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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Letter from a Bystander Prison

I want to get this out of the way before reaching my main point in writing: I believe we, as a nation, will rue the day we elected Donald Trump as our president. As Dan Rather wrote: (His past) suggests that he may not be a master businessman, but rather may be more of a con man (Facebook, November 21).

It’s hard to disagree when you look at his lawsuits (1, 2), his taxes (1, 2), his debt (1, 2), his plans for reducing our debt (1, 2, 3), and even the idea of MADE IN THE USA (1, 2).

While these things concern me, and they should you, they’re not my biggest issue. Not by a long shot. The truth is, throughout this entire election, and even more so since its conclusion, I have been deeply saddened by………us.

During Trump’s campaign, he talked a lot about building a wall (which, for someone complaining about our debt, sure sounds financially sound). He railed on Mexican immigrants. He spoke of a Muslim registry (another sound financial choice—also, while we’re at it, should we just cut to the chase and require that all Muslims wear a yellow badge at all times?). He promoted violence to protesters at his rallies. In short—he stirred the pot of a lot of anger.

Now…his camp will tell you that the anger is at politicians. That people in this country are fed up with the lies and broken promises and under-the-table deals and on and on and on. You know what? He’s right. We, as a nation, are angry at those things. Absolutely, 100 percent right.

But that’s not where the anger is being directed. The people have not spoken with their votes to remove corrupt politicians from office. They have not spoken out and demanded more, demanded better from their representatives.

We have turned our anger on each other.

CNN has reported over 700 cases (and counting) of hate crimes and harassment since the election. And yes, while on “60 Minutes,” Trump said to “stop it,” but he’s also the one that started it. He’s the one that encouraged it. And he continues to encourage it through his early cabinet appointments.

Meet Vice President Mike Pence, who has a long-running stance against LGBT matters, and in 2000 wrote, “Time for a quick reality check. Despite hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”

Meet the new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, who believes that all Muslim-American religious leaders are “potentially implicit” in terrorism.

Meet the new national security advisor Michael Flynn, who calls Islam a “cancer,” and earlier this year posted on Twitter, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” (caps are his).

Meet the new attorney general Jeff Sessions, who was rejected as a federal judge due to allegations of calling a black attorney “boy,” suggesting a white lawyer working for black clients is a race traitor, joked that his only issue with the KKK was their drug use, and referred to civil rights groups as “un-American.” (source for those last three)

Then you have Trump’s chief strategic and senior advisor (IE: The man who will have Trump’s ear more than anyone else) Stephen Bannon, who said just last week, “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.” A man who, according to court records, did not want his children going to certain schools because of the number of Jews attending them.

Now…many people explain these things away. They chalk it up to context, or media biases, or fill-in-the-blank. But no one can explain away the results of Trump’s victory and his corresponding appointments: Celebration from the highest scum in our country.
  • David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the KKK: “Bannon, Flynn, Sessions: The first steps in taking America back!”
  • The KKK and American Nazi Party are pleased.
  • Neo-Nazi writer Andrew Anglin feels they are getting everything they wanted from Trump.

Then there’s Richard Spencer, the Alt-Right founder, who was in Washington, D.C. earlier this week with his Alt-Right buddies to celebrate the new administration. Spencer, who has frequently credited Trump’s new senior advisor Bannon’s publication, the Breitbart News, as giving the Alt-Right a platform for their voice, railed against Jews (“One wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem”) and quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German during this rally. At the end of his speech, “Heil the people! Heil victory!” was shouted. Spencer called white people “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.” The movement’s hope is to have a seat at the table, or at least Trump’s ear.

And with the Bannon connection, they have it.

Simply put, if the KKK, if neo-Nazis, if the American Nazi Party, if white nationalists, if the Alt-Right all view this election and these appointments as good…then they are not good.

There is a psychological term called the “bystander effect.” Basically, what it means is that you see something that you know is wrong, but do nothing to stop it. Perhaps you’re afraid something will happen to you. Perhaps you want to avoid an uncomfortable conversation and/or confrontation. Perhaps you don’t know what to do. So, even though you know what you’re seeing is wrong, you do nothing.

Dr. Martin Luther King had another term for this lack of action in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He called these people “white moderates.” A white moderate was a well-meaning white person who stood by and did nothing. These people angered and saddened Dr. King more than the racists who attacked him. The white moderates upset him so much because they agreed with him. They recognized how vile others were behaving. Yet they watched and said nothing. They did nothing.

One election. One man. And like that…fifty years…gone. Half a century. And we’re right back there, with a nation of white moderates.

And that is what saddens me most of all.

You and I can dispute Trump’s policies for the duration of his time in office. That’s what we do when discussing presidents. But the reaction to his presidency is not okay, and any intelligent, rational person has to see that. Because it’s not just the Klan or the Alt-Right. Citizens have turned ugly. The harassment. The violence. The hate speech. The threats.

And because adults are behaving so vehemently, our children are copying their behavior. In the CNN harassment story noted above, it mentions children pointing out which classmates will be deported. There are stories of white students locking arms and not allowing students of different colors/races to enter. At my school, in my grade, we have found two desks with Swastikas carved into them.

This is clearly not okay. It is clearly not American. We don’t have to be Republican/Democrat/Conservative/Liberal to see this. And we must put an end to it. We must stand up against it. We must speak out against it. We can no longer be white moderates, hiding behind the bystander effect, choosing to do nothing.

By rationalizing these actions, you are defending them and permitting them to exist. This makes you equally responsible. By not speaking out against them, you are defending them and permitting them to exist. This makes you equally responsible. You cannot claim ignorance.

Yes, there are people on the other side who are protesting violently. Yes, there are people who are harassing Trump supporters. That is not okay, either. We must speak out against them as well. Hate is never the answer. Violence is never the answer. But if you scoreboard, those people are far in the minority of those speaking and acting with hate towards them. You cannot condemn those against Trump for their actions while you are condoning the actions of Trump supporters. And not standing up and speaking out against the actions of Trump supporters is condoning their actions.

About 81 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump. Is this what Christianity is supposed to look like? Is your vitriol at Muslims and Mexicans and African-Americans loving? Would Jesus approve of that post or comment or “joke”? Would He be part of the bystander effect—sitting, watching all of this hate, while doing or saying nothing?

Well, I refuse. No longer will I say nothing. No longer will I do nothing. Perhaps it will cost me a few relationships, and it’ll be sad if that happens, but so be it if the alternative is silent inaction. My hope is that you will join me in speaking out against hatred.

The last eighteen months have saddened me, but I still believe in the general good in people. Now start showing it.

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