The North Carolina anti-LGBT legislation is a particularly nasty example of what is going on in the country today. Whether it is 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 Ted Cruz (R-TX) but encouraged by them. The comparisons to Mussolini are appropriate.
While the current rise of hate in the nation can be immediately 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. Many have written of Cruz as the current incarnation of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI).
The rise of Donald 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-KY) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) are no longer willing to stand up for decency and common sense but themselves appear to encourage racism by their reactions to and attacks on President Barack Obama with a lack of respect for the Presidency itself.
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 leading 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 Donald Trump or Ted Cruz to completely take over their Party. Their convention in Cleveland will show whether the more moderate wing of the Party has totally surrendered to the far-right.
The second test will come when either Cruz or Trump are the Republican nominee and the American people will have to decide if they are willing to soundly reject them and their policies. At this point in time I no longer have faith the moderate 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 like Trump and Cruz.
It is my hope people will side with their better angels as they cast their votes for candidates up and down the ballot. That the overwhelming majority will open their hearts and minds and realize it will take all of us joining together if we are to move the nation forward and make life better for everyone. We may not survive a national vote that will further divide us. Women, African Americans, immigrants, the LGBT community, 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 "First they came ..., 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 unfortunately resonates. With calls for the deportation of eleven 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 NO! 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.
A version of this column first appeared in the Washington Blade.