It’s so easy to express outrage: outrage at the abomination that is the “executive orders” emanating from the new president of that place that we previously respected as the “leader of the free world”.
So many of my friends, and many of their friends, are filling my social media feeds with protest, with disgust, with a clear rejection of the politics of fear and hate that sadly has marked the start of this new year. I am with you. I too celebrate the scientists, who have rejected their muzzling orders with a giant F’U; the lawyers who have flocked to airports to support and represent those locked out despite their green cards, their student visas, their established family life as legal American residents.
But perhaps unlike you, I reflect on what comes next, and wonder: will you still speak up when the stakes are raised?
Will you still speak up, when doing so causes your friends and family legally in the US to appear on FBI watchlists; when you are denied entry to the US yourself because of something you’ve said on Facebook; when your children are denied that job or promised place at the university of their dreams because of your anti-Trump tirade.
For this is how it starts – and I have lived in this type of society. A society where even within the bosom of one’s close family, politics was never spoken for fear that the security police would come in the night and simply ‘disappear’ you. “That will never happen in America”, I hear you say, and wow, I hope you’re right. But the reality is that fear and disenfranchisement breeds tyrants, and that is what we are witnessing right now, right there in Washington, DC. How far are we truly from a “presidential guard” that enforces with those ever present guns that right of the president to rule by decree rather than by due process?
Somehow, we in the West seem to be inured to tyrants when they appear in societies that are not like us. We look on Mugabe, on Zuma, and on the many other Asian, African and Eastern European tyrants of the past (and present) with a removed, analytical interest, never for a moment thinking this could happen closer to home. But Trump and the US is not that other type of society – these are “our kind of people”, or at least, we thought that they were. We are witnessing the rise of a tyrant within our very midst, within the heart of the free world… and it is truly frightening.
So I ask you again. Will you still speak out, when the stakes are raised, when it is no longer “safe” to do so, when there are repercussions not necessarily directly for you, for others whom you hold dear?
For that is the true test of who we are. Tonight I watched with dismay as our our own NZ Prime Minister side-stepped the issue, simply saying that this – the cruel and ignorant rejection of Muslims en masse – is “not something NZ would do”. Well, I should hope not – but honestly, I expect my government to go further than that.
While the people at large, the public, the “common man”, are trying to hold Trump to account, I expect that my government will do the same – and frankly, bugger the consequence!