Friday, March 10, 2017

Is the President to Blame?

The New Yorker caricature of Philip Roth by Tom Bachtell
There has been a spike in antisemitic incidents in the last few weeks. Over one hundred bomb threat at Jewish institutions (mostly JCCs) have been called in... and there has been vandalism in at least 2 Jewish cemeteries. What, one may ask, has precipitated this? And should we be worried?

I will answer the 2nd question first. No, I don’t think we need to be worried, although we should always be vigilant, keep our eyes and ears wide open. We are not on the precipice of a new Holocaust. Not even close. As Chicago Jewish News editor, Joseph Aaron is fond of saying, Jews have never had it so good. At least not since the 2nd temple era of 2000 years ago.  

I need not go into the details of why I feel that way. I have done so many times and it is why I feel so patriotic. Besides it should be obvious anyway since Jews have been the most favored religious group in America for years now.  So what gives with this uptick and why am I not afraid?

Here’s why. In the case of those bomb threats, people that want to cause us harm don’t usually warn us first. If they want to blow us up in a crowded place, they will certainly want to inflict as many casualties as possible.  Warning us about  bomb would undermine that goal. That not a single bomb was ever found in all of those incidents underscores this fact. The terror here is psychological. The desire is to instill fear, disruption, and panic. That is their goal here. Which has thus far been pretty successful. The more media attention this gets the more this coward (or cowards) will be motivated to keep on making these ‘bomb threat’ phone calls.

Who is doing this and why - is unclear. There is no telling if they are right wing fringe fanatics or Islamist terrorists. It is unknown whether these calls originate from somewhere in this country or a foreign country.  What is known is that those doing it are technologically sophisticated enough to disguise their voices and their locations. Which makes apprehending them extremely difficult if not impossible.

The cemetery vandalism looks like it was perpetrated by your typical garden variety antisemitic thug.These are the kinds of people who might be spray painting swastikas on the doors and walls of synagogues or Jewish homes. In all of these cases, these are cowards that fear getting caught more than they want to inflict damage. Be that as it may, I am gratified that law enforcement – both the local police and the FBI - are  involved in pursuing the perpetrators of these hate crimes.

So what’s the reason this is happening now? There has been a lot of finger pointing at President Trump. And for good reason. While I am absolutely certain that neither he nor is any of his staff are antisemitic,  I am nonetheless convinced that some of his rhetoric can be interpreted as such. The President is one of the most enigmatic people I have ever seen. Not only do I believe he is not an antisemite, he is not a racist, anti woman, anti immigrant, or even anti Muslim. But if one listens to some of the things coming out of his mouth, you would think he is all of those things. 

The antisemites of the world actually believe they have a friend in Trump. As do white supremacists and all the other above-mentioned ‘antis’. So indeed it may very well be the case that the President is at least indirectly responsible for this wave of antisemitism. His rhetoric on these subjects brings out the worst elements among us.

Why has is he using such terrible rhetoric? In large part I actually think it is because he is about the most inarticulate man who ever served any public office. Although celebrated writer, Philip Roth is not someone whose left wing views I would normally agree with, I do mostly agree with him here. This is what he said in The New Yorker:
“I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.” 
Perhaps that is a little over the top. But I also think that to a certain extent it’s mostly all true. Especially the vocabulary part. He simply does not know how to articulate his views in more than 140 characters. Unless he is given a script from which to read as was the case when he addressed both houses of congress. Which is why he is so fond of tweeting.

It also did not help his cause with us when he did not mention the Jewish people as the primary targets and victims in the Holocaust in his public statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. And yet I think he actually believes he was just trying to be inclusive about all the victims with that omission, misguided as he clearly was.  It just it fed the racist, antisemitic, fringe crowd. Which apparently he is in denial about.

The bottom line with respect to the increased number of antisemitic incidents is the following. I do not believe for a moment, that more Americans have become antisemites because of him.  But by virtue of his inarticulate rhetoric he has moved the already existing ones to be more vocal and emboldened them to commit the hate crimes mentioned above. Hopefully law enforcement can take care of the problem. God forbid we see anything worse happening.

I know a lot of people think Trump is the devil. But I actually feel sorry for him. His critics are merciless. He believes his policies are good for America. And I don’t think he realizes just how bad his tweets make him look. 

His larger than life ego makes him believe that he’s the smartest man on earth. And his thin skin makes him a vindictive individual to anyone that criticizes him. His intolerance for criticism is so  bad that he will resort to just about anything to refute it, no matter how ridiculous. And yet  I believe he actually wants to help people.

Honestly, I cringe every time I think about Trump being our President. I wish it could have been otherwise. But unless he is somehow impeached and removed from office (a highly unlikely scenario despite predictions and/or attempts by some on the left) we are stuck with him for the next 4 years. We just need to make the best of it… and hope that his actual policies – many of which I support - end up being good for the country after all.