Trump's reluctance to condemn anti-Semitism doesn't go unnoticed
Even in these politically turbulent and divisive times, there are certain core beliefs that should unite us as Americans. One of these is an embrace of religious freedom and tolerance and a rejection of anti-Semitism. Jews have been victims of too much hate and prejudice over the centuries to ignore the rise of a familiar pattern of Nazi-like language, vandalism and threats when such behavior rears its ugly head.
Given that basic social value, it's been more than a little troubling to watch President Donald Trump struggle over a simple question: Would he condemn the recent spate of anti-Semitic actions in this country? Finally, on Tuesday morning during a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the president found his voice on the issue, calling these incidents, including a wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers across the country and a weekend desecration of 170 Jewish grave sites in Missouri, "horrible" and "painful."
"This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms. The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil," he told reporters.
Why did that take so long? For most politicians, speaking out against anti-Semitism is what's known as a "softball" question from the press: an easy home run, a chance to condemn bigotry and hate against a group that has suffered more than its share. Yet when given that very opportunity last week, the president brushed it off as a partisan attack, berating Jake Turx, an Orthodox Jewish reporter from a Brooklyn-based magazine, for posing "not a fair question" when he asked during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the recent rise of anti-Semitism. Mr. Trump then defended himself as the "least anti-Semitic person that you've seen in your entire life."
What kind of leader reacts to an open-ended question about anti-Semitism as some kind of a personal affront? Perhaps the kind who feels a tinge of guilt. This isn't a president who seeks to steer the country toward greater acceptance and understanding of our individuality and religious differences. This is a man who rode a nationalistic and xenophobic fear of foreigners, Muslims and Latinos especially, to the nation's highest office and to whom a direct connection to the "alt-right" movement, the far-right extremists who proudly wear of the mantle of white supremacy (if often couched in more polite terms), causes no particular discomfort.
If the presence in the White House of Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News chair who described the outlet as a platform for the alt-right, as Mr. Trump's top political adviser (and perhaps more) wasn't troubling enough, President Trump continues to show a certain — "reluctance" might be the most polite way of describing it — to address various minority concerns. In his official statement regarding Holocaust Remembrance Day last month, for example, Mr. Trump failed to mention the Jews or anti-Semitism. And it was his daughter Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish and first spoke out against the JCC bomb scares, tweeting on Monday about the need to "protect our houses of worship" before the White House issued an official statement that "hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on individual freedom."
This isn't nit-picking, as Sean Spicer might describe it, but further evidence of the president's reluctance to criticize the white supremacist wing of the coalition of voters who got him elected. That reluctance doesn't go unnoticed; it's likely helping fuel the very anti-Semitic actions that have frightened 54 community centers in 69 separate incidents during the last two months. When President Trump inveighed against the evils of "political correctness" on the campaign trail, he appears to have sent the message that it's acceptable to openly despise people who "aren't like you" again.