Being a minority is synonymous with being a Jew. Our position as a minority group has exposed us to scapegoating and persecution from Haman to Hitler. Many aspects of Jewish identity have been shaped with these experiences in mind. One of the things that make me proud as a Jewish person is how we have translated these experiences into empathy with the plight of oppressed groups generally. The examples of this sense of empathy for the marginalized are numerous. Jews were central players in the civil rights movement. Mississippi burned in part because Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were willing to make personal sacrifices in the pursuit of justice—not for other Jews but for African Americans. I would like to think that their experience as Jews was in part responsible for their willingness to risk (and ultimately lose) their lives in the effort to better the lives of a group with similar experiences with discrimination.
In many ways our fate as Jews is linked with that of other minorities. As my father recently put it, “in my experience, the people who are racist towards black people and homophobic towards gays and lesbians are the same people that are anti-Semitic toward us.” It is this observation that makes the rise of Donald Trump so troubling and I argue gives Jews a special obligation to oppose him. Trump has been willing to target any minority group when it becomes politically expedient. He famously declared Mexico was sending rapists and murderers across the border and has publicly mused about what it would take to get more white immigrants to enter the country. His Twitter feed has been a constant stream of misinformation and flat out untruths about how frequently whites are the victims of crimes committed by African Americans. He has called for a ban on an entire religious group. Even though Jews have largely remained out of Trump’s crosshairs (the re-tweeting of the “Hillary is controlled by Jew money” meme is a notable exception), all of his behaviors suggest it is just a matter of time.
I do not claim to know what Trump personally thinks about Jews, and frankly, I am not sure it matters what his underlying feelings actually are. The people who target minority groups for political gain are equal opportunity bigots—they will do so when it is politically advantageous. Trump has built a campaign channeling populist anger towards minorities. We as Jews should oppose this for two reasons. Firstly, because our history has taught us the evils of bigotry and oppression and we should oppose these impulses when they exist. Secondly, if we allow Trump to attack immigrants, Muslims, and blacks, he will eventually come for us. Trump has moved to legitimize the white nationalist fringe. His refusal to disavow the support of white nationalists and he seemingly constant promotion of white nationalist content on Twitter is evidence of this fact. There is no other way to interpret this other than a tacit legitimization of anti-Semitism.
Trump is the first American politician that scares me. I say this both as a Jew and scholar of politics. As a scholar, my assessment of Trump is that he fails to respect the democratic norms and Constitutional principles that are designed to protect the individual rights and freedoms that are essential to the wellbeing of religious, ethnic, and ideological minorities. The checks and balances placed in the Constitution by James Madison were designed to protect minority interests from populist strongmen like Trump. His willingness to eschew these individual freedoms in the pursuit of ‘law and order’ should scare all Americans. As a Jew, Trump scares me because his rise has coincided with the rise in the most explicit anti-Semitism that I have experienced in my lifetime. Trump has capitalized on white anxiety over changing demographics and the growing political power of ethnic and racial minorities and has created a political movement around these fears. I fear that in Trump’s effort to “Make America Great Again,” Jews will be included among the groups that are part of what is wrong with America.
Donald Trump is a populist who has used anxiety, anger, and fear towards minority groups for political gain. Everything about the Jewish experience should make us deeply suspicious of characters like Trump and do all that is in our power to oppose him. The Jewish people in the United States have a proud tradition of working to protect the rights of marginalized groups. The values that have led previous generations of Jews to fight for the rights of African Americans in the Deep South (and elsewhere) should lead us to fight against Trump. He is a threat, both to us and to minority groups more generally. We have moral, ethical, and practical obligations to oppose him.