Ignorance & Anti-Semitism: Trump Tropes

It certainly seems like an odd way to campaign for votes.

Talking Points Memo recently reported on a speech Trump made to a mostly Jewish crowd, in which he accused Jews of being insufficiently loyal to Israel, and explained that he’d get the support of Jewish voters because Jews would vote to protect their wealth. (Paul Krugman has pointed out that only 17% of Jews voted Republican in the midterms, despite their relative affluence. But Trump wouldn’t know a fact if he fell over one.)

“We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more, I have to tell you that. We have to do it,” he said. “We have to get them to love Israel more. Because you have people that are Jewish people, that are great people…they don’t love Israel enough.”

He also told the mostly Jewish audience that they wouldn’t vote for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for president because, according to him, they want to protect their money from her proposed wealth tax.

Evidently, in what passes for Trump’s mind,  American Jews are all rich people displaying insufficient “dual loyalty.” Got it.

This wasn’t a “one off.” Trump has a history of characterizing Jews (and blacks and women and Muslims and…) in highly offensive ways. But in this particular speech, he evidently outdid himself. The Independent also covered the event, quoting Trump’s description of Jews as “brutal killers.”

“A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well; you’re brutal killers. You’re not nice people at all, but you have to vote for me. You have no choice,” Trump told the group, which is funded by Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino tycoon who’s a big supporter of the president….

The president also said he “doesn’t like” many Jewish people, but warned that the Democrats’ fiscal policies will mean they’ll vote for him.

“Even if you don’t like me — some of you don’t, [and] some of you I don’t like at all actually — you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’ll be out of business in about 15 minutes if they [the Democrats] get in,” he added.

An organization of Jewish Democrats was among those who responded to the remarks, which it called “deeply offensive,” and identified Donald Trump as the biggest threat facing American Jews today.

“We strongly denounce these vile and bigoted remarks in which the president – once again – used anti-Semitic stereotypes to characterize Jews as driven by money and insufficiently loyal to Israel. He even had the audacity to suggest that Jews ‘have no choice’ but to support him.

“American Jews do have a choice, and they’re not choosing President Trump or the Republican Party, which has been complicit in enacting his hateful agenda. In fact, Jewish support for the GOP has been halved since Trump has been in office, from 33 percent in 2014 to 17 percent in 2018, because Trump’s policies and rhetoric are completely antithetical to Jewish values.

Actually, it can be argued that Trump’s policies, rhetoric and behavior are also antithetical to genuine Christian values, as well as humanist values, Muslim values…

Whatever this and similar diatribes display about Trump’s values or lack thereof, they clearly reveal his intellectual limitations. Trump is simply incapable of understanding complexity or seeing nuance–he is thus incapable of seeing members of “tribes” other than his own as differentiated individuals. All Jews are rich businessmen, all African-Americans are criminals, all Muslims terrorists. All women are meat.

And let’s be honest: those attitudes permeate his base. The Republicans who support him do so because they share his bigotries, not despite them.

Trump may be the least self-aware human on the planet. He clearly has no clue how cringeworthy his utterances are, how laughable his boasts and glaringly obvious his ignorance.  Who else would campaign for the votes of a minority group by announcing his belief in bigoted stereotypes that have endangered that group for centuries?

This pathetic, barely literate, emotionally-crippled man would be a proper object of pity if he wasn’t able to do so much damage.

When I was growing up, the recurring question in my extended family–about social change, about political candidates, about pretty much everything–was, “is it good for the Jews?”

If there is clarity about anything these days, it’s this: Trump and his governing cabal are not good for the Jews–or, for that matter, for anyone else.


The Oldest Bigotry

Mireille Knoll believed that Paris was her city. As an article in the New York Times recounted,

She believed this despite the fact that it was also the city where, when she was 9 years old, the police rounded up 13,000 of the city’s Jews, 4,000 of them children, and crammed them into Vélodrome d’Hiver, a cycling stadium, before shipping them to their deaths at Auschwitz. Ms. Knoll narrowly escaped this largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust and fled to Portugal with her mother.

After the war, she married a man who had survived Auschwitz. She returned to her native land where she built a home and raised a family. French to her core, she stayed in Paris even as her grandchildren moved to Israel.

Last week, Ms. Knoll was stabbed eleven times, and her apartment was set on fire. French authorities have confirmed that the motive was anti-semitism. She wasn’t the first in her neighborhood, either. In another incident found to have been motivated by anti-semitism, almost exactly a year ago, a 65-year-old Jewish widow named Sarah Halimi was murdered by her neighbor, 27-year-old Kobili Traoré.

The truth of the matter is that Jews have made handy targets throughout history, and the assaults have come from all directions, and in all countries.

Anti-Semitism, like other bigotries, ebbs and flows; right now, with the global growth of explicit white nationalism, it is on the rise.The Guardian has reported that such incidents hit an all-time high in the UK last year. Here in the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League recently catalogued 1,986 occurrences in its 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, up from 1,267 in 2016. That made it the highest single-year increase since the organization released its first audit in 1979.

Most observers attribute America’s increase in hate crimes to a toxic political environment that has increased tribal animosities and sparked bigotries of all kinds. Donald Trump–whose election was substantially attributable to what polite researchers call “racial resentment”–regularly stokes the stereotypes and conspiracy theories that give rise to those resentments.

Trump regularly recycles far-right propaganda. Recently he tweeted out an anti-immigrant message that cited a group known for promoting pieces authored by anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers: the ambiguously-named Center for Immigration Studies. The organization was founded by John Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist whose racist beliefs

stirred him to create a network of organizations with a simple agenda: heavily restricting the immigration levels to the United States in order to maintain a white majority. As Tanton himself wrote in 1993, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

Trump and his supporters have waged unremitting war against “political correctness”–their term for the social norms that deter people from engaging in public expressions of bigotry. Trump himself exhibits–daily–the sorts of attitudes and behaviors that decent people teach their children to avoid.

Is it any wonder that unhappy and unpleasant people look at this President and his supporters and see permission to act out their most despicable biases?

One of the reasons so many Jews support organizations working for equal rights and social justice is that we have learned from our history. Jews and other minorities are only safe in open and inclusive societies–societies where all citizens are equal before the law, in legal systems where your “tribe” is legally irrelevant.

Of course, it’s not just members of groups that have historically been targets. Trump’s efforts to subvert the foundational American principle of civic equality doesn’t just threaten minorities. It threatens us all.


Reflecting Badly

When I was growing up in Anderson, Indiana, fewer than 30 Jewish families lived there, and there was a fair amount of anti-Semitism. The attitudes displayed by my schoolmates ranged from benign bemusement (“So you don’t go to church on Sundays?”) to suspicious curiosity (“Do Jews live in houses like real people?”) to outright bigotry (“My mom says you’re a dirty Jew.”) (For the record, each of these is a real statement made to me while I was growing up.)

Now, when you are a member of a marginalized group, and you know people will evaluate that group based in part upon your behavior, you tend to be sensitive to the consequences of your public actions and careful not to act in ways that might confirm stereotypes. I can still remember cringing at restaurants if a group of people who “looked Jewish” were being loud, or excessively demanding of the wait staff. I didn’t want their boorish behavior to reflect badly on other Jews. Many of my gay friends have reported similar reactions to inappropriate GLBT behaviors.

Obviously, a lot of Christians don’t have those kinds of concerns. Probably because Christians are in the majority in this country, Christian “bad actors” don’t seem to consider that appalling behavior in the name of Christianity necessarily reflects upon their co-religionists. And more well-behaved Christians usually give their fellow believers a pass–they rarely speak out to distance themselves from nastiness masquerading as Christian piety . Evidently, they don’t worry about being lumped into the same category with their more outrageous brethren. But really–shouldn’t they disclaim at least some of the folks who claim to speak for their faith?

For example, there’s a religious right activist named Gary Cass, who is a former Republican Party official in San Diego. He currently heads up a group called the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, and spends most of his time attacking the usual suspects–President Obama, Muslims,gays, and (interestingly) Mormons. I recently came across a clip of him delivering a long rant in which he accused Americans of having a “broken moral compass.” The evidence of our moral decline? We have been electing politicians who support things like reproductive choice and marriage equality.

Cass says the nation’s colleges and universities are “perverted factories of unfaithfulness,” especially Harvard which is now “animated by the spirit of Antichrist.”

My favorite, though, was this:  “you can’t be a Christian if you don’t own a gun.” Cass evidently believes that gun ownership and Christianity are inextricably entwined.

Perhaps my Christian friends don’t consider Cass and his ilk worth cringing over, or disavowing. (As a Jew, I want to make it clear that– if Jesus really requires that his followers be armed–he was reflecting badly on the rest of us Jews.) But criticism from members of other religions or none simply aren’t going to stop the “Christians” (note quotation marks) who are turning policy debates into religious wars.

Some good Christians need to tell the Florida pastor who burned the Korans that he is not speaking for them. Good Christians need to speak up when Mike Pence wraps himself in the mantle of faith in order to justify denying poor women access to medical services, or when Richard Mourdock defends his “God intended that pregnancy” remarks by claiming critics are “attacking his faith.”

We need more Christians willing to join the Nuns on the Bus.