"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Uplifting words, undoubtedly, but uncomfortably jarring when you know they were written by Anne Frank, a fifteen-year-old child who less than a month later was dragged from her hiding place, deported to a concentration camp, and murdered, along with most of her family and six million other Jews.
Anne Frank died, as millions if not billions other victims of prejudice have died, because most people are not good at heart. They died because many people are susceptible to bigotry, and because many more people are susceptible to silence in the face of bigotry.
The world has always been a dark place, but for the last fifty years we in the west have been largely shielded from its horrors. We have forgotten the price that people pay for extremism and hatred and prejudice, and so we have become complacent. In our millions we have voted for Donald Trump, Brexit, UKIP, the Front National, Geert Wilders, The Law and Justice Party, Norbert Hofer, Victor Orban, the Alternative für Deutschland. All of these politicians or political movements stand for the same "values": division, exclusion, and hatred. (If you're unsure as to why these politicians/movements represent illiberalism, please refer to the hyperlinked sources. If you read these and still don't think they represent illiberalism, please Google what "liberalism" is.)
Of course millions also voted against them. But many of these defeated, decent people now stand cowed. They weakly reason that "democracy" forbids further protest, they call out for understanding and validate the grievances of their opponents. They upbraid doomsday prophesiers for unhelpful scaremongering, and they insist that all will be fine because the compromises of political office mean that bigoted rhetoric will always end up watered down.
Pick up a history book. Pick up a newspaper.
Are we really so arrogant, so conceited, that we think those foibles of human nature which lead our ancestors and our contemporaries into bloodied warfare have somehow passed us by? Angry nativism is sweeping our lands. Foreigners, Muslims, feminism, globalisation, the environment... all are becoming fair game for attack. We must do something about it. We must stand up, we must fight. Or else we'll become another generation of blindsided bystanders, who turn away as the Anne Franks of our time are marched to their death.
There has been just one bright spot in the aftermath of the Brexit/Trump result: if only millennials had voted, liberalism would have resoundingly won the day. Most of us, it seems, want to live in a world that is fair and free. As older voters die off and the liberal-leaning Generation Z swell our voting ranks, there is hope that when we control the world we will make it into a better place. But we must not be complacent. We must not wait until we dominate the political spectrum. Because it is the world that is currently being crafted, the one which we will inherit, which will fully and irrevocably shape the rest of our lives.
We must act now.
Our liberal counterparts in the older generations must join us. This is a revolution for everyone who believes in tolerance and progressiveness. We must challenge every instance of bigotry we encounter. We must never stay silent when prejudice is voiced. We must put pressure on our politicians, our corporations, and our acquaintances to endorse liberal values. Arguments now are better than wars later.
I'll admit my optimism is not strong. History shows us how few and how futile are those who stand against the tide. Too many people find the prospect of atrocity so incredible that they will not bother to act. Too many people say "it will be okay", when they really mean "I'm rich enough that it will be okay for me", "I'm white enough that it will be okay for me", "I'm male/straight/local/Christian enough that it will okay... for me".
Still, I implore you. If we are to distinguish ourselves from animals, there must be such things as universal human values, and they must surely be that race, gender, sexuality, nationality and class are not acceptable reasons to treat people badly. We could stop this, if only enough of us stood up and said "enough".
Perhaps I, like Anne Frank, retain a desperate hope that despite all evidence to the contrary, people may yet be good at heart.