As you walk through the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, steam rises up through the metal floor grates and fills each of the six glass towers. Quotes from Holocaust survivors are inscribed on the inner walls of the towers. The combined effect of this experience, along with the emotional significance of the quotes, makes this one of the most unforgettable memories in my recollection. However, the quote that makes this a lasting memory for me and one that I carry through my everyday life is that of Martin Niemoeller, which reads:
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
This is the quote that came to mind when I recently heard the prejudiced and bigoted remarks by current Republican presidential candidate and frontrunner Donald Trump. While I mostly find his remarks to be dubious and usually don't take them seriously, upon further thought I realize the significance of not speaking up when someone like Trump marginalizes an entire group of Americans.
By making incendiary comments such as those he made against the Muslim-American community, Trump seeks to bolster his ratings in polls and early primary states by appealing to his base of conservative voters, which is then amplified by media figures on the right. While this tactic may help in raising his ratings, Trump has turned what is supposed to be a platform for serious political debate and exchange of ideas, into entertainment akin to a reality show, where anything goes and the more outrageous the comments or acts, the higher the ratings. However, these comments have real consequences when made in a political light both on the national and international levels.
Rather than focusing on solutions that would really "Make America Great Again," Trump exploits Americans' fears and rips against the fabric that our great nation was built upon. This is a sharp contrast to the themes of "Hope" and "Change" utilized by the Obama campaign in his 2008 and 2012 elections, a contrast that does not resonate with my generation of Millennials. A demographic that voted for President Barack Obama 60% to 36% and made up 19% of all voters in the previous election, up from 17% in 2008, according to CNN.
To the contrary of Trump's rhetoric, we are optimistic for the future and believe that our nation can progress by focusing on many of the same tenets of American ideals and principles that our parents and earlier generations held; that of hard work, tenacity and empathy towards our neighbors and fellow global citizens. In fact, Trump and the Republican Party would be smart to take cues from the millennial generation, which is the largest in the U.S., most racially diverse, and just surpassed the baby boomers this year as the largest share of the U.S.'s voting-age population, according to Bloomberg View. However the millennial support that could make next year's elections more competitive with younger voters seems to be waning for Republicans, based on data from the Harvard Institute of Politics. The data also found that among those millennials expressing a preference for a Republican candidate, Trump voters were least likely to say that the "American Dream is alive for them."
Ironically, he recently also used the national tragedy of September 11, 2001, one of the first major attacks on American soil and defining events for my generation, for his own political benefit. Trump said he saw thousands of people cheering in Jersey City as the World Trade Center came tumbling down. As a Jersey City native and elementary school student watching the dark cloud of smoke rise from where the Twin Towers once stood, this was simply not true. It's hard to even imagine anyone being happy or cheering, when such a major attack takes place only 11 minutes away from you. We felt scared and confused, we thought of our family members and whether they were safe. I thought of my parents, who worked only a few blocks from the World Trade Center, and wondered whether they would come home that evening. Most of my family and friends thought the same, and for many in Jersey City, their loved ones never made it home and that is nothing to cheer about.
However Trump didn't see this. Just as he doesn't see the collateral damage his remarks are causing not just to Muslim-Americans, but other communities as well. Just in the span of this past week following Trump's comments, the Muslim community was sent threats, hate mail, and even a decapitated pig head, the Washington, D.C. office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations was evacuated after a suspicious white powdery substance was found, and an owner of a food mart was attacked in New York. Following the 9/11 attacks, similar threats and acts of violence took place, especially in the South-Asian communities in which attackers mistakenly identified Sikhs and others with turbans and facial hair as Muslims. For example, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year old Sikh man in Arizona was shot and killed just four days following September 11 attacks because the attacker thought he resembled a terrorist. This wasn't an isolated attack and many more similar attacks, threats, hate crimes and mass shootings towards the Sikh and South-Asian communities took place in the years that followed.
We continue to see this pattern today. The reality of Trump's comments hit home today when a friend shared a post about her Indian-American friend being held at gunpoint outside his apartment, after a man followed him home from a restaurant because he thought the friend resembled a terrorist. It was only with the help of a neighbor and former marine that he was able to survive this attack.
These incidents should compel Trump's campaign to reassess not just what Trump says in passing, but also the overall message and theme of their campaign. In fact, if he needs a reminder of what our nation was founded upon and the principles Americans hold dear during tough times, he can come back to Jersey City and instead of focusing on false and negative rumors, look a few miles east towards the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps then Trump can realize that this was a nation built by immigrants looking for a better life and freedoms for their families, which helped to create the liberties and privileges we enjoy today as American citizens. Maybe then he can see the tragedies and prejudices that Lady Liberty has withstood, and realize that the American Dream is as alive and well as it has been for our grandparents and the generations prior who have stepped onto Ellis Island for a better life. Just as it has been for my parents, who believe that the United States is the only country in the world where you can step onto its soil and instantly become a part of the nation's fabric and eventually a citizen. While Trump should be able to see this reality, he doesn't and never will, and that is why he's the wrong candidate for America's future.