the candler blog

Vigilance

Thoughts

I’ve started this piece so many times. A million different ways. All year. I’ve been trying to find the words, but never have. I hoped others would. They did, but it didn’t matter.

Donald Trump has all the hallmarks of a fascist dictator. He is a racist, a xenophobe. He espouses white supremacy. Make no mistake: the America he thinks used to be great was punishing for many. His rhetoric puts Americans at home and abroad in danger. And we knew it. Our country elected him with eyes wide open.

I regret not publishing those words before today. I write now simply to be heard. I want to make sure I say out loud that we didn’t all support him. None of us knows what the future holds, but when I look back on this era, at least I can say I was not for Trump. History should know that we existed, that we tried.

Growing up Jewish, two words are hammered into you: never forget. My people have had a very rough go over the centuries, particularly in the previous two. We were run out of Europe amid a campaign of intimidation, amid massacres. Some, like my relatives, were lucky enough to make it to America a generation before Hitler.

Jews have enjoyed incredible acceptance in the United States. But Jews were also accepted in Europe, once upon a time. History moves slowly and is rarely clear when you’re in the middle of it. The lesson passed down to me after a century of unspeakable horror was one of vigilance. Pay attention. Engage. Question. And never, ever forget.

It’s not paranoia that has me feeling this way. It’s experience.

The Ku Klux Klan is jubilant. Trump’s divisive talk has galvanized racists, bigots and anti-Semites in this country. Many of Trump’s supporters don’t see themselves that way, and I’m sure millions of them are well-meaning Americans frustrated by our political system. Yet they have thrown in with a dangerous crowd. I worry where this leads.

Ever since Trump announced his candidacy by viciously attacking Mexican-Americans, Martin Niemöller’s famous stanzas have been ringing in my head daily.

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.

When I speak with friends about my concerns as a Jew, they often tell me it won’t happen here, that I am overreacting. But it’s already happening, just not to me. A man spent a year-and-a-half selling Americans on the forcible expulsion of millions of immigrants and shutting them off from us behind a wall. And then he got elected president. If the mass deportations happen, or if the wall gets built, this is a dark path for our country. And that will only be the beginning.

I’ve been quiet here for too long. If I don’t speak up now I may never get the chance.

A closing thought. This world is nothing without art. Culture is not an addendum to civilization; it is its raison d’être. Today was a tough day and there will be many of those ahead. But the beauty around us has not disappeared. If anything it stands out in stark relief more than ever. Creativity has sustained humanity through its toughest moments. So if you create, create like hell. We need you to.