What the President Says Matters
By Matt Benowitz
Yes, that is a comically straightforward title. But this week in Trump’s America illustrates more than ever that lives are on the line.
My ancestors did not come here to get mowed down by bigoted losers. That routine has gotten old. Then again, so too has the refrain. One-quarter Sephardic, another Ashkenazi, and otherwise Catholic, my bloodline has been forced across the Mediterranean. The Inquisition sent Spanish Jews to North Africa, then Greece, where the Holocaust annihilated 81% of the Jewish population before my great-grandmother’s family immigrated to the United States, where she married a Czech-Jewish refugee. In spite of this long arc of displacements, the Pittsburgh shooting brought out an alarmingly general despair in my father.
“This could have happened anywhere. A mosque, a church - it happened in that grocery store in Kentucky, and when those package bombs were sent to Trump critics.”
Hatred is at its worst, its most paradoxically indiscriminate, when whirlpools of blame are churned by public figures before an audience of desperate people. It can be no better when leaders suffer such a spine deficit that they slip vague ripples of legitimization to the most ill and desperate of society. When Donald Trump ordains himself a nationalist, and rails against “globalists,” and laments the threat of George Soros, he flirts with the most virulent anti-Semites of his base.
Face value is irrelevant here; the definitions of the alt-right’s message boards are judge, jury, and executioner. Ivanka Trump’s Twitter prayers and her father’s grotesque rally consolations ring pathetically insincere when one enables and the other exudes racial animosity in the same breath. It matters not that the assailant derided Trump for closeness to Jews and globalism. The commander-in-chief’s kowtowing to tiki-torch neo-Nazis in Charlottesville last year was more than enough. His verbal endorsements weren’t counterintuitive to this racist, but tantalizingly broken promises.
It rests on the same gnarled thread as the media being the “enemy of the people,” or a group of asylum-seeking migrants being an “invasion.” Saying indecent things inevitably encourages indecent people to commit heinous acts. Setting off just one crazy is enough to snuff out lives. It is not a crime, nor does it make him directly responsible, but the president’s implicit pandering to a culture which facilitates violence is a tragedy. His cop-out defense of armed guards neglects the majesty of our freedom from religious persecution. Whatever is necessary to stop enabling scumbags to uproot our normative rule of law should be done, be it an assault rifle ban or not retweeting anti-Muslim hate groups. The executive ought to protect, not put that solemn duty on those sheltered in their sanctuary. This synagogue had screening on all days but Shabbat, much like how the Greek Army staved off Nazi invasion until it couldn’t.
It is up to the Democratic Party, and all good citizens, to take real steps to stifle the inputs of division, be they weaponry or words. Jews are targeted as scapegoats under a millennia-old template, so our discordant note in the ever-diversifying cacophony of “other-ism” carnage fits in with the repeating histories of other discrimination-prone ethnicities. These stubborn stories warn how this song ends for all marginalized groups unless condemnations are unilaterally unequivocal.