Is Donald Trump a Hitler nouveau? Probably not.
Still, in this time of preparing a switch from mild, articulate, scandal-free Obama to Wall Them Out Shut Them Out Kick Them Out Trump, it might be worth a historical review of German Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. His postwar sermons feature various versions of this:
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.
Donald Trump has doubled down now on his anti-illegal-Mexican intent. He announced that he will be deporting millions of “criminal” Mexicans first thing. Of course if a Mexican, in flight from a drug cartel war more deadly than most wars on Earth, crosses our border she has broken our law and would be regarded by some, possibly our next President, as therefore a criminal to deport back into poverty and violence. Only another scofflaw would help her.
I suppose this makes me a scofflaw. I hope there are many of us.
If a family in desperate flight from Aleppo manages to make it to our shores, apparently our President-elect Trump plans to turn them away, very likely to their deaths. Only someone who fetishizes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or possibly the Sermon on the Mount might risk offering that Syrian family shelter or help with safe passage to somewhere more welcoming.
I hope there are many such fetishizing folks.
The thing is, dear friends, democracy has its limits; it is not two cats and a mouse voting on what’s for lunch. Substituting the tyranny of the numerical majority over the most vulnerable minorities is in truth no longer a democracy and we are skating dangerously close to that abyss. If Trump plans to violate human rights, and he announces it, and the vast majority of Americans vote him in, that is not license to violate those rights.
Of course it was actually a large minority of Americans who voted for Trump and the majority voted for Hillary Clinton, but I don’t want to split hairs. My point is that it is now up to each of us as individuals to confront any overt violations of basic human rights, civil rights, and Plain Decency.
I am not calling Donald Trump a dictator, but I do worry about him leading a nation into that tyranny of the majority that produced all the greatest crimes we and other nations have committed, from theft of native land to slavery to death camps under Nazis to genocide in Rwanda and more. To update Niemöller, If you see something, say something.
Or don’t. The Underground Railroad led by Harriet Tubman and others was action, not words. The Danes hiding and then helping virtually all Danish Jews to escape to Sweden, the brave farmers and villagers of Vichy France who hid 5,000 French Jews in and around Le Chambon for the entire Nazi occupation, and many other instances of the relatively privileged or safe helping the oppressed, suffering, and in danger—all these courageous movements were silent but took action.
What will happen when Trump takes office? It’s scary to many. I hope we can all ponder and prepare. As my old friend Louie says, “Now we’ll earn our stripes.”
Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.