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. — Martin Niemoller
As a child learning of World War II and Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, my first question was, Why did so many people willingly follow such a corrupt agenda? Teachers and other adults told me it was social pressure that caused otherwise good people to become Nazis. If I asked what my parents and teachers would have done had they been living in Nazi Germany, they would answer wistfully that they wanted to believe they would have resisted.
What is it that makes a person choose justice over social conformity? How bad do things have to become before the average citizen will refuse to go along?
During President George W. Bush’s administration, extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation became an open secret. Many Americans applauded this, calling these tools harsh but necessary in the war on terror even though they were clear violations of the principles held sacred in our Constitution. Again, as a child I was taught America was exceptional because it provided the due process of law to all and assumed innocence until guilt was proven in a court of law. The prisoners in Guantanamo continue to be held without any hope of due process. This is a cowardly state of affairs, the sort of thing that caused the authors of the Magna Carta to hold a knife to King John’s throat and insist he sign.
America is facing the greatest civil unrest since the turbulent decade of the 1960s. Protests are occurring all across the nation, most of them peaceful and legal in accordance with the Constitution. Rioting, destruction, and looting are not legitimate forms of political protest. I think most of us can agree on this point. Even so, our children are taught of the Boston Tea Party, in which colonists disguised as Native Americans dumped a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxation without representation. That act was viewed by the King of England in exactly the same light as the destruction of a Target store is seen by our government and by most news viewers.
In recent days, it is claimed that unidentified federal officers have collected protesters from the streets of Portland and whisked them away in rented vehicles. No Miranda, no identification of the arresting entity, and presumably no due process. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, opinion of our president, or thoughts about the protesters, this is a clear perversion of the American system of justice. At what point do we demand redress? Do we continue to watch these things on TV and the internet and feel safely distanced because we live in another state or because we voted for Trump? There’s much more than support for an elected official as stake here.
To make it clear, I do not blame President Donald Trump for all abuses that are happening. The stage was set by G.W. Bush and the road made straight by President Barack Obama’s response to legitimate whistle blowers.
Americans must insist on due process for all who are arrested or detained without charges by so-called officials. If we do not insist on justice, there will be none. If you, like me, ever wondered what you would have done as society deteriorated in Nazi Germany, history is now offering you the opportunity to test your own self-assessment. — Bret McCormick
Bret McCormick is a writer, artist, and filmmaker from Fort Worth.
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