America: terror nation. After last week, the week of October 22, twenty-one months into the Trump administration, it seems that that is what we have become.
The week started with a pipe bomb discovered in the mailbox of billionaire George Soros. As the week progressed, more pipe bombs were found in mail intended for Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, other liberal Democrat politicians, and CNN.
Wednesday, two African Americans, Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones, were shot and killed in a Kroger grocery store outside of Louisville, Kentucky. The only reason alleged killer Gregory A. Bush was in the Kroger, police say, was because he had tried and failed to gain entry to a predominately African American church nearby, in which seventy people were attending Wednesday services.
Relief over Friday’s arrest of the alleged suspect behind the pipe bombs was short lived. Saturday morning, a man entered the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh during Shabbat services and opened fire, murdering eleven members of the congregation and injuring six more, including two members of the congregation and four police officers.
It was the worst attack on Jewish people in American history. And it happened when we were still processing the double murders in Kentucky and assassination attempts on two former presidents and a slew of prominent Democratic politicians—California Rep. Maxine Waters, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder—all of whom are critics of President Trump. And Robert De Niro. And CNN. In fact, authorities found one more package containing a pipe bomb in mail addressed to CNN on Monday, October 29.
I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed Sunday afternoon, ruminating on it all, when I came across this:
First they came for the African Americans and I spoke up—
Because I am my sisters’ and my brothers’ keeper.
And then they came for the women and I spoke up—
Because women hold up half the sky.
And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up—
Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.
And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up—
Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.
And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up—
Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.
They keep coming.
We keep rising up.
Because we Jews know the cost of silence.
We remember where we came from.
And we will link arms because when you come for our neighbors, you come for us
And that just won’t stand.
Taking a stand
If the poem, by Minneapolis Rabbi Michael Latz sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a riff on the post-World War II poem written in response to the Holocaust, the one that begins, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.”
The original was on Rabbi Latz’s mind following the election of Donald Trump in 2016. “It is a powerful, aching call to stand up against injustice,” Rabbi Latz wrote. However:
It always troubled me—the despondence and the desperation. Not because it isn’t real; it surely is. But because I ached for a call to stand up and speak up in the affirmative. Why on earth was I waiting for someone else? In human rights advocacy, one person rising up, speaking out, taking action can make a tremendous difference.
He’s right. But it’s one of those cases where what is right is so obvious, we don’t notice it until it’s put in front of us, as Rabbi Latz does here. The original poem, by German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller, has haunted us for generations: as a warning, an admonition. We tell ourselves that if Fascism were to rise here, as it did in Germany in the 1930s, we will speak out if they come for the socialists, the trade unionists, the Jews. But only out of guilt over the failure of Germans to speak out until it was too late.“I ached for a call to stand up and speak up in the affirmative.” And so, I suspect, do we. Because “one person rising up, speaking out, taking action can make a tremendous difference.”
And we need to make a difference. Because while Mr. Bush, and pipe bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc, and Pittsburgh shooting suspect Robert Bower all own their own crimes, the inspiration, especially in the case of Mr. Sayoc, is President Donald Trump.
The Trump connection
It is Mr. Trump who has made America safe for racists and fascists and anti-Semites—the kind of men who will murder random African Americans and Jews, and politicians who criticize the killers’ master.
Some will say that Mr. Trump cannot be directly responsible for the synagogue massacre. Daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared are Jews. He moved our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Etc., etc. But Mr. Bower’s murderous antisemitism appears to have been motivated by Mr. Trump’s hateful rhetoric about immigrants. As reported in Vox:
The obsession that appears to have tipped the gunman over the edge was a conspiracy theory insinuating that the migrant caravan currently making its way through southern Mexico, and which President Donald Trump and conservative media have treated as an existential threat to the United States, is a Jewish plot.
Most tellingly, Mr. Trump said in early 2017 that anti-Semitic attacks were secretly perpetrated by Jews themselves “to make people or to make others look bad.” And of course, we cannot forget that he defended the Nazis and white supremacists who marched at Charlottesville as “very fine people.”
Make a difference
The first, obvious way to take action and make a difference is to vote. Election day is November 6. If you have not already early voted, then get out and vote. Vote out the Republican politicians who have stood by, largely silent, while Mr. Trump has, day and in and day out, sown divisiveness and hatred and encouraged violence. I look especially to young people. As I wrote last spring, nationwide, 4.06 million of you turned eighteen this year. If you don’t like what you see, vote.
In the long-term, don’t just read Rabbi Latz’s update of the postwar poem. Live it.
When they come for the African Americans, for women, for immigrants and Muslims, for Native Americans, for the poor and the sick: speak up.
As long as they keep coming, we must keep rising up. Until Mr. Trump and his GOP sycophants are removed from power, and his base are relegated to the outer fringes of American life, where they belong.