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The famous poem by an anti-Nazi pastor, rewritten for Donald Trump’s America

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What would Martin Niemöller write today?
By Gideon Lichfield
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

First Trump came for the women
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a woman.

Then Trump came for the people with disabilities
And I did not speak out
Because I did not have a disability.

Then Trump came for the African Americans
And I did not speak out
Because I was not African American.

Then Trump came for the Mexicans
And I did not speak out
Because I was not Mexican.

Then Trump came for the Muslims
And I did not speak out
Because I was not Muslim.

Then Trump came for the gay, bi, and trans people
And I did not speak out
Because I was not gay, bi or trans.*

Then Trump came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.**

Then Trump came for the journalists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a journalist.***

Then Trump came for the judges
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a judge.

And now Trump is coming for the Constitution of the United States
And if I do not speak out, what am I?

* Actually I am one of those, and I didn’t speak out about that.
** And one of those, and didn’t speak out about that either.
*** Ditto.

When I grew up in Britain, Martin Niemöller’s poem “First they came…” was a well-worn standard in any sort of Jewish education. It was plastered on posters issued by the Union of Jewish Students, printed in books and flyers, quoted at political meetings. I saw it so often that it became, for me, a secular version of the shema, the prayer anyone with the slightest amount of Jewish upbringing knows by heart: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

The shema and “First they came” are both statements of something at the core of Jewish identity, and they form a kind of point and counterpoint stretched across thousands of years of history. The shema reminded the early Israelites that they were the people who, unlike their pagan neighbors, worshipped a single deity. Niemöller’s poem reminds modern Jews that, as a people who were almost wiped out, it’s our duty—as it is everyone’s duty—to speak up for other minorities under attack, lest we be next. The shema sets us apart from other peoples; “First they came” binds us together again.

To see Donald Trump methodically lay into one group after another during the months of the presidential campaign has been to see Niemöller’s warning writ large across our screens. But during all these months, I haven’t noticed much speaking out by one group in support of another.

A notable exception is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish anti-racism body, whose head launched a blistering attack on Trump’s Islamophobia and racism in March. Yet just a week earlier Trump got standing ovations at the annual conference of the powerful pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC—a moment that I believe should stand as a mark of eternal shame for the leaders of America’s Jewish community.

There are probably more gestures of solidarity by one group towards another than we can easily see. One small example: non-Jews adding the “echo symbol”—triple parentheses, (((like this)))—around their names on Twitter, in a fight back against anti-Semites on the “alt-right,” who have used the symbol to single out Jews.

Yet such moments, while mildly heartwarming, almost never command the emotional power that makes them go viral; they tend to be buried in the social-media maelstrom by the latest Trump outrage. Moreover, I suspect that such solidarity is largely confined to the grassroots. How many African American leaders are there speaking out against Islamophobia, Muslim leaders speaking up for Mexican immigrants, and LGBT leaders coming out to defend people with disabilities? (If you’ve seen it happening, please let me know.)

It’s time for everyone to remember Niemöller’s words, and speak out in support of anyone who becomes the target of this hate-monger and his alt-right cohorts. At the end of the day, Trump is coming for all of us.

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