Some years ago I heard a speaker make the statement that if you want to know what the average American thinks about Jews, go into a bar in rural America, sit down, order a beer and say “The damn Jews.” Then shut up, sit back and watch the vitriol flow.
When I first heard that, my initial reaction was “no way,” this is America where we value our diversity and respect the right of everyone to be whomever he or she wants to be. However, that commentator was correct and I was wrong.
In the intervening years, I have lived in a lot of places, many more than most native-born American Jews tend to experience. Although I lived in New York for my first 20 years, I resided for significant periods in Champaign-Urbana (Illinois); Augusta (Georgia); Cleveland (Ohio); Chicago (Illinois); Los Angeles (California); St. Louis (Missouri); and for the last 35+ years here in Israel. In addition, professionally I have spent significant additional time in rural areas of at least 15 other states as well. Over the years, I came to realize that anti-Semitism, while more-or-less under the surface, was never very far under the surface even in the United States.
Fortunately, for most of those years, anti-Semitism and the use of anti-Semitic language and tropes was seen as aberrational behavior, and not acceptable in the educated circles in which I usually travelled. Sadly, what was aberrational behavior is now the norm and fully socially accepted in the interests of “telling it like it is” and “being honest about your feelings.”
This week we reached a new low in the remarks of the President of the United States (the presumptive leader of the free world, in case anyone has forgotten) made during a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office at the White House. He said:
I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.
Disloyalty? To what? To whom? Well, we did not have to wait long for an answer. Sensing that accusing Jews of disloyalty is a classic anti-Semitic trope, the Republican Jewish Coalition defended the comments via Twitter:
President Trump is right… it shows a great deal of disloyalty to oneself to defend a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion. The @GOP, when rarely confronted w/anti-Semitism of elected members always acts swiftly and decisively to punish and remove.
Wow….that is really a stretch, to take something that is so negative and try to neutralize it.
Fortunately, the greater community has been rightfully critical of these remarks with concern about two things. First of all, this type of talk should absolutely never come from the mouth of the President whose job it is to bring people together not to provide fodder for those who wish to divide America on racial or religious lines.
Secondly, we know what can and will happen now. The racists among us will take these words out of context and choose to use only those parts that are useful to them. How long does anyone think it will take for some hate group to post on their Twitter feed that POTUS said “I think…Jewish people…shows …great disloyalty.”
Could anyone have imagined that 75 years after America and its allies saved the world for democracy that America’s president now demeans people based on their religion or skin color?
Sadly, the president has a history of using language that stokes racial and religious divisions. That language has been echoed in recent statements and writings of deranged people bent on violence. On Tuesday, the F.B.I. said it had arrested a Nazi sympathizer who had threatened to butcher a Hispanic woman and had boasted that Mr. Trump would wipe out nonwhites in a “racial war and crusade.” This month, the 21-year-old man accused in the El Paso Walmart massacre wrote a manifesto echoing Mr. Trump’s language that calls migrants crossing the southwestern border as part of “an invasion.” “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the manifesto said.
In retrospect, of course, this was all predictable. Over the last two and a half years, the political establishment has accepted the vile language coming from the oval office as the price one has to pay for all of the good things that are happening in the U.S. and for which the President takes credit, whether earned or unearned. Everyone knew that at some point he would go too far and get too many people upset. Time will tell whether he has gone far enough over the line on this one to motivate even those in his own party to work on pulling him back from the brink. Let’s hope so else things will deteriorate to the point of no return, if they are not already there.
The founders of America, white male landowners and slave owners they might have been, but they understood the need to strive for higher goals, as the Declaration of Independence clearly states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Perhaps it’s time for the political leadership to read it once again.