Last month, my bookclub read The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah’s story of a French family living through the German occupation of World War II. When it came time to discuss the book, we cheered the heroes of the novel, but asked ourselves why other characters sat by and said nothing as the atrocities mounted against their Jewish friends and neighbors.
How could good people sit by and do nothing?
We finally came to the shared conclusion that the characters of the book – and likely their real-life counterparts – said nothing because at every low point, they simply couldn’t imagine things could get worse.
When people were shunned and publicly jeered for being Jewish, their neighbors looked away and thought that words could do no real harm. When words became yellow stars, people ignored them, believing the symbols appeased the Germans and didn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. And when jobs and property were taken away? People believed that had to be the final step – the worst thing that could possibly happen, so why make a fuss at that point?
But we readers knew better.
In 2016, we have the benefit of hindsight. We know how quickly a rallying cry to the discontented can turn to hate speech. We have seen where unchecked hate speech can lead, and we know it can get much, much worse.
I honestly believe we are at a similar point in our history: where things can get worse if we stand by and say nothing.
So I have decided to stand up and say that it would be a grave mistake to elect Donald Trump president.
I’m not advocating for any particular candidate instead of Trump. I have a favorite, and I also have concerns about many of the other front-runners, but I believe our country could survive them.
I can’t say the same about Trump.
Donald Trump is not any of the things his supporters claim him to be. He is not a leader or a man of the people. He is not an outsider. The problem is, I don’t know what he is, because he has spoken so little about his policies and beliefs. Instead, he calls people names, demeans his opponents and lowers the level of discourse to schoolyard taunts and games of “mine is bigger than yours is.”
Trump divides people into categories of “us” and “them” and scoffs at people who find exception with him. I can’t begin to list the things he’s done during the election season that I’ve found horrific. Was mocking the disabled journalist worse than repeatedly claiming he saw footage of Muslims rejoicing on 9/11 that DOES NOT EXIST? Am I more concerned that he skipped a debate because he refused to answer questions from a female reporter he thought was picking on him or by the fact that he called for a ban on Muslims (at first including US citizens) entering the US?
Actually, I know what frightens me the most. Trump currently advocates for increasing torture and extending punishment to include the families of terrorists and suspected terrorists. These are not the words of a man of strength or a world leader.
Promoting that we work outside of our legal and military system are the words of a dictator and a war criminal.
Look, I know and agree that we want our country to be safe, but that safety can’t come at the expense of our freedom. We can’t fight terrorists by becoming terrorists, ourselves.
Those who know me well know that I go out of my way to avoid making political statements on social media. I’m a poly sci major and a political junkie, so I love to talk politics in person, but I don’t think platforms like Facebook or Twitter move the dial in a positive way, so I generally don’t put my views out there. I find they just add to the noise.
So, then, why the change of heart?
Because I don’t want to look myself in the mirror someday and ask why I stood by and said nothing.