Yesterday I wrote about the paper-thin speech that Donald Trump delivered on Monday to commemorate the Jewish observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trump tries to present himself as Churchillian, but as someone who studies Winston Churchill I have to paraphrase the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and say, “Mr. Trump, you are no Winston Churchill.”
There are many ugly things that the well-crafted veneer of Trump’s speech tried to cover. I’m reminded of a claim by his first wife, Ivana, who said that Donald used to keep a copy of My New Order by Adolph Hitler on his bedside table. There is, of course, the continued employment of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka in his inner circle—not to mention noted racist Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
But most damning is his silence on Chechnya. It is true that Nikki Haley, American ambassador to the United Nations, issued a statement saying in part, “We are against all forms of discrimination, including against people based on sexual orientation.” Like Trump’s speech, these are nicely crafted words, but without action they signify nothing. For those who are unaware, there are reports out of Chechnya that gay men are being arbitrarily detained and killed after requesting permission to hold gay pride parades. The Russian government denies these reports and Chechen leaders insist if anyone was gay their own families would have already killed them.
These horrifying reports and denials are all too reminiscent of the heroes who tried to get word out about the Holocaust and the implementation of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Not only were reports denied, but there were those who knew them to be true and turned their back anyway, most notably President Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, Trump doesn’t even rise to that standard—at least Roosevelt, who was also raised with a silver spoon, put country before self.
It’s clear that Trump’s promise of “never again” is just a slogan meant to placate his daughter and son-in-law and Jewish donors. He’s totally missed the point of why we reopen such terribly painful wounds each year to remember the Holocaust and its martyrs—to try to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring. This is why we must continue to resist. As Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller reminded us in 1946:
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.
Photo credit: The Churchill Project/Hillsdale College