PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Don’t Let Indifference Destroy Democracy

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel knew what he was talking about. The indifference of the German people, who elected the Nazi Party to power in a coalition government, allowed Adolf Hitler to become chancellor of Germany through a democratic and legal process.

Germany was experiencing  tough economic times in the late 1920s, caused both by the Great Depression and the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I and saddled Germany with crushing war debts.

As a result, Germans ignored the anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist rhetoric of Hitler and the Nazi’s. They were indifferent to his using “the other” as scapegoats and voted purely based on their pocketbooks and their need to blame someone for their current  economic woes. They wanted a strong leader — who said out loud what some of them may have been thinking — and made it acceptable to rule by hatred driven by fear.

As a result, Hitler went from a legally elected ruler to a dictator as democracy fell by the wayside under his consolidation of power. At the time of the elections that brought the Nazi’s into the coalition government, most people weren’t concerned about Hitler’s rhetoric. So what if Hitler blamed people for their economic woes? What was the worst that could happen?

Elie Wiesel knew the price of indifference because it led him to Auschwitz, where his mother and younger sister were murdered for being Jewish, and later to Buchenwald, where his father was beaten to death. People were indifferent to what happened to “the other” because their focus was primarily on themselves and what they got out of it.

When we cease to care about the other, when we are indifferent to their pain or the consequences that might happen to “them,” we give up our true humanity and are simply just existing. To be truly human, we need to care, to love, to serve. We need to see that we are part of a global village. Jesus said that we will be judged based on how we treat the naked, the stranger, the hungry, and prisoner — the last, the lost and the least.

I have been a bleeding heart liberal my entire life. But I have also forged deep and meaningful  relationships with people with whom I don’t agree politically. I try not to live in an echo chamber, and I try to listen to and engage with views that differ from my own.

But at their core, all of the people with whom I disagree but who I still respect are people of integrity and decency. We have just come to different conclusions as to how to respond to the brokenness of the world.

That is why I have become increasingly concerned about the indifference in the current political atmosphere. Immigrants are demonized and dehumanized, racist tropes go unchallenged, transgender concerns are used for political fodder as opposed to seeing the deep, personal issues that are connected to a person claiming their own humanity.

This past week, a politician running for governor of Arizona made a joke about an 82-year-old man who was beaten with hammer in an assassination attempt. A joke. And people laughed. Talk about indifference.

I see people being indifferent about the threats leveled against voters who are merely trying to exercise their rights as citizens and the election officials who are simply seeking to enforce a free and fair election. I see indifference when people embrace the Big Lie that the 2020 election was not decided correctly, with no credible proof to validate that opinion. In fact, almost all of the very few claims of election fraud were from people whose candidate did not win.

I have unbounded respect for people like LIz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who have chosen country over party by not being indifferent to what has ceased to be a slippery slope and instead become a deep slide into a moral abyss. They still disagree with me on what to do with our economy but they value our democracy and the rights of all people to vote.

The election is Tuesday and I believe our democracy hangs in the balance. Once people gain power who want to limit the rights of people to vote through intimidation, embrace the Big Lie  and do not condemn an insurrection that brutalized police and sought mass political executions, we will become victims of our indifference. And when that happens, the economy is not our biggest concern. Our humanity is.

Don’t be indifferent. Vote like your democracy depends upon it. Because it does.

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