In 2008, Republican Colin Powell, a retired four-star general and former secretary of state, national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed Democrat Barack Obama because he believed Obama offered a “more diverse and inclusive way across our society” than did John McCain.
Powell’s courageous endorsement was reaffirming to many who were uncomfortable witnessing the Republican exploitation of racist tropes in trying to marginalize Obama by portraying him as foreign, Muslim, Other.
Such dog-whistling continues; it’s part of “Birther” Donald Trump’s appeal to America’s dark side – a nativist, xenophobic, racist side – that has elevated a demagogue to party standard-bearer.
I lived in New York City in the 1980s, so Trump isn’t unknown to me. I know that in 1989, when five black and Latino teenagers were arrested in the “Central Park Jogger Case,” it was Trump who fueled racial tensions by buying full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty against the teens – five men who spent between 6 and 13 years in prison – who turned out to be innocent.
Today, Trump is the same abusive, arrogant, thin-skinned narcissist – richer, more dangerous – who called for lynching teens in 1989 and who now confronts us with an electoral choice more stark, more threatening, more existential than at any time in American history.
The threat’s not just Trump. It comes, too, from those Republicans still unable to confront the beast. Even after witnessing a convention raised from deep within Dante’s inferno – an inferno where cries of “Lucifer,” “Lock Her Up” and “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason” passed for political speech, many still stand silent.
This Sunday morning, with both national conventions behind us, I’m calling those Republicans out:
I’m calling them out because we know together that Trump’s nomination assaults America’s historical memory, the legitimacy of our Constitution, and it diminishes our children and grandchildren’s legacy.
I insist today that it’s not enough to disassociate from Trump.
It’s time to say publicly: “Enough. Not in my name.”
Today, if you’re a Republican planning to vote Trump – or not vote – I’m calling you out.
I’m saying if that you don’t have the courage to call out an uninformed, vulgar, misogynist demagogue who’s neither Republican nor conservative, it tells me that you’re willing to align historically with hypocrites like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Joseph McCarthy – hypocrites who claimed allegiance to the Constitution while in reality working to deny equal dignity and hospitality to all Americans.
I believe we’re all called to practice Radical Hospitality, to welcome the sojourner, the outsider, to embrace those unlike ourselves, and today I’m offended both by Trump’s inhospitable exclusionary rhetoric and by the silence of those fearful of calling him out.
As I believe that to mistreat strangers is an affront to both God and humanity, I won’t turn you away if you ever need food or shelter. I’ll make a mezza, a selection of appetizers, to make sure you feel welcome – but I won’t play cards with you.
I’ll give you clean sheets – but I won’t tuck you in.
I don’t want you mentoring my children or policing my neighborhood, though I’ll staunchly defend your right to say whatever you wish, no matter how hateful or hurtful – just as I’m exercising my right to call you out.
For Trump’s base it doesn’t matter whether Trump understands Brexit, doesn’t know what a nuclear triad is, or why it’s important to reject the illegal annexation of Crimea and re-occupation of the Baltic States.
You have no such excuse. You know the truth.
Today’s truth is clear: A vote for Trump is a vote for Putin, for bullies and kleptocrats, for ISIS and for those who believe in terror and division rather than inclusion; for more war crimes and torture and for the treasonous invitation to Russia to cyber-attack our electoral process.
The truth is that Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to America, a small-minded appeaser of oligarchs, incoherent and temperamentally unstable, unfit and too uninformed to be commander in chief.
This morning I speak to those who “support but not endorse” Trump.
This morning I wonder where you’re coming from.
Were you silent when Americans were being lynched, blacklisted, red-lined and black-balled? Did you speak out when the weak and vulnerable were being marginalized and exploited?
The days of silence are over.
If Republican leaders stand silent I believe that someday they will be forced to recall the words of German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller about the cowardice of German intellectuals in confronting Nazism.
There are several iterations of his challenge; today, this is my paraphrase:
First they came for the Muslims and Mexicans, and I did not speak out –
Because I was neither Muslim nor Mexican.
Then they came for the progressives and liberals, and I did not speak out –
Because I was neither progressive nor liberal.
Then they came for the Democrats, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Democrat.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Today, it’s not enough to criticize Trump, ask him to pivot or say he makes disqualifying statements.
Remaining silent is a vote for Trump.
If you can’t publicly say you’ll vote for Clinton to guarantee that Trump isn’t elected, you’re quislings and cowards.
As long as people like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus. Michael Steele, Tom Cotton, Joe Scarborough, Kelly Ayotte, Scott Brown and others don’t have the courage to stand and drive a stake through the heart of the neo-facist branch of their party by publicly affirming an intention to work to assure that Donald Trump is soundly defeated, they’re complicit in the erosion of American liberties and the marginalization of their neighbors.
Hillary Clinton wasn’t my first choice but today she’s what stands between democracy and madness, between an affirmative vision of a united America moving forward and Trump’s dark, angry, dystopian vision of America.
Clinton’s smart, capable, focused, well-prepared and, frankly, the fact that she’s endured decades of being “swift-boated” and is still standing says much about her character and strength.
If anyone – including Bernie’s supporters – believes that anything Donald Trump has accomplished during his manipulative, exploitive, self-aggrandizing, self-worshipping, selfish existence is in any way equivalent to what Clinton has accomplished in her life of service, they’re delusional and complicit with those who want to destroy all that generations of Americans have fought and died to create and protect.
Silence could kill us all.
This column was first published in the Concord Monitor