Donald Trump the billionaire real estate mogul is polling 38% in the upcoming Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire. His closest competitor is 14%. He has risen in the polls while fanning flames of fear toward immigrants from Mexico and Muslim refugees from the Middle East.
Mr. Trump’s hate speech has long been the bread and butter of political opportunists. During World War 2 American families of Japanese ancestry were placed in concentration camps. Racism fueled by fear provided easy sound bites for American political leaders to subjugate one’s neighbors. A progressive president like Franklin Roosevelt was not immune and signed the order imprisoning families.
During the Great Depression and again in the mid 1950’s (Operation Wetback instituted by President Eisenhower), tens of thousands of Americans of Mexican descent were forced to return to Mexico. Some were undocumented, some were naturalized citizens and others born in the USA. Parts of our nation were so toxic that many felt they had no alternative but to move to Mexico.
This is all to say that Donald Trump knows it is a proven formula, to pander to the worst instincts of the human condition. He plays on fears and ignorance and rises in the polls. To their credit many leaders within his own party have challenged Mr. Trump’s statements.
What are people of good will to do, in the face of such hate speech?
A hopeful example is found in the words of a pastor in Nazi Germany, during the lead up to World War 2. His name was Martin Niemoller. He was part of an underground movement of Christians in Germany, known as the Confessing Church. While much of the Christian church was silent and even complicit, this group actively worked against the Nazis.
Pastor Niemoller in the early days of the Nazi political party was a supporter of Hitler. As the Nazi movement grew Niemoller renounced Hitler and became an outspoken critic. He was ultimately sent to a concentration camp from 1937 – 1945 and barely survived.
He regretted that he hadn’t acted sooner. From prison he wrote: “First they came for the socialist but I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the Jews but I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the gypsy, the communist, the homosexual, the unionist but I wasn’t one. When they came for me, there was no one else left to ask, ‘why’?”
It’s been said that evil happens because people of good-will remain silent. Martin Niemoller’s counsel and witness is for people of good will to speak, to act and ultimately stand with those who are oppressed and voiceless.
Will we stand up in this country for immigration reform? Will we offer welcome to the refugee? Will we speak out and stand up against the voices for hate and exclusion?
If not us, then who?
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Let us speak, let us act.