North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law is a nasty example of what is going on in the country today. Whether it’s a new wave of open racism, homophobia, sexism or anti-immigrant rhetoric, all are being not only exacerbated by the candidacies of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) but being encouraged by them. The comparisons to Mussolini are appropriate.
While the current rise of hate can be largely attributed to these men, it is a culmination of what has been said by many in the Tea Party, and the ultra-right of the Republican Party for many years. I have often written of Cruz as the current incarnation of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.).
The rise of Trump is what happens when a political party is taken over by the far right and its more moderate members are cowed into submission. When the likes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are no longer willing to stand up for decency and common sense but themselves encourage racism and make it more acceptable by their reactions to and attacks on President Obama.
We have reached a crossroads in our country and the 2016 elections will be very telling as to which road we will take: the one that leads to decency and respect for each other or the one leading to totalitarianism. The first test will come for Republicans as they determine whether they will allow Trump or Cruz to take over their party. Their convention in Cleveland will tell whether the more rational wing of the party has surrendered to the far right.
The second test will come if either Cruz or Trump is the Republican nominee and the American people will have to decide if they are willing to soundly reject them. At this point, I no longer have faith the rational members of the Republican Party will prevail but do believe the American people will do the right thing. They have shown before, even if it has taken time, they can differentiate between good and evil. They will stand up to and reject ideologues and demagogues.
It is my hope in this pivotal election that people will side with their better angels as they cast their votes for candidates up and down the ballot. We may not survive a national vote that will further divide us. Women, African Americans, immigrants the LGBT community and all minorities and allies who support basic decency must unite to protect and provide every American with full civil and human rights.
There is a famous poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoller that begins, “First they came for …,” about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Many adaptations in the spirit of the original have been published all dealing with themes of persecution, guilt and responsibility.” One of the most famous is quoted in the Holocaust Museum and begins: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist; Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a Jew; Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
With Donald Trump and Ted Cruz we have reached a time in the United States where the meaning of that poem resonates. With calls for the deportation of 11 million Mexicans; rolling back strides made by the LGBT community for human and civil rights; overturning Roe v. Wade; and rolling back the right to vote for African Americans we should all be frightened.
Many of us who have fought for progress and people’s rights all our lives never believed these ideas could gain traction here. Yet they have and they must be fought. Every one of us must speak out in a loud and clear voice and say we will not go quietly into the night and allow the United States to go down that path. We will use our voices and our votes to take us down a path of decency and respect for all.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime Democratic Party and LGBT rights activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.