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News & Press: National Philanthropy News

In the Time of Trump, Philanthropy Must Find Its Voice

Sunday, January 10, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz
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January 4, 2016

By Maxwell King

Chronicle of Philanthropy

January often starts for me with Christmas tunes still ringing in my head from the holiday season. You know how it goes: Bruce Springsteen’s "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" plays from car radio to home stereo to holiday party, and soon you can’t clear it out of your mind.

What’s playing back this month, though, isn’t a tune. It’s a quote from, of all things, World War II-era fascist Europe. It’s that famous admonition from the German Protestant leader, the Rev. Martin Niemöller:

"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."

Pastor Niemöller — who was mortified for the rest of his life that he had not opposed fascism at its beginning — bequeathed to civilization his stark warning about failing to speak out against hate and oppression.

I know it is wise for the president of a community foundation to eschew commentary on partisan politics, and I do not usually intrude myself or my foundation into that arena. But I think the almost daily demagoguery served up by leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump goes far beyond partisan politics. It is part of the current political dialogue, to be sure. But it is much more than that in its tendency toward the fascistic: It is a threat to civility, to civil discourse, and to public trust.

Some of my foundation colleagues dismiss Mr. Trump as just the latest presidential-election demagogue in a long line of performers. Those of us managing big philanthropies and nonprofits should not, they say, draw any more attention to him than he already is getting. Our job is to be the adults in the room, stay above the political fray, and concentrate on solving big problems and investing in big ideas.

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