AUGUST 24, 2017 – In the wake of the Charlottesville mayhem, when many Americans were contemplating just how fragile our democracy can be, Donald Trump missed an important opportunity to unite the country. A day after hundreds of torchlight carrying neo-Nazis descended upon the University of Virginia campus chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” a white supremacist was charged with killing a woman and injuring many.
Trump initially denounced the violence and called out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, declaring racist hate groups “repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans.” Yet, the next day during a live televised press conference he began an open dalliance with white supremacists, and suggested that counter-protesters were also to blame for the violence. He also insisted that there were “fine people” who were there to protect a Confederate-era statue of Robert E. Lee.
“You look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and if you reported it accurately, you would say it,” he told the assembled press, and millions of shocked Americans.
Seventy-two years after more than 400,000 American soldiers fell in World War II battles against fascism and Nazism, we are now presented with a president who cannot fully separate himself from radical extremists. As Jews, we must take this new presidential policy seriously, and reexamine our own beliefs. We must ask ourselves – whether we supported or opposed Trump – what does America stand for, and how do we best move forward to protect our democracy?
Freedom of speech is the right of every American, as the neo-Nazis proved in Charlottesville. But fascism, racism and anti-Semitism will not go away unless it is rejected by a nation and its leaders. As the president continues his orchestrated nationalism – as he takes aim at the free press, and minorities like Muslims and Mexicans – we must understand that today is a different day than it was just a week ago.
Trump’s Jewish staff and major Jewish donors have remained silent since Charlottesville. But American Jews cannot follow their lead, and minimize the danger of fascism. We must stand up for democracy, and take the lead in protecting our republic. For those who consider all of this heated discussion as over-reported rhetoric, it would be worth having a conversation with some of the veterans who fought against Hitler, and fellow Jews who survived the Holocaust. They will tell you that if a person threatens you, then chances are they will attack you.