Stop it now, Donald Trump!

We don’t endorse candidates for political office at the Jewish Standard. It would be neither wise nor appropriate for us to do so. In fact, although each one of us has strong feelings both in favor of and against some candidates, we keep those personal feelings as far as possible from the communal editorial voice of the paper. Okay, sometimes that editorial voice is a touch snarky, often it is a little bit first-person, but it’s never ragingly partisan about politics.

But not only has Donald Trump broken all the rules, he is making it impossible for us not to break one as well.

We are not going to argue about Donald Trump’s policy proposals here. (How could we? There aren’t any.) We will not argue about his extraordinary vulgarity. We are very happy for him that he is so thrilled with the size of his various body parts that he wants to share that joy with us. We will avert our eyes and move on.

We will not even argue about the flatness of his jokes.

We cannot ignore the ugliness of his attacks on large groups of people — on, say, women’s looks and on their tendencies to bleed from their wherevers, thus impeding their thought processes. We cannot ignore his attacks on war prisoners, whose courage and ability this battle-untested man derides. We cannot ignore his attacks on immigrants — we here are all the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of immigrants who found safe haven in this miraculous country.

We cannot and should not — in fact we must not — ignore his hesitation in refusing the endorsement of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Trump said that he knew nothing about them, and then, bizarrely, he said, “I don’t like to disavow groups if I don’t know who they are. I mean, you could have the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in ‘groups.’” To which the only possible response is “What????”

But now Mr. Trump, at whose rallies violence often threatens — his crowds are volatile, their emotions are roiled, and their tempers are enflamed — has begun to ask his audiences to give a stiff-armed salute. The gesture is a pledge to Mr. Trump. He is quoted as saying, at a North Carolina rally: “Raise your right hand. ‘I do solemnly swear that I — no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there’s hurricanes or whatever — will vote, on or before the 12th, for Donald J. Trump for president.’”

On its face, that is odd. But when you look at — when you see videos or still shots of this salute — it is chilling.

It is a Nazi salute.

Abraham Foxman, who survived the Holocaust as a small child and retired last summer as the longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, finds the gesture chilling.

Mr. Trump “is a great marketing person,” Mr. Foxman said. “He put his name out there for years, on buildings, parks, other enterprises, and he is now collecting on what he had invested. He is asking for allegiance to his own name.”

Did Mr. Trump know the history of the gesture he was asking his followers to make?

“There are two possibilities,” Mr. Foxman said. “At best, it is innocent and ignorant. If that’s the case, it’s pretty sad, that a man who claims to be so worldly, so smart, so knowing, doesn’t know what that salute means. At worst, he knows exactly what it means. That is just such a bizarre idea.

“No matter what he is in the rest of his life, he is campaigning as populist, and populism can morph into something worse — into fascism or neo-fascism,” he continued.

“Mr. Trump has broken so many of our taboos,” Mr. Foxman said. “There is a social contract, a civil contract, against insulting people. You can say that it’s just political correctness, but political correctness is a social contract. You may feel a certain way, but you don’t say it publicly. He does.

“He has broken all the taboos of what is acceptable, and he has gotten rewarded for it.

“The way people are being treated at his rallies is frighteningly reminiscent of totalitarian environments, where they don’t tolerate other points of view.”

Mr. Foxman sighed. “It makes Holocaust survivors quiver even earlier than most other people when they see it,” he said. “And what’s even more scary than Donald Trump are the people who follow him. There is so much anger and frustration and anxiety and fear in the country now, and he is playing on all of it.”

We’re with Mr. Foxman. All partisan issues aside, we know that history teaches that breaches of basic civility, of the normal rules of conduct, a descent into crudeness, bullying, and brutishness, is deeply bad for society. We all should work to stop it now, before it goes any further.

We are sure that Mr. Trump, as loutish as he is, does not think of himself as Hitler. He is not asking for a Nazi salute because he fancies himself a Nazi, or a fascist. In fact, he has disavowed any knowledge of what the salute might mean, claiming to be, in Mr. Foxman’s words, “innocent and ignorant.”

“I don’t know about the Hitler comparison. I hadn’t heard that, but it’s a terrible comparison. I’m not happy about that certainly,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.

But the emotions he is roiling are unhealthy, and he should stop.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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