A Reluctance To Repudiate Anti-Semitism

Ernst Hess. Emil Maurice. Most people don’t recognize these names. That is because these men are footnotes in the history of the Third Reich. They had the dubious honor of being personal friends of Hitler. Hess was Hitler’s company commander during WWI. Maurice was a longtime friend from when he and Hitler were members of the German Workers Party. After Hitler rose to power and the anti-Semitic agenda of the Nazis was well established, Hitler went out of his way to issue two orders. The first order commanded the German secret police to grant Hess “relief and the protection as per the Fuhrer’s wishes”. His second order was addressed to Heinrich Himmler. Maurice, despite his Jewish heritage, had not only joined the Nazi Party, he was an SS officer as well as Hitler’s sometime bodyguard and personal chauffeur. Himmler insisted that Maurice be expelled from the ranks for failing the racial purity rules, but Hitler wrote a letter to Himmler ordering him to make an exception for Maurice as well as his brothers. The Maurices were declared “Honorary Aryans” and allowed to stay in the SS.

So what is the point of this brief glimpse at Hitler’s protection of these two men? Yesterday an Israeli reporter questioned Trump about the sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and asked what he had to say regarding concerns in Jewish communities internationally that his administration was playing with xenophobic and racist tones. Trump’s response was:

“Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 316 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.

And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love.”

Trump first words were to revisit and relive, once again, his electoral college victory, as if to validate himself as president, because he was good enough, he was smart enough and, doggone it, people liked him. He then segued into generic comments about crime, long simmering racism, and a deeply divided nation, as if to wash his hands of the nationalistic, racist and anti-Semitic activity that has been emboldened since his candidacy and election. When Trump finally got to the “Jewish question”, he talked about his Jewish friends, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, then rambled on about how the United States will be very different in the next several years, but a lot of good things and love will be happening. He couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “anti-Semitism.”

The point is even Hitler had Jewish friends whom he protected from his own policies. But Hitler rose to power promising the German people how different Germany would be under his leadership, how he would make Germany great again, after the humiliation of the First World War. He showed just how much love he had for those who fit the mold, who were shining examples of Aryan ideals and ancestry. As for the rest, especially those who were Jewish, it was off to the concentration camps and crematoriums.

The Holocaust didn’t happen in spite of these promises and policies. It happened because of them. Hitler created carveouts to shield his nearest and dearest, but it didn’t alter the Nazi agenda one whit. Likewise, Trump’s showcasing of his Jewish friends and family members is not reassuring in the slightest. His failure to indict anti-Semitism unequivocally indicates either an unwillingness or inability to quash the hateful forces his rhetoric has unleashed, or a desire to use those forces to bend the arc of American history towards racism again. Both possibilities are horrifying.


Not My Leader

Since World War II, the president of the United States has also been viewed as the leader of the free world. The mantle of that title carries with it great power, but as Uncle Ben warned Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. President Trump got into office by touting his acumen and success as a businessman. He managed to convince enough people in the necessary states that he was the right person to lead the nation and, as he frequently boasts, “Make America great again!”

What makes a good leader? What is leadership? These questions have stymied not only nations, but groups of any kind since time immemorial. Civilizations have risen and fallen along with the fortunes of their leaders: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Ghengis Khan. The course of history was changed by the likes of William the Conquerer, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Thomas Jefferson. Courses on the topic are offered at universities, as are seminars at business conferences. Despite the plethora of analysis and advice available, however, good leaders and good leadership remain difficult to come by.

The first thing that should be recognized is that being placed in a leadership position does not make one a leader. A true leader is a good leader. A good leader possesses the qualities which are associated with good leadership. What, then, are the qualities of good leadership? When I was serving in the Navy, I attended a class on leadership. It was required training for officers, since they, by dint of their rank, are tasked with leading their units. One afternoon, the instructors screened Kenneth Branagh’s rendition of the St. Crispin’s Day speech from “Henry V”. The speech is famous for the phrase “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” and it was delivered by the king to inspire his tired and disheartened troops. King Henry painted a vision of the glory that arose from honor and courage and exhorted his men to unite with him in the battle. The instructors went on to discuss different types of leadership. Visionary leadership by the commanding officer provides the big picture goals along with the inspiration to achieve them, while logistic leadership from the executive officer provides attainable short-term milestones along with guidance and encouragement. They intertwined these concepts with the military-wide adage: “No man left behind” and emphasized that no unit could succeed unless every member could trust every other member to watch his back, from the highest ranking officer to the lowest enlisted serviceman.

In the March 2016 issue of Entrepreneur, Adam and Jordan Bornstein wrote an article titled “22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader.” Whether their list is all-inclusive or is missing qualities can easily be debated, but at least some of the traits on the list are commonly recognized and accepted as characteristics of a good leader: focus, confidence, transparency, integrity, inspiration, commitment, patience, persistence, wonkiness, authenticity, open-mindedness, empowerment, generosity, insight, and accountability. If you were to think about the bosses and supervisors you have had over the course of your lifetime, there is a very good probability that the one whose leadership you most admire exhibited a high percentage, if not all, of these qualities. What that person exemplified was someone who:

1) Believed in a goal.

2) Was confident his team could achieve that goal.

3) Could communicate his vision in a clear yet inspiring manner.

4) Was committed to creating and fostering teamwork.

5) Was willing to listen to, learn from, and give credit generously to all team members.

6) Delegated authority to those best equipped to make the necessary decisions.

7) Was trusted by his team to not sacrifice them for his own advancement nor abandon them when problems arose.

8) Had the maturity to acknowledge and own mistakes.

The consensus among historians is that Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt top the list of our country’s greatest presidents. There is a reason why four of these five men are memorialized on Mount Rushmore. Each of them left an indelible mark on history, where if lesser individuals were in their place, the United States and the world as a whole might be very different today. All of them believed that the nation would be stronger together, if we watched each others’ backs and united both when fighting a common enemy and when working to improve American society. None of them forwarded dark visions of the world adrift or cast themselves as the only one qualified to be the nation’s savior. They did not pit the country’s citizens against each other to maintain political advantage. Yes, mistakes were made, and some were outrageous. But, for the most part, our greatest presidents were true leaders.

Throughout his campaign, Trump ran on a nationalistic and xenophobic platform. He portrayed the country as a post-apocalyptic dystopia, its citizens hunkered down in their homes, awaiting their savior. His strategy was to divide and conquer, and to leave scorched earth everywhere his proposed policies were rejected. He attacked and mocked anyone who disagreed or opposed him. When things went wrong, he blamed everyone but himself, and when things went right, he strutted about and crowed about himself incessantly. He claimed to know more about everything than anyone, not because he had been educated on the subject, but simply because he has “a great intuition”. In fact, he refused to attend meetings where he would have been briefed on important matters because he did not feel he would learn anything. Furthermore, he has maintained a lifelong policy of never acknowledging or apologizing for a mistake. In summary, Trump revealed himself not to be a true leader, but a demagogue and an self-aggrandizing authoritarian.

Trump’s version of leadership is one characterized by intimidation and vindictiveness. Those who support him do so because they think they will benefit from his actions; the ends justifies the means. They are willing to look the other way as American ideals and traditions are trampled for what may be a few extra dollars in their pockets. He was inaugurated less than a month ago. He has claimed that he knows how to behave more presidentially, and would do so once in office, but he has yet to show any sign of changing or even thinking he needs to change. After paying lip service in his acceptance speech to the concepts of unity and leading the nation for all Americans and not just those who voted for him, he has proceeded to govern the way he campaigned, by denigrating and vilifying anyone who does not revere him. A man with these characteristics does not represent me. Trump may be my country’s president, but he is not my leader.

The Politics of Fear

President Trump issued an executive order banning the entry of individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries for three months and from Syria indefinitely. Mass protests ensued, and as of today, a federal judge from the state of Washington placed a national stay on the order. There has been much debate, both before and after the executive order, asking whether or not the president supports racist policies. It has been argued that he couldn’t be racist, since his daughter and her family are Jewish. The core question, I think, is whether or not it is possible to support racist policies and engage in racist rhetoric without being actually racist.

I believe the issue is exemplified by the xenophobic and prejudicial attitude that has been his trademark, both personally and as a politician. When you fear and/or dislike those you deem strange or foreign, odds are you tend to associate with those you do like, namely people just like you. It then stands to reason that, barring firsthand interactions with those you dislike, your opinions about them will be shaped by broad brush stereotypes, which themselves were often created and spread by other xenophobes or hardcore racists (e.g., the blood libel against the Jews).

John O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, in a memoir quoted Trump as saying, after discovering there were African American accountants working at the property, “I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza — black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. Nobody else. . . . Besides that, I’ve got to tell you something else. I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is; I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” When asked during an interview whether the quote was accurate, Trump replied that it was probably true. In one outburst, he managed to insult two groups of people. But wait, you might say; he’s praising Jews for their business acumen. He wasn’t. He was parroting a stereotype that has been around since the Middle Ages.

During the campaign, Trump released an ad that showed pictures of George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are prominent Jews, while he railed against the “levers of power in Washington” and “global special interests” that threatened our country. That kind of rhetoric comes straight out of “The Protocols of the Elders Of Zion”, which was written by anti-Semites a hundred years ago. It would truly be astonishing if he and his campaign staff were ignorant of the parallels, especially with Bannon as his special advisor. If the similarities did escape his notice, however, the fact that he approved an ad that displayed pictures of Jews who are associated with finance during his condemnation of those he blamed for the ills of America again demonstrates how he has bought the stereotype of Jews and money, lock, stock and barrel. Furthermore, we would be delusional if we don’t believe that the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites in the country didn’t watch that ad and say, “That’s right. It’s those Jews. So glad someone finally had the guts to say it.”

The problem with stereotypes is that they are tidy little boxes that claim to capture the “essence” of the people being stereotyped, but when you meet someone who is “that kind” of person, and you take the time and effort to know him, more often than not you do not find the stereotype. You meet someone who has his victories and defeats, his joys and challenges. You meet someone who is, by and large, an average person, living an average life, doing average things—nothing at all like the stereotype you expected. So how to reconcile the discrepancy? You must declare one incorrect or the another an anomaly. The hope is, in the grand experiment this melting pot of a nation has been, that as logical, sensible people, we would discard the stereotypes as incorrect. My concern is that Trump seems to take the latter approach: those in his inner circle who are not like him are anomalies rather than the norm, and consequently, those stereotypes remain intact and will continue to fuel his divisive rhetoric and policies.