The month since Trump’s inauguration has been fascinating. One can watch “leaders” of the Jewish community engage in cost-benefit analyses to determine whether they should embrace, ignore or condemn Donald Trump as he bungles his way forward.
On the national scene, it appears that the ranks of the courageous have been led by the Anti-Defamation League’s (my former employer) Jonathan Greenblatt. He has shown no patience for the insensitive acts, attitudes, and language of the Trump folks regarding Muslims, African Americans and Jews. He has calculated that being honest with his constituents outweighs having briefings by machers in the administration or headline speakers at fundraising dinners.
On the other hand, there are the Jewish organizations who have managed to rationalize Trump’s domestic malfeasance and extremism with the apparent hope that they will retain access and influence with the crafters of America’s Middle East policy. They have sold out their domestic principles in the hope that they will be able to assist Prime Minister Netanyahu.
As columnist Bret Stephens noted in Time Magazine, about his conservative colleagues who sidle up to Trump and his folks, “This is supposed to be the road of pragmatism, of turning lemons into lemonade. I would counter that it’s the road of ignominy, of hitching a ride with a drunk driver.”
Among the hitch hikers are Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Center is ostensibly concerned with civil rights and “tolerance” but it can’t admit the Trump connection to extremism and bigotry which endangers both civil rights and tolerance.
When the White House proclamation on Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention Jews, Rabbi Hier facilely excused the egregious omission as a “rookie mistake.”
When issues arose about Trump’s repeated failure to condemn anti-Semitism, Hier was uncharacteristically mild, “he’s made a couple of mistakes…he should have spoken up sooner.”
Those of us familiar with the Wiesenthal Center know that vigorously opining on anything that even hints at anti-Semitism is what the Center does best. They have no compunction about claiming that anti-Semitism is alive and well even without evidence (see my op/ed here).
This week I authored an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times commenting that Trump’s “too little, too late” condemnation of anti-Semitism doesn’t begin to deal his “world view and conduct [which] are the swamp from which bigotry and hate emerge.” Afterwards, I was interviewed by KNX Radio.
The broadcast piece had Rabbi Hier as the counterpoint opining that “it’s ridiculous to postulate the notion that Trump is an anti-Semite.” After all “he loves his daughter who is a convert to Judaism and his son-in-law who is an Orthodox Jew….” Some of Trump’s best friends……
Of course, that was a feint. Neither my Times piece nor responsible critics have alleged that Trump personally is “anti-Semitic;” who knows other than his psychiatrist and his confessor. His actions and attitudes are what matter, not his subconscious.
By his actions and words he has reflected an indisputable hostility towards Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, and, as of this week, segments of the LGBT community. And that same hostility is a threat to Jews and the republic. The noted historian of anti-Semitism, James Carroll, wrote in The New Yorker this week about Trump and the link between bigotries, “In fact, our temperamental President is bigotry’s cliché. Even the cult of white supremacy on which his movement depends has its origins, too, in the positive-negative structure of the Western imagination, a structure erected in the first place to keep Jews in their place.”
Trump’s greatest danger lies not in his endorsing American pogroms or venal hate, but in his tolerating, cleansing and advancing those who do.
He has demonstrated a disturbing inability, or unwillingness, to distinguish between acceptable, rational political discourse and extremism. While he unhesitatingly attacks the media as “the enemy of the American people” he has no compunction about praising, normalizing, sanitizing, and hiring bigots and extremists—-in his view THEY are NOT the enemy of the people.
One of his buddies is an internet troll who is manifestly unhinged, Alex Jones. He is a vile extremist who proudly proclaims that he speaks on the phone to Trump and hopes to soon have White House press credentials. He insists, as The New Yorker reported, “that national tragedies such as the September 11th terror attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombing were all inside jobs, “false flag” ops secretly perpetrated by the government to increase its tyrannical power (and, in some cases, seize guns). Jones believes that no one was actually hurt at Sandy Hook-those were actors-and that the Apollo 11 moon-landing footage was faked. [Emphasis added]
His screwiness, as one might expect, spills over into anti-Semitism, “Cause let me tell you, the Emanuels [Rahm, Ari, et al.] are mafia. And you know I was thinking, they’re always trying to claim that if I talk about world government and corruption I’m anti-Semitic, …..it’s not that Jews are bad, it’s just they are the head of the Jewish mafia in the United States. They run Uber, they run the health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you.…..I mean it’s like, if being against Jews that are weirdo Nazi collaborators and gangsters makes me anti-Semitic then fine…” [Emphasis added]
Any politician with an ounce of sophistication, let alone the president of the United States, would steer clear of anyone with Jones’ record and reputation. But Trump has appeared on Jones’ radio program [in 2015] and commented that, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” More disturbingly, as president, Trump continues to talk to Jones; he doesn’t find Jones’ abhorrent views toxic.
Trump also has on his staff as a deputy assistant, Sebastian Gorka, who, when he lived in Hungary (from 2002-2007), had “close ties to Hungarian far right circles, and in the past has chosen to work with openly racist and anti-Semitic groups and public figures.” He proudly wore to an inaugural ball the lapel pin of the Nazi collaborationist regime that ruled Hungary during the Holocaust. He has termed recent criticism of the White House omission of Jews from their Holocaust remembrance declaration “asinine.”
The president is clearly unable, or unwilling, to distinguish between normal political actors and flame throwing bigots and extremists who fertilize the agar of hate. He has hired extremists, consorts with crazies, and, in the process, legitimizes bigotry and radicals.
Rabbi Hier notwithstanding, whether Trump’s daughter or son-in-law are Orthodox Jews, devout Presbyterians or atheists doesn’t alter the fact that Trump doesn’t parse haters and extremists from mainstream political actors and our common discourse. That is a threat to our democracy. That distinction is what makes American democracy so durable, the extremists remain isolated and ostracized on the fringes. To the extent that they are legitimized, they are poisoning our politics.
Rabbi Hier’s museum documents the rise of Nazism in Germany, he ought to know that those who consort with bigots and extremists become their facilitators and virtually indistinguishable from them.