Trump isn’t funny anymore. So why are we still silent?

Flickr photo shared by cool revolution under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Flickr photo shared by cool revolution under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Google “Trump isn’t funny anymore” and you’ll come up with pages of news stories with variations on that title, some dating back all the way to last summer. It’s sinking in, slowly, and yet Donald Trump remains the Republican frontrunner. Every day I wake up to another dozen troubling articles and videos detailing Trump’s seemingly unstoppable march to power.

So let me just summarize some of the more terrifying recent highlights (lowlights?):

So as this situation progresses in increasingly scary directions, I’ve decided to say something myself. And even as I’m writing, I’ve asked myself more than once: What good will my voice do? Given the plentiful media coverage, I’ve skipped blogging about this up until now, choosing instead to share existing articles on Twitter and Facebook. But isn’t that the psychology behind the bystander effect? Someone else will speak out, so I don’t have to.

And then this morning, I was watching Rachel Maddow’s report on the recent protests at Trump rallies, which clearly documents the escalation of Trump’s promotion of violence:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuTe_sAI-UQ

Whether you agree with Maddow’s politics or not, this video is chilling. Listen to Trump’s words:

“These people are ruining our country.”

“These are not good people.”

“These people are so bad for our country.”

“These people are hurting this country.”

These are not soundbites taken out of context. This is hateful, racist rhetoric, pure and simple. And as I watched the video, I got really, really scared.

And I was reminded, as I am far too often these days, of this text from a 1946 speech by Martin Niemöller, criticizing the failure of German intellectuals to speak out again the rise of Nazism:  

“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 was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Perhaps this sounds overly alarmist, and perhaps I am projecting too much onto the current rise of Trump-ism. I hope that’s the case. But listening to Trump, and watching his more radical supporters, I am not convinced. So whether you believe that Trump is our generation’s Hitler or not, I am asking – imploring – all of you to take seriously Niemöller’s critique of those who stayed silent because the crisis hadn’t quite reached a point that affected them directly. To quote Homeland Security (Ironic? Maybe.): “If you see something, say something.”

And let’s be clear: As my amazing friend Maggie reminds me, “they” have “come for” many groups in America (and in Canada, and in so many other places around the world) already. Trump’s rise to prominence is built upon a society where Black lives do not, on the whole, seem to matter, where immigrants (legal or otherwise) are the targets of racist laws and rhetoric, where being a person of colour (or a woman, or LGBTQ, or poor – privilege is always marked by intersectionality) is often considered a crime in itself. We should have said something long ago. But while we can’t change the past, we can ensure that Trump’s rise catalyzes us into action.

And that’s why I’m blogging about this: because now is the time to speak, before we are in a position to look back and repeat Niemöller’s words, to ask ourselves why we stayed silent in the midst of a growing horror.

And I’m asking you to do something, too.

  • Vote: Exercise your political voice.
  • Talk about it: Blog or tweet or Facebook or….whatever… about it. But talk about it.
  • Educate yourself: Read and watch and read some more.
  • Educate others, including youth: I’ve used this animation of Maurice Ogden’s poem, “The Hangman,” to talk about the Holocaust with my grade nine students. It fits here, too.
  • Protest: In person, online, in any way you can.

But whatever you choose, do not stay silent.

Tragedy, Politics, and Grief in an Age of Immediacy and Networks

I’ve been working on a blog post for awhile now about digital identity, in an effort to get my ePortfolio and blog up and running before the craziness of a new semester sets in. I thought that soon, maybe today, I’d finally click publish on that post.

But then, just as I was gathering the courage to post, this Sunday my social media feeds exploded with sadness and injustice and hate, and I felt that I needed to write something different. I watched as news broke about the killing of an unarmed black teen in Missouri by police. Through the tweets of a few people in my Twitter feed, I followed the emerging stories of racism and violence and grief.

Yesterday, those stories continued. Last night, I saw tweets and news stories about the protests in Ferguson and about the rubber bullets and tear gas being used on protesters. And amidst all this, I learned of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide, which sparked an outpouring of grief, of sympathy, and of support for other sufferers of depression across both my Twitter and Facebook feeds.

I’ve seen it before, but perhaps the confluence of these very different tragedies made it more apparent. Networks, the Internet, our digital existence — all of this has changed the way we grieve and experience sadness and loss. Tragedies no longer break in the mainstream media — they break on Twitter, through the voices of the many, not the few.

In a networked world, tragedy and grief are quick to appear and then remain ever-present. There are constant reminders of those we’ve lost and of horrific events; it is hard to escape tragedy when it is everywhere in our new feeds. Of course, networks can bring support, comfort, and a feeling of solidarity, especially when we are far, physically, from those we love. But the immediacy and ubiquity of the news of tragedies also seems to bring quick politicization. In some ways, this is a positive — the coverage on social media will (hopefully) bring necessary attention to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. The outpouring of sadness in the wake of Robin Williams’ death may generate much-needed awareness about mental illness.

But the immediate politicization of tragey is also problematic. In the wake of the Ferguson shooting, I saw an argument arise on Twitter between two activists, Suey Park and Tim Wise, about the idea of privilege and the appropriate ways of being an ally in discussions of race. After Robin Williams’ death, debates over suicide and mental illness sprang up on social media. This is not new: after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, there were immediate calls for gun-control, for arming teachers, for tighter screening of gun owners.

These conversations are important, no doubt. We need to talk about the entrenched racism that surrounds the events in Ferguson. We need to discuss mental illness, and guns, and privilege, and all of the other hard issues that tragedies bring to the surface.

But perhaps, first, we need a little time to mourn, alone or together, individually or through our networks. Perhaps, as outsiders looking in on tragic situations, we can just let grief be grief, for a little while at least.