While I have attempted to avoid politics, one week from the midterm election, the world - and the Jewish world especially - is on fire in the wake of the massacre of 11 of our brothers and sisters in Tree of Life Congregation last Shabbat in Pittsburgh, PA. I have received multiple responses to my letters to the congregation demanding that I (a) loudly condemn President Trump as a purveyor of hate and an enabler of this murder, or (b) stay out of politics. Sometimes both requests come from the same person.
So here is my take, only because it has been demanded of me.
1) President Trump is firmly opposed to anti-Semitism, and has been consistent and clear on that topic.
2) #1 is severely undermined by President Trump's other statements about race, immigration and nationalism.
3) #2 not only undermines #1, it empowers those in this country that sow hatred and prejudice, including anti-Semites.
4) That makes #1 a question for your to answer. Is he lying, and really is an anti-Semite? Is he telling the truth, but has other hatred and prejudice? Is he neither, but intentionally sows discord for political advantage? Is he neither, and doesn't intend the empowerment of prejudice? Or is he good, and positive, and his detractors have it all wrong?
What you think is more important than what I think, but here is what I think:
Note my blog post and speeches after Trump equivocated regarding the Nazi march in Charlottesville in August of 2017. Note my HHD sermon condemning him, and warning that his equivocation was received by white supremicists and American Nazis as endorsement. Note my year's work teaching and warning about the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism in America, and violent hate crimes based on race or gender identity. Note my blog post this week, declaring that "wishing we had more immigrants from Norway" panders to and empowers white supremicist racism in America. Note my consistent protection of immigrants, and my speaking against child-separation as contrary to Torah law, and our mandate to protect the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Yes, President Trump has policies and speeches that are divisive and which have the immediate and prolonged effect of normalizing the field of prejudice, and encouraging racists and haters. He disavows them, but they are attracted to his camp. His anti-immigrant stands, his "pro-Norway" comments, his call for nationalist identity, and his nostalgia for "Make America Great Again," with the idea that an earlier social and cultural climate is more desirable than the current fabric of America resonates with prejudice and hate.
The murdererous anti-Semite in Pittsburgh specifically lamented in his social profile that "There is no MAGA (make America great again) as long as there is still a (Jewish and immigrant) infestation." He resonates with MAGA and then determines that his hateful beliefs must be achieved in reality if MAGA is to be achieved. This is the point: Trump's message resonates with and empowers the minds of hate, to a deadly extent. Pipe bombs to liberals, bullets to Jews.
This resume that Trump has built for himself on these topics has become the dividing line between Republicans and Democrats. On the one side, his supporters defend him as a champion of policy who shouldn't be accused of the worst deeds of his followers. On the other side, he is seen as the architect of prejudice and division in America with bloody and devastating outcomes that are just beginning and will destroy the fabric of our nation if allowed to continue. Whoever is reading this right now will mostly identify with one or the other of those two polarities. We are divided.
There is no doubt in my mind that Trump does not see and/or does not care about the pain that resume causes, because it helps him achieve his goals. On the other hand, I believe that when bad apples are found in our midst we must condemn them, reject them and oust them publicly. We are accountable for our "camps" and President Trump has not sufficiently owned that fact.
But when I turned on the news last Saturday night and was devastated in tears at what I was being shown was happening to my people, to my synagogue in Pittsburgh, I immediately looked to hear "What will President Trump say?" I did that in August 2017 and condemned his ignorant and horrific equivocations. This time he said the right things. If he had not said the right things, I would have screamed it from the mountaintops. Given that he did say the right things, it is good and proper to recognize that, which I did - and still do. For those who can not hear truth when he speaks it, because he is speaking it, I am different. I will recognize truth from any quarter when it presents itself.
However, he shows an ongoing blindness to the needs of the real people on the ground. Forcing himself into the synagogue neighborhood before we had even buried our dead is wrong. Trying to make a political point of a shiva visit with a family who wants to mourn in peace is wrong. Ignoring the local leaders of the Jewish community, the synagogue, the mayor and the representatives in Congress and interjecting himself on the ground so soon was wrong. He doesn't understand that there is a connection between his past words and this murderer's motivations. He needs to get that before he can understand why people did not want him there.
Yes, there is a connection - direct and undeniable - between Trump's prior words and actions and this act of anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant murder. I do not believe that is Trump's intention. But the disavowal must happen loudly, publicly and in a sustained enough manner to counter the damage that has been done over time. Do I believe that will happen? 100% no.
Anti-Semitism, racism, hatred and prejudice are on the rise. When I hear him say the right thing, I will note it with gratitude. Do I give him a pass? Absolutely not.