The most recent comments of presidential candidate Donald Trump have brought about a stronger reaction than anything he or any other candidate has said previously in the course of an already long campaign. While Trump supporters stand by their man, detractors have used his words to condemn him. Some suggest that Trump’s words represent the view of all Republicans. That reaction causes one to wonder what they think of opponents striving hard to distinguish themselves from Trump now even more than in the past.
This week a group of clergy of all faiths gathered in Columbus to voice anger with Trump’s remarks. They stressed the importance of religious tolerance and the centrality of that value in American history. Over the few days since this last example of too frequent hoof in mouth disease, pundits of all political stripes have criticized Trump’s comments and apparent lack of understanding. Today’s online edition of The Forward questioned if Trump’s comments might be extended to Jews next.
What all of these critics has failed to do, though, is to try to understand the central point of Trump’s poorly stated bombast. Trump was not accusing all Muslims of being terrorists, as some allege. He was, however, making note of the fact that all the terrorists in the news lately have been Muslims. He used fully inappropriate language to challenge the Administration and Congress to do something about immigration because of potential dangers to the homeland from terrorists and potential fifth columnists. Trump’s popularity might largely be based in the fact that he has no concern for political correctness. He says what he thinks. He does not use carefully considered language to obfuscate stands on issues. He cannot be accused of waffling. Trump too often is insulting, rude and crude; but he is right to demand that America protect its security by careful guarding of the nation’s borders.
This column is no effort to champion Donald Trump. Contempt for political correctness is laudable, but Trump’s carelessness of speech is scary. He speaks in broad generalities reminiscent of Candidate Obama’s call for hope and change. For many, both men inspired fear of what would happen if either became commander in chief. Obama gained the title. His opponents uniformly now would claim “told you so.”
As for the suggestion that Trump’s off the wall comments are held by most Republicans, that is Democrats’ effort to ascribe to the Grand Old Party qualities that keep Democrat representatives to Congress in lock step with the president. Some would argue that lack of cohesiveness is a strength of Republicans for whom the party represents common interest and philosophy, but not a determinant of how to vote on every issue. (Perhaps this is why there are so many Republicans contending for the presidency but only three Democrats.)
Is there a Jewish perspective? Several. American Jews cannot forget comments written by President Washington to the Touro Synagogue in Newport. He wrote, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship….the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance….” As survivors of the largest group victimized in the Holocaust Jews recall Maurice Ogden’s “The Hangman” in which he cited Nazis without naming them of whom he wrote “first they came for the communists.” Or perhaps Jews should recall a widely repeated Torah law that there be one law for citizens, residents and foreigners. On the other hand, should Jews recall the treatment that Torah demanded of the Israelites upon entry to the Promised Land, when they were bidden not only to eradicate the high places and idols of the indigenous seven nations, but to destroy those nations and arrange no alliances with them lest they cause trouble in the future? Are the Muslims that Trump fears akin to the indigenous people of Canaan or are they fellow travelers on the road of civilization?
Make no mistake, Trump was wrong in how he demanded that our country face its terrorism issue. Still some of the worst demands contain a kernel of truth.