Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

"A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal"


On April 4, 1967 - precisely 365 days before his assassination - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech before an antiwar group called "Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam."  It is possible that this speech helped put a target on his back. The opening line of this magnificent speech - an unequivocal denunciation of America’s involvement in that Southeast Asian conflict -  said it all: A time comes when silence is betrayal."  (Frequently misquoted as "There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.") About six months ago (February 27, 2018, to be precise) Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) quoted Dr. King's prophetic statement while speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives about the tragic massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  It is a quote and a truism which should be etched in our minds and upon our hearts: A time comes when silence is betrayal. 

Of course, prophetic statements are bound neither by time nor circumstance; they carry eternal, timeless truths. I cannot think of a time when Dr. King's call to truth and justice has been more cogent or motivating since that day - June 16, 2015 - when, accompanied by Neil Young's Rockin' in the Free Worldthe orange menace made his grand entrance (descent, really) on his gilt-overlaid escalator in order to announce his candidacy for President of the United States.  Ever since, the steady stream of exaggerations, evasions, outright lies, autocratic dictates, brazen cupidity and crude, unpolished inanities have been met with utter disdain by what reputable pollsters find to be a clear majority of the American people.  But despite being a statistical majority, this group - made up of nearly every Democrat and a high percentage of independents as well - has been largely impotent and unheeded.  Why? Because the president has taken over the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel.  Few wish to challenge him for fear of political retribution and defeat.  '45' has injected and perfected a hauntingly un-American style of rule.; call it American autocracy. And although the Republican men and women of Congress are well aware of their leader's pettiness, insecurity and general incompetence, they keep their collective lips firmly buttoned. '45' has them under his thumb.  By maintaining their silence, the Republicans are not only betraying their oaths of office; they are complicit in permitting the POTUS to get away with running the most corrupt, least professional administration in American history.

That is, until very recently.  Finally, finally, there are signs that Dr. King's wisdom in sinking in, and that people - both in and out of government - are beginning to speak truth to power.  Let's back up this contention with a couple of examples:

  1. This past Thursday (8-/16-18) the United States Senate passed a resolution by unanimous consent affirming that the media “is not the enemy of the people.” The resolution, submitted by two Democratic Senators - Hawaii's Brian Schatz and New York's Chuck Schumer - took direct aim at the president. Although unanimously passed the resolution carries not a shred of legislative authority.  Nonetheless, in using and negating the president's own tagline - "The press is the enemy of the people" - the Senate delivered a stunning rebuke to the man who has long attempted to punish and stifle the press. One part of the resolution unambiguously states " . . . tyrannical and authoritarian governments and leaders throughout history have sought to undermine, censor, suppress, and control the press to advance their undemocratic goals and actions . . ."  Perhaps most importantly, the resolution ends with the words ". . . condemns attacks on the institution of the free press and views efforts to systematically undermine the credibility of the press as a whole as an attack on our democratic institutions."
  2. At the same, more than 300 editorial boards of newspapers across the country  answered a nationwide call from the Boston Globe to express disdain for the president's attacks on the news media. The same morning that the editorials were being read in newspapers from, Caribou to Colorado, the president tweeted that the "fake news media" is the "opposition party." The Miami Herald's editorial stated "We all - as citizens - have a stake in this fight, and the battle lines seem pretty clear. If one first comes successfully for the press as an "enemy of the American People," what stops someone for coming next for your friends? Your family? Or you? The Minneapolis Star, looking to answer the president's mantra about "There is no truth," answered "Let's start with a fundamental truth: It is and always has been in the interests of the powerful to dismiss and discredit those who could prove a check on their power. President Donald Trump is not the first politician to openly attack the media for fulfilling its watchdog role. He is, perhaps, the most blatant and relentless about it."  The Denver Post editorial board noted "We believe that an informed electorate is critical to Democracy; that the public has a right to know what elected officials, public figures and government bureaucracies are doing behind closed doors; that journalism is integral to the checks and balances of power; and that the public can trust the facts it reads in this newspaper and those facts coming from the mainstream media."  These hundreds of editorials got under the president's extremely thin skin.  He responded with a Tweet: "There is nothing that I would want more for our Country than true FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. The fact is that the Press is FREE to write and say anything it wants, but much of what it says is FAKE NEWS, pushing a political agenda or just plain trying to hurt people. HONESTY WINS!" 
  3. As a means of directing media attention away from Trump's former "Celebrity Apprentice" cast member and White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman's story about her former boss, the president announced (and Tweeting that Omarosa as "a loser" and "a dog") that he had taken away former C.I.A. director John Brennan's security clearance, and was considering doing the same to nearly a dozen other former (and one current) member of the national security establishment.  It should be noted that in the main, members of the intelligence community are among the most political non-partisan people in government.  '45's problem with Brennan - who served as C.I.A. director under President Obama from March 8, 2013-January 20, 2017 - was that Brennan accused the president of being "paranoid,"   cited his "constant misrepresentation of the facts," and described him as a "charlatan."  Cancelling the security clearances of the cream of the intelligence community crop is a frightening prospect: it denudes the government of hundreds of years of experience, institutional memory and insight.  In an incredibly gutsy - and totally unique - response, 13 former U.S. intelligence chiefs signed a letter to the president in support of their colleague, John Brennan.  Even before the 13 former intelligence agency chiefs published their open letter, was an angry open letter to the president from retired Adm. William McRaven, who headed U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. In an op-ed published by the Washington Post, he excoriated Trump’s “McCarthy-era tactics” and said he would “consider it an honor” for Trump to revoke his security clearance in solidarity with Brennan.  The fact that Adm. McRaven's and the 13 intelligence chief's would make their feelings known is extraordinary.  It is also an indication that the wall of silence is beginning to shatter.

Back in the mid-1960's to mid 1970's, people like me (and probably a lot of you, my dear readers) were accused by politicians - most frequently Republican - of being "traitors," "anti-American" and "enemies of the state." Today, what with all that has been going on, I sense that it is we who are more loyal, patriotic and supportive of American ideals than the so-called "super-patriots" of the new, Trump-lead G.O.P.  We have never kept a closed mouth nor turned a blind eye to our country; our ideals remain as vibrant and motivating as back in the days when our shout was "Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"

I for one see in the above actions, a potential shot across the bow of Trumpian treachery.  Do remember that this government belongs to us; that's it's future is in our hands.  Silence, I pray, is beginning to give way to shouting; betrayal to forthrightness.

576 days down.

901 days to go.

77 days until the midterm elections . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone