It is hard to believe that three months ago I thought Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric was a threat, but not his actual candidacy. That has changed. I want to tell you a bit about what led me to write that first letter in December. That evening, appalled by the media’s willingness to cover, and the Republican establishment’s willingness to enable Trump’s racist policy proposals, I did some research. I wanted to understand more about the unique position of Muslims in America. I learned that American Muslims make up nearly 1% of the adult population in this country. I also learned that this was the approximate proportion of Jews in Germany in 1933. I don’t now if that is sociologically significant. But I do know that it scared me.
I also learned that American Muslims are mostly concentrated in a handful of large urban areas and in ten of the fifty states. It occurred to me that at a heavily concentrated 1% of the adult American population, we are, in fact, quite vulnerable. There is no way that we could, alone, fight off an earnest attempt to persecute, marginalize, intern, or eliminate us. I realized that to fight fascism, some much larger proportion of the population has to recognize the early stages of scapegoating (identification, isolation) and resist them in order to ensure freedom from the endgame (concentration, elimination). And that is why I wrote to my non-Muslim friends. I don’t see this as a one-way street, by the way. Muslims must be (and many have been) civically engaged, both willing to ask others to stand with us and to commit ourselves to stand against injustice wherever it appears.
As an activist committed to social justice for my entire adult life, I accept that the project of democratic politics is an imperfectly negotiated system of self-governance. But Trump’s candidacy is a threat to the fabric of that process, not another position on the spectrum. He has effectively and explicitly gathered white nationalism, vigilante violence, torture, and the suppression of a free media and religious freedom into the platform of the Republican Party. And for some reason, it has taken this long for any significant voice of dissent to rise within the Republican establishment. (What the hell is wrong with you, Republican Party?)
What I mean to say here is that Trump represents a change, not in degree of conservatism, but in kind of politics. And neither Trump’s fellow candidates nor the Republican establishment appear to have a problem with that. It is not yet clear whether there is enough anxiety and hatred in some segments of the American public to put Trump at the top of the ruins of the Republican Party. My hope is that the Republican Party will do the honorable thing: recognize that what once was a viable conservative platform has degenerated into thin cover for greed, misogyny and racism. And then create something better.
The alternative, regardless of what happens in this election cycle, is frightening. What we have learned is that America is not immune to authoritarianism and that white nationalism is far from dead. Left unchecked, these factors may define the future of the Republican Party.
Because this remains a real possibility, my family and I are still having conversations about how to make sure we don’t sit still while the water boils around us. And again, I found myself wondering what this conversation must have looked like in 1933 or 1935, or even 1938, when the logical conclusion of Nazi fascism was still unimaginable. Because when Hitler came to power, 37,000 people fled, but another nearly 500,000 stayed. And more than half were still in Germany by the time all legal exits were sealed in 1941. People stayed for a great many reasons. Among the early reasons were mixed messages from the Nazi regime (including, for example, suggesting that segregation was the goal), patriotism, instances of solidarity or support from non-Jewish people, and unwillingness to leave behind property or livelihood. Later barriers to escape included increasing inability to pay to get out (as more and more property was confiscated by the Nazis and exit ‘taxes’ were dramatically increased) and inability to find a country that would allow them to enter.
When does one assess the ridiculous level of gun violence and police brutality in this country, paired with the deep racism and xenophobia espoused by almost all of the Republican Presidential candidates, and get out? Our answer is: not yet. The water is not boiling yet, and there is a chance to make this society viable, and maybe even very good, for the next generation. There is work to be done and it is our obligation to do it.
I am writing to ask you to consider that this is a critical time in our society’s evolution. Our leadership will have the unenviable task of steering us through some of the most confounding crises that human beings have ever faced: climate change, social conflict driven by environmental crises, persistent racism, and massive shifts in the post-colonial world order—including a dramatically different political and technological context for war. We would not be the first society to suffer under fascism. But given the stakes, I honestly believe that we could be the last.
All of this is to ask you—actually, to beg you. Please VOTE. Vote against hate. If you haven’t yet had enough of my opinion, I like Bernie. I like his unwavering integrity. I think he is the best possible steward for American in the next four years. But I’d take Hillary in a heartbeat over the alternatives. Just please, please VOTE.
If you are registered, vote in your state’s primary: https://www.fvap.gov/vao/vag/appendix/state-elections and help choose your Party’s nominee, who will run in the general election in the fall.
If you haven’t already registered, please do so here: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote#item-212126. If you haven’t made arrangements to get to the polls, organized child care, gotten time off, you’ve got until the general election on November 8th. Be sure to vote again in 2018, because a Democratic president can only do so much with a Republican Congress. It will make all the difference.
Peace to you and bless you in your efforts,