WASHINGTON â€" What word comes to mind when you see the name Donald Trump? For some people, it might be "anger," since he provokes it and stokes it. For others, it might be "ignorance," since he knows so little and, like many unburdened by knowledge, is untroubled by facts. Some might say "fear," since it would take some scary police tactics to push 11 million people over the border to Mexico. For me, none of those words suffices. I would say "betrayal."
It is the word that comes to mind almost on a nightly basis when I see some Trump surrogate defend Trumpâ€™s positions on one of the cable news shows. How can you? I want to ask. Do you believe that the government should apply a religious test to let people into this country? Christians? Yes. Jews? Sure. Buddhists, Hindus and Zoroastrians, step this way. Muslims, not so fast.
Do the people who support Trump realize that they are betraying not merely Muslims but the principles that the United States stands for? We donâ€™t apply religious tests to anything. In that way, we are different than some other countries. In that way, we are better.
It is the same with what Trump said about Mexicans being "rapists." It was an ugly, bigoted thing to say â€" and, of course, wrong as hell. So when some Trump supporter breezes right by that statement on the way to whoopee support of restricted trade or allowing Japan and South Korea to get nuclear weapons, I feel betrayed. I can abide policy differences but I cannot abide indifference to bigotry. And neither should any of Trumpâ€™s supporters.
I felt that same, awful feeling of betrayal when Trump mocked a physically disabled reporter for the New York Times. Did Trumpâ€™s people notice? Did they care? Arenâ€™t Americans supposed to stick up for one another?
Donald Trump has taught me to fear my fellow American. I donâ€™t mean the occasional yahoo who turns a Trump rally into a hate fest. I mean the ones who do nothing. Who are silent. Who look the other way. If you had told me a year ago that a hateful brat would be the presidential nominee of a major political party, I would have scoffed. Someone who denigrated women? Not possible. Someone who insulted Mexicans? No way. Someone who mocked the physically disabled? Not in America. Not in myAmerica.
The Donald lettin" it rip â€" Photo: Gage Skidmore
When I see these Trump supporters on television â€" the commentators, the Politicianâ€™s Puttanesca (a dish to poison the body politic) â€" I have to wonder where they would draw the line. The answer seems to be: nowhere. They want to win. They want to beat Hillary Clinton, a calling so imperative that sheer morality must give way. Muslims and Mexicans are merely collateral damage in a war that must be fought. What about blacks or Jews? Not yet.
Maybe the talking heads on TV would draw the line at some mild version of fascism, but would the American people do the same? Here, I must hesitate. The easy yes of yesteryear has given way to awful doubt. Trump could win. He could become president, commander in chief, ruler of the Justice Department and head of the IRS. In other words, the American people could elect someone who has not the slightest appreciation for the Constitution or American tradition. When Trump insisted that he could compel a military officer to obey an illegal order, I heard the echo of jackboots on cobblestone.
In America, no one is required to follow an illegal order. It does no good to argue that Trump is just doing a shtick, that he means little of what he says, that he is all swagger and bluff. Trouble is, his supporters do not see him that way. They take him at his word.
History nags. It admonishes. "American exceptionalism" is a phrase that refers to the past, not necessarily the future. Nothing is guaranteed. Iâ€™d like to think that Americans really are exceptional, that we have an exceptional faith in democracy and the rule of law. I now have some doubt. I always knew who Trump was. Itâ€™s the American people who have come as a surprise.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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