First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
How we respond to the disaster at the gay nightclub in Orlando clearly depends on who we are. Hillary Clinton responded by asking for better gun control, a stronger fight against ISIS, and national unity and resolve. Donald Trump announced the need to get tough fast or “we are not going to have our country anymore.”
According to Trump, the reason the shooting happened is that the shooter’s parents immigrated here legally, 30 years ago. Trump wants to bar Hispanics and Muslims alike from entering this country. When a second-generation American offends him, whether it’s a Muslim shooter or a Hispanic judge, the answer is the same: they are products of their foreign forebears, not to be trusted. So ban them from this country.
It is trite to say that we as Jews have an obligation to support immigrants and immigration. Trite, but true. Our obligation is to the Constitution and also to ourselves, our parents and especially our children.
A serious problem is the widespread unhappiness with the workings of our economic system, and lack of faith in the ability of government to meet people’s needs. The unfortunate result is that a candidate for the presidency who builds a campaign on hate and fear can amass 13 million votes, and in doing that, secure the inside track to nomination by one of our two major political parties.
A hallmark of democracy is respect for law. We have come through major attacks on that respect: Orval Faubus, Governor of Arkansas, standing on the steps of a public school defying court-ordered integration. Sen. McCarthy reading names of alleged proponents of the overthrow of the government with no evidence or due process whatsoever. Frank Rizzo, as police commissioner, allegedly boasting about his department’s handling of demonstrators: “When I’m finished with them, I’ll make Attila the Hun look like a fag.”
What we must recognize is that all the gains of the Civil Rights Movement are reversible, as soon as we – who fought for them – stop fighting for them. The First Amendment freedoms of speech and association, and separation of church and state, are reversible. In the primary campaign, candidate after candidate expressed the goal, if elected, to strengthen religion, meaning to use the power of government to strengthen Christianity.
But this is not just theoretical. Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, achieving school integration remains a battle. Every woman’s right to choose is challenged repeatedly by state legislatures, despite the likelihood that a court will strike down each effort. Under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we are told that the government monitors millions of telephone calls and Internet messages daily under blanket orders of a secret court. And we stand at a crossroads at which the next appointment to the United States Supreme Court could change the course of our civil rights and voting laws for decades. In short, our civil rights never stand still — they are always growing or shrinking or both.
So I am a one-issue voter, and that issue is keeping America safe for democracy. That includes respect for the government, along with a healthy desire to see it improve. That includes shouting out every sign of xenophobia, fear of the “other,” whether based on ancestry, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Before I even think about the traditional “bread and butter” issues, I insist on a candidate for whom equality and justice are real, not just fashion statements to be mouthed or discarded depending on the audience.