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.
Niemöller drafted these most memorable lines shortly after the end of World War II. He had initially been an enthusiastic supporter of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich until he and two Protestant bishops met with Hitler in January of 1934. The Führer’s comments convinced Niemöller he was under Gestapo surveillance including his phones being tapped. From that point on, he became part of the German resistance to Hitler’s reign.
The poem has been repeatedly referenced since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015. Parallels were made as he first attacked Hispanic immigrants, then Muslims, then African-Americans like Colin Kaepernick for protesting police brutality. And though many people, myself included, sympathized with each of Trump’s targets, we still could not imagine we might be next.
Until yesterday morning when two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to immediately dismiss the criminal case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn. No, Judges Neomi Rao and Karen Henderson did not come after me because I am Jewish or because I am a Democrat or because I am a liberal. They came after me and every other American citizen who believes the law is a social contract between the government and the governed. A bond that is observed and respected if, and only if, the people also believe the law is administered evenly among us all regardless of station in life or who we know.
Yesterday morning I finally understood why black protesters would set fire to a police precinct or neighborhood businesses. They could no longer stand by and be the victims of a cabal of silence in which law enforcement officers put protecting each other before their oath to serve and protect.
That is what happened again yesterday, under different circumstances. Two judges applied their own black robe code of silence. They had a choice. They could trust Judge Sullivan to conduct an honest investigation into the actions by the Department of Justice as it took the extraordinary step to intervene in a case where a defendant had twice pleaded guilty to crimes with which he was charged. Instead, they acted no differently than police who protect a colleague from accusations of misconduct. Except in this case, they were covering for a friend of the President of the United States, and in turn, Trump himself, an individual who has forgotten he took an oath to faithfully execute the Constitution. Their action was the equivalent of coming after every American citizen. We are no longer next. We are a target of this administration’s infidelity to the documents which are the foundation of the American experience.
Normally, this is where I would once more invoke Howard Beale. When I saw the headline come across the AP wire, I wanted to open the window and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more.” But, in this case, there is a more appropriate cinematic analogy–Norman Jewison’s 1979 production of And Justice for All. Every day between now and November 3rd is an “I am Spartacus” moment. Everyone one of us must claim he or she is Arthur Kirkland (portrayed by Al Pacino) when he is gaveled down by the presiding judge. Kirkland is expected to defend Judge Henry Fleming (John Forsythe) who is charged with raping an underage girl, a crime to which he has privately confessed to Kirkland. But the young attorney realizes his allegiance is to his oath rather than a corrupt client.
In his closing argument, Kirkland violates attorney-client privilege and tells the jury.
The prosecution is not going to get that man today. No. Because I’m gonna get him. My client, the Honorable Henry T. Fleming, should go right to fucking jail! The son of a bitch is guilty! That man is guilty. That man there. That man is a slime. He is a slime. If he’s allowed to go free — then something is really wrong here.
When Judge Burns (Robert Symonds) reprimands Kirkland, “You’re out of order,” he shouts back, “No, you’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”
Donald Trump, aided and abetted by William Barr, is out of order. The Department of Justice is out of order. The whole system is out of order. Since Barr’s confirmation as Attorney General, every American who still holds on to the belief justice can be blind has been the victim of an orchestrated attack on that assumption. We have been that frog in a kettle of water as Barr slowly raised the temperature hoping we would not notice. It rose when he committed perjury during his confirmation hearing. Increased a few more degrees when he misrepresented the Mueller report and again perjured himself when he claimed he had not heard a word of dissent from Robert Mueller. Intensified again when Barr dismissed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman.
In spite of all that, there was still a ray of hope. Until yesterday, the judiciary under Article IV of the Constitution had been the guard rail that suggested we could survive the heat until next January. No longer. That was when the Trump/Barr wrecking crew demonstrated its willingness to tear down the last balustrades and posts which kept the vehicle of state from going over a cliff.
We do not have the luxury to sit back while the prosecution takes down Trump or Barr. Like Arthur Kirkland, we have to do it ourselves. The future of the American democracy is at stake, but it is also the solution come November 3rd.
For what it’s worth.