The words of Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller, the outspoken critic of the Nazi regime come back to haunt us even today.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
The campaign rhetoric of 2016 in America presaged the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.
For example, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.” (12/7/15)
Yet no one spoke out until the attempt to make this law at which time, fortunately, the American judicial system saved the day. But the seeds of hate and animosity were planted nonetheless. As is known, after you drive a nail into a piece of wood, you can remove the nail, but the hole remains forever.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
And then there was the implied permission to use weapons to correct situations about which you are unhappy.
“By the way, if she (i.e. Hillary Clinton) gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” (8/9/16)
Once again, no communal outrage to say that the right to bear arms codified in the second amendment to the U.S. constitution is for protection, not to go after people whose political opinions you find are objectionable.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Of course, historically, when the nationalist fever hits a population we can be sure that anti-Semitism will always be part of the mix. The chant on Friday night last week in Charlottesville that “The Jews will not replace us” repeated countless times during that evening’s march was chilling to say the least.
The fact that on Saturday morning there were alt-right representatives armed with automatic rifles standing menacingly across the street from the local synagogue is reminiscent of times we all thought were in the past and in another continent. And to protect themselves, the Jews had to leave the synagogue in groups through the back door. Really?
Yet the outcry from the organized Jewish community in America this week has been feeble at best. Are we not even able to protest on our own behalf any longer?
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
A government that sees moral equivalency between those who set out to denigrate and destroy with those who protest their detestable messages runs the danger of getting America to the point where there will be no one left to protest.
To the credit of senior company CEOs who have resigned from government advisory groups in protest; to the credit of all of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who, uncharacteristically but gratefully took a stand again false moral equivalency; to the credit of legislators on both sides of the aisle who raised their voices in protest: to all them goes the gratitude of the normal Americans whose voices, while important, do not carry the weight of these leaders.
And to those who have taken to the press, including some well-respected Jewish journalists, to tell us that the white supremacists are small in number and not to be concerned because they do not represent a real threat. To those misguided members of the fourth estate I urge them to recall the words of George Santayana who famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
We dare not be silent!