By JAMES SWAIN
In his speeches containing the “First they came …” moralism, Pastor Martin Niemoller bemoaned the cowardice of German intellectuals during the Nazis’ rise to power and their calculated elimination of group after group of discrete political targets. A version of his statements, set out as a poem, is engraved at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
It comes to mind, not when I hear Donald Trump’s hateful monologues, but, most disturbingly, when I hear the crowds roar their approval. What I hear are echoes of Niemoeller’s warning, sounding in “First they came for the Muslims, but I wasn’t a Muslim so I said nothing. Then they came for the Latino immigrants, but I wasn’t a Latino nor an immigrant, so again I stood by and said nothing. Then they came for the media, but I wasn’t a journalist, so I stood by in silence… then, when they came for me, I was alone.”
By now we are all familiar with the litany of Trump’s moral/rhetorical transgressions: his statements regarding and his treatment of women; his past history of illegal discrimination against Blacks; his derisive comments about a “Mexican” judge’s alleged bias in his Trump University fraud case and on and on.
We now know of his willing associations with adherents of the self-identified “alt- right”; a group that consists of what are politely called ultra-right wingers, but that includes the full swath of avowed and dedicated racist, anti-Semitic and white nationalist individuals and groups, and their so called leaders. They have threatened, punished and bullied the more respectable members of the Republican Party for the past decade. Unfortunately, by joining these miscreants in supporting Donald Trump, many Republicans have not only forfeited their self-respect but they have lost the respect of others. Their ambivalent, ambiguous, but ultimately meaningless, public statements of disassociation only confirm the hollowness of their commitment to basic
American ideals. They have knowingly, if reluctantly, further empowered the racist right. These once palatable politicians are now full partners in the destruction of what remains of the party of Lincoln. “All that is necessary for evil to prosper is for good men to stand by and do nothing.”
To be sure, like the guy who lives at the end of the barstool, Trump can regale a crowd with his rapid-fire, hyperbolic diagnosis of what’s wrong with America. He can offer up simplistic, emotionally appealing but ignorant solutions as pabulum for those desperate to end their seemingly endless social and economic decline. But there is a reason this guy lives at the end of the barstool. His solutions are a mirage set up to hide the fact that he’s angling for the next drink; just as Trump is angling for the next roar from an approving crowd. Anything for a laugh, anything for a round of applause, and everyone not like him is expendable.
We are all in danger if any of us are nostalgic for Trump’s “Back to the Futuresque” hallucinations of an America ‘reclaiming’ the worst versions of itself; like the good old days “when we knew what to do with protestors.” The lesson is clear. If we stand by and allow the hate filled ignorance of the worst elements of the Trump campaign to prevail, we all lose. And if we don’t stand up now, we will all be in need of someone to stand with us. But by then, if we are not careful, it may be too late.
James Swain may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org