Volume 27, Number 4

Time to Stand Up and Be Counted, 24/7, 365 Time a Year

Fred Schepartz

I’ve never taken the step to say this about a particular issue before, but there’s one story that’s an absolute must-read.

That is a bit of an odd thing to say in an editorial, especially because from my perspective as fiction editor, all the stories in all the issues are must reads. Otherwise, why would I have chosen to include them in Mobius?

That said, “The Girl in the Headscarf” is an absolute, total, for-sure must-read.

As one might surmise, the story concerns a young Muslim woman. It is told from the perspective of her next-door neighbor who observes her, first out of simple curiosity, but then the narrator’s curiosity morphs into something else when the observation is mixed with the talk of the people of this small every-town kind of town.

Given the prism of the election—and the sadly prophetic, dystopic prediction of the outcome—the story takes on a chilling, if not frightening relevance.

And I’ll leave it at that. When I read the story—and this was before the election when it looked doubtful that Trump would win—I felt compelled to publish it as an object lesson of where we could go. Having read it again after an (alleged) Trump victory, I see it as a powerful warning of the frightening place we have ended up.

The day after the election I reached into my closet for a button-down shirt. It turned out that I grabbed an orange shirt. I thought about replacing the shirt with a black shirt because the occasion called for black. But then I changed my mind. I wanted to be optimistic. Orange (despite it being the color of Trump’s face) is a cheery, optimistic color.

So I wore the orange shirt.

I very much want to be optimistic.

I know that’s easier said than done, but I have to think we’ll survive. We survived eight years of Reagan. We survived eight years of W. Bush. If it is to be a choice between optimism and the depths of despair, I’ll choose to be optimistic.

But then I catch myself thinking that it is easy to be optimistic because I’m a white male. I’m a Jew, but I can pass for gentile.

I think those thoughts, and I immediately hear the iconic words of Pastor Niemoller in my head.

People are nervous. People are scared. People are terrified. And for good reason.

What we’re seeing is above and beyond Reagan and Dubya. Granted, Reagan did utilize the “Southern Strategy” to try to woo white male working-class voters from the Democratic Party. And it did work.

But Trump has taken that tactic to a much different level. For him, it’s not dog whistles; it’s blatant racism, bigotry and hatred. Trump played the us-versus-them game. He stoked the fires of resentment and hatred. He held up various others as objects of scorn. He has expressed insane ideas of walls, and registration and even internment of Muslims.

And his actions since the election give no indication of a willingness to tack toward the center. If anything, he’s doubling down on his campaign rhetoric.

A white supremacist as chief of staff? Really?

And his knuckle-dragging followers have responded with predictable entitlement and empowerment. Already we have seen numerous reports of hate crimes, not to mention incidents recorded on YouTube of Trump supporters blowing gaskets in public places, feeling perfectly entitled in using racial epithets, saying, “Trump won. Get over it.”

But again, I want to be optimistic. There will be midterm elections in two years. There probably would be a very good chance for the Democrats to take back the Senate. Gridlock would likely result, but I would have to say that’s probably a good thing.

The question, however, is can we survive these next two years.

We can, but it is up to each of us to meet the challenge.

The narrator in “The Girl in the Headscarf” sees the Muslim neighbor as a person, at least to a certain extent. Unfortunately, the narrator gives in to fear and retreats into passivity.

That is precisely what we cannot do. Just because I am not on the top of anybody’s target list does not meet that I should not stand for those who are. We all have to be active. We have to be loud. We have to stand up and meet this challenge head on, without reservation.

While doing a guest spot on a local radio a few days before the election, I said it’s time to stand up and be counted.

However, that is the problem we face. For most of us, to stand up and be counted is something we do on election day. That is not enough. That is light years from enough.

We have to stand up and be counted every day. Every single day of the year. Every single minute of the day.

It is easy to retreat into despair, or to say, well, things are bad, but they’ll get better.

But these are dangerous times. I hope things will get better, but things could get worse, a whole lot worse. History teaches us this lesson. Many Germans in the early 1930s could not believe that their country could take the turn that it did. Many Germans didn’t take the man with the Charlie Chaplin mustache seriously.

We underestimate Trump at our peril.

We need to believe that a better day will come, but we need to realize that it is up to us to make that happen. If we give in, we don’t speak out, we are done.

We need to stand together. We need to stand up and be counted. Every day.