Several years ago, I visited an exhibit entitled “Dr. Seuss Goes to War & More.”
I love Dr. Seuss. I grew up with his books, and I love his imagination.
I didn’t realize the part that Dr. Seuss played in the second World War. Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was more complex than I had ever imagined. He drew political cartoons for a newspaper and created political propaganda during the war with the illustrious Frank Capra.
Even his books have a political message. Yertle the Turtle draws an allegory to Hitler, The Lorax is about environmentalism, The Butter Battle Book is about the arms race and nuclear war, and The Sneetches is about anti-Semitism. Even Horton Hears a Who has political messages tucked inside its whimsical tale.
It’s said that he produced more than 400 political cartoons during wartime.
Dr. Seuss could have simply kept writing children’s stories like One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. He could have been successful without once lifting his pen to object to the injustice that was happening overseas. He was living in America, and it wasn’t impacting him directly.
He could have decided that it was too much trouble or that the backlash from friends and family would be too great. Instead, he chose to use his talent to speak out against fascism, racism, the arms race, the harm being done to the environment, and many other social issues. And each of these issues is still relevant today.
I often wonder what the world might look like if we all used our abilities to make a positive impact.
What would the world be like if we saw an injustice anywhere in the world—and not just in our own backyards—and decided that we were going to do something about it?
If we used the gifts we’ve been given to reach out to help others out of difficult situations, what would that be like?
Dr. Seuss was a writer and illustrator, but he was also a man with a keen sense of justice and personal integrity. He had a message to deliver, and even today his books are dear to children and adults alike.
Read Yertle the Turtle right now, today, and you will easily see the relevance to current events. Here are five Dr. Seuss quotes that remind us to speak out and create the changes we want to see.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
“You have brains in your head. You have shoes on your feet. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
It’s much easier to keep our heads buried in the sand or to simply look the other way. Being outspoken and passionate about social injustice isn’t easy. It certainly seems to invite criticism. But it is essential that we work together to protect human rights. For the first time in 27 years, the Human Rights Watch has identified our President Trump as being a specific threat to human rights:
The United States has a vibrant civil society and strong constitutional protections for many civil and political rights. Yet many U.S. laws and practices, particularly in the areas of criminal and juvenile justice, immigration, and national security, violate internationally recognized human rights. Those least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process—members of racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, immigrants, children, and prisoners—are the people most likely to suffer abuses.
The election of Donald Trump as president in November 2016 capped a campaign marked by misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist rhetoric and Trump’s embrace of policies that would cause tremendous harm to vulnerable communities, contravene the United States’ core human rights obligations, or both. Trump’s campaign proposals included deporting millions of unauthorized immigrants, changing US law to allow torture of terrorism suspects, and “load[ing] up” the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
President-elect Trump also pledged to repeal most of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped 20 million previously uninsured Americans access health insurance and to nominate “pro-life” Supreme Court justices who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade, which would allow individual states to criminalize abortion. 
Many Americans share these concerns. To clarify, the concern isn’t about party politics. It’s specific to potential human rights violations. Those who are eager to protect our freedoms are already organizing, with a historic women’s march planned the day following the inauguration. Other marches and demonstrations are being held across the country and around the globe in a show of solidarity.
Will President Trump infringe on human rights?
Today, climate change, LGBT rights, and healthcare disappeared from the White House web page to be replaced with initiatives like strengthening the military, increasing the police force, and making America the primary concern when it comes to international relations with an emphasis on “peace through strength.”
It doesn’t bode well. In fact, it eerily echoes the types of issues Geisel faced when he began penning war propaganda and political cartoons with his talents as a writer and artist.
Don’t get me wrong—I’d love for President Trump to actually benefit our country in some way and manage to bridge the gap that the election year created. Unfortunately, his inaugural speech was filled with sentiments like “America first” and “America will start winning again.” Apparently, the idea of “winning” is central to his message.
There was even a chilling statement about eradicating Islamic terrorism from the world completely, which echoes Adolf Hitler blaming the Jews for German problems and calling for their eradication; this is particularly disturbing when President Trump has advocated for a Muslim registry during his campaign.
I am in no way confident that he knows the difference between a practicing Muslim and a member of ISIS.
The President of the United States is the highest office in our country, and we must hold the person who takes that office to the standards of all of the presidents before him.
We must make sure that he upholds the Constitution and works to protect basic human rights. Any infringements on those rights should be met with outrage—and not just outrage on the part of the people who he considers his enemies (those who didn’t vote for him or question him or criticize his actions).
A human rights violation should be met with outrage regardless of our party politics, and our words must become action. We must hold our leaders accountable.
It’s imperative that we use whatever gifts we’ve been given to hold him and our other leaders accountable if we want to avoid repeating history.
Theodor Geisel was a writer and cartoonist, and yet he wasn’t content to sit back and watch history take its course without his participation. He fought tirelessly for human rights through his work, and that work still speaks to us today. How can we do any less than follow his example?