
- In Pittsburgh, a heavily armed man went into a synagogue during a bris and killed eleven people including three police. “They’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews.”
That’s two hate crimes and an act of domestic terrorism resulting in close to thirty people who are either dead or could have been. It affects every Jew and every public democratic politician, candidate, and supporter in this nation. It’s worth pausing and reflecting on. There are thousands of people wondering if there will be another tragedy as you read this. As a bonus, 800 troops have been sent to the border to intercept a caravan the president has claimed is transporting middle eastern terrorists. “There’s no proof of anything. There’s no proof of anything. But there could very well be.” He actually said that a matter of days before a mass shooting by a man who hated Jews and immigrants and who was fixated on the migrant caravan.
There’s a further issue. Every conversation I’ve had with a Trump supporter starts with denial that something happened, moves to challenging details which don’t seem to matter or even have backing sources, and ends eventually in whataboutism. There’s not much reflection and the mere mention of news outlets is met with outright disbelief. As Garry Kasparov would say, these people have had their truth annihilated. I don’t know where they get their information, but right-wing pundits have doubled down on conspiracies. There’s always another layer. “Ok, if the FBI actually does say the bombs weren’t hoaxes, the bomber must be a plant.” Even the president’s lawyer says truth isn’t truth. This is a propaganda state, if you’re in its thrall and it affects everything.
Sure, I’ve seen memes and heard people say Hillary Clinton wants to start a civil war. Nobody has every heard her say that. What we have heard is Trump call people chanting Nazi slogans and carrying torches “fine people”. He said the Pittsburgh Jewish slaughter was terrible, but it would’ve been better if there were armed guards or if the worshipers were armed. His official answer for the future is one of fear where we all have to walk around with guns looking at each other in suspicion? I don’t want the video on my site. Google it, it’s easy to find. We don’t need to get facts from memes, we can watch things unfold.
So back to the title: I can fix this. I’ll be me and I’ll stick to my values based on truth which I cross-check. If I see a wrong, I’ll say something. But that’s just me, it has to be you as well. Make a list of people and groups in your mind who struggle for representation based on their numbers or position in the country. Watch how they’re treated by the administration. Keep an eye out for traditional conservatives who are now somehow just as bad as the “radical left”. Remember the war hero who was supported and respected his whole life then slimed when he stood for values which used to be admired. You’re either loyal or you’re not. You’re in and praised until you’re out and damned.
The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing
Remember. Because, eventually, they’ll come for you too.
And for God’s sake, vote.
Joyce Feinberg, 75 | Richard Gottfried, 65 | Rose Mallinger, 97 | Jerry Rabinowitz, 66 | Cecil Rosenthal, 59 | David Rosenthal, 54 | Bernice Simon, 84 | Sylvan Simon, 86 | Daniel Stein, 71 | Melvin Wax, 88 | Irving Younger, 69