“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, 1947
“I try not to post political stuff…”
Me and most of my Facebook friends
In the era of Donald Trump and social media, these two statements haunt me.
On the one hand, I know that silence heals. During these bitterly polarized times, it seems more important than ever to have a safe place like Facebook where politically divided friends and relatives momentarily set aside political rantings. Sometimes we need to just take time to small talk, coo over snapshots and chortle over animal videos. So maybe, I think to myself, since I speak out in the blogosphere and on Twitter, I can give it a rest on Facebook.
But, as Niemöller reminds, sometimes silence doesn’t heal. A grossly ignorant, bigoted, emotional pygmy with bullyboy tendencies could be about to become the leader of the free world during very dangerous and fragile times. That is not an exaggeration. That may not end well. So maybe, I think to myself, shame on me if I don’t heed Niemöller’s warning.
I was thinking about this the other day after reading a New Yorker article about Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer of Trump’s bestselling book “The Art of the Deal.” Schwartz spent a year interviewing and shadowing Trump, so he got to know Trump better than most. He came away from that up-close exposure with this to say about the man who soon could be President:
“I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.”
He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”
If he were writing “The Art of the Deal” today, Schwartz said, it would be a very different book with a very different title. Asked what he would call it, he answered, “The Sociopath.”
So, the stakes of this election could be just a little bit high. If so, what am I going to tell my grandkids if things turn out badly?
“He came to nuke the Muslims and I did not speak out— Because I didn’t want to put a damper on the baby elephant video.”
As a friend and I were discussing the other day, I’m not really sure how to be a responsible citizen during a time of crisis. I’m a rookie at this, as I suppose Niemöller was during Hitler’s rise. We have lived our whole lives during a time when there has not been what I would consider a mega-crisis, such as an epic moral battle over slavery, suffrage or segregation, a Great Depression or a World War.
In the wake of the biggest crisis of my lifetime — the 9-11 terror attacks — I wasn’t a particularly responsible citizen. I didn’t speak out against the anti-American Patriot Act. I didn’t speak out in a timely way about the wholly unnecessary Iraq War. I didn’t speak out against anti-Muslim hate crimes. In the process, my silence contributed in a small way to making the the world less stable, just and safe. I also haven’t been a very responsible citizen in the face of a mountain of evidence proving an unconscionable level of societal racial bias.
So, forgive me Facebook friends, but I just don’t feel like I can afford to completely sit silent over the next four months of this historically scary election. I need to speak out, at least a little. It may not make any difference, but I have to try.
And if everything turns out okay on November 8th, I promise on November 9th I will stick to baby elephant videos for a while.