This article was originally published in the Japan Times on 23rd of August.
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” — Elie Wiesel
On Aug. 15, my wife gave birth to our second son, whose middle name honors the memory of our relatives slaughtered during the Holocaust. That same day, U.S. President Donald Trump held a news conference where, instead of unambiguously providing support and comfort to the communities targeted by white nationalists and the victims of the resulting violence in Charlottesville, Virginia (including Heather Heyer, who was killed when a neo-Nazi plowed his car into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters), he chose to embolden those white nationalists and other hate groups through equivocation.
Trump made his choice. Now it is time for every American, including those of us living in Japan, to choose between hate and tolerance, ignorance and knowledge, revisionism and truth. We must hold each other accountable. It is time to pick a side.
The president has lent comfort to those who celebrate an ideology that resulted in mothers being gassed with their infants cradled and gasping for air; men being whipped until their flesh draped loose, then hung from trees with eyes bulging from their sockets; and immigrants beaten to death in the streets for no reason. Leaders of hate groups confirmed the impact of Trump’s words with their celebratory remarks following his “both sides” comment.
Can the U.S. federal government be trusted to protect us if black boots break down our doors? The answer becomes less certain every day. We must pledge to stand up for each other and speak in a united voice to protect the diverse and eclectic melting pot of communities that make up America, which hate groups seek to destroy.
There is no policy objective in legitimizing hate groups that fought against those who showed up to stand for values of love, diversity and kindness. There were no “very fine people” who would show up to a rally advertised as one to promote the white nationalist message (as reported by Vice News) and certainly none that would take part once “N_____!” and slogans like “Jews will not replace us!” and “Sieg heil!” were shouted by participants.
At a time when state-approved textbooks in Texas frame slavery as a side-issue in the Civil War (while also downplaying segregation) and the U.S. secretary of education has called historically black colleges “pioneers of school choice,” the president tweeted that it is “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” like that in Charlottesville of the top Confederate general. Trump has chosen to ally not with progress but with hate, bigotry, oppression and revisionism. (I urge you to read reporting on the history behind Confederate statues and their connection to the oppression and terrorization of communities of color.)
Authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman wrote an open letter on Medium stating that “any Jew who does not condemn the president, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.” I am a Jew and fervently agree with this sentiment.
Lauren Duca in Teen Vogue challenges all “nice white people” to “loudly declare your position in this fight against hatred. … Be willing to make sacrifices and insist on taking a stand for what is right.” As a white person, I accept this responsibility.
The expat community in Japan includes a wide range of professionals working in many different fields. I am challenging all Americans living abroad to take action in order to isolate the president, as he should be relegated to a closet of fear, with only a tiki torch to light his hollow tweets. The president, his family and all of their business interests should be blacklisted. We should follow the example of two nonprofits that recently canceled galas at Trump-owned properties. Let the president seek referrals for expert accountants and legal counsel from his allies at the Ku Klux Klan. (I have expressed this same sentiment to the law firm where I am employed.)
We should heed the call of Heather Heyer’s mother, who compels us to “pay attention, find what’s wrong, don’t ignore it, don’t look the other way. Make a point to look at it, and say to yourself, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’”
Call your elected officials, talk to friends and co-workers, post on social media, donate to organizations that track and combat hate groups and/or show up at the “Rally Against Hate” taking place on Dec. 3 in Tokyo. If you are ready to take a stand, I urge you to contact Sarajean Rossitto at email@example.com.
Last week, the president drew a line in the sand. History will judge us for which side we pick. I choose decency. I hope you will too.
Jesse Glickstein is an American attorney living in Japan. If you are not sure how to take action, join the Women of the World March Tokyo Facebook group (www.facebook.com/groups/197623700694595), where action items are posted several times a week. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his capacity as a private U.S. citizen. Foreign Agenda is a forum for opinion on issues related to life in Japan.