With all of the insulting things Donald Trump has said on the campaign trail — demonizing Mexican immigrants, denigrating women, and now by saying that Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S. — his flip performance before the Republican Jewish Coalition counts at best as a misdemeanor. Trump — whose grandchildren are Jewish and who is undeniably comfortable in social settings with affluent Jewish colleagues — probably felt he was among friends when he referred to the negotiating skills of the RJC members. Even Jews joke among themselves about their ability to drive a hard bargain — a stereotype for sure, but fairly innocuous as such things go.
Trump was on shakier ground when he said at the same forum, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” Some felt he was playing on anti-Semitic tropes about Jews, money, and influence. In fact, Trump often boasts about his financial independence from special interests, Wall Street no less than the pro-Israel lobby. A sensitive politician would know that Jewish audiences get uncomfortable when the talk turns to money and Jewish political clout — and no one has ever accused Trump of being sensitive.
No, what is most offensive about Trump’s rhetoric is not illusory charges of anti-Semitism, but a general disdain for the kinds of language and ideas that pull us together as Americans. Trump consistently invokes an “us” and “them” mentality that appeals to understandable feelings of fear among voters, but without proposing real-world solutions that could adequately address such fears. For example, admirers credit Trump with “drawing attention” to the challenges of illegal immigration. In fact, Trump’s delusional talk of deporting undocumented aliens en masse and sealing them behind a wall has driven out the voices of compromise that could still bring a rational solution to our immigration challenges.
Trump often asserts that “political correctness” is one of the greatest problems facing our country, as if as a nation we have become too tolerant of differences and too sensitive to people’s feelings. Too often, however, those who condemn “political correctness” are in fact defending an order in which minorities, women, gay men and women, and, yes, Jews, were habitually denied their dignity through law, through language, and through public policy.
Republican voters and the American people deserve better than a candidate who seems willing to turn one group against another in the interest of winning an election.