We All Live in El Paso

Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Gun violence and white supremacy are separate but related issues that can only be solved at the ballot box. It’s time to stop pretending that if we care about these issues we can vote Republican. We’d like to think that both parties share the same values but have different policy prescriptions for actualizing those values. But when it comes to gun violence and the need to confront white nationalism, one side is right and one side is wrong.

What should we do about gun violence? Here’s my answer.

What should we do about white supremacy? Donald Trump is encouraging white supremacy and the resulting violence. Since Charlottesville, white supremacists have murdered at least 73 people. Trump’s halfhearted “condemnation” of white supremacy last week was laughable.

JDCA Executive Director Halie Soifer noted that Trump refused “to recognize or apologize for his own role in inciting, emboldening and legitimizing white nationalists with his hateful rhetoric. To blame mental health or video games for the epidemic of gun violence and the rise of white nationalism is to deny the truth.”

Bret Stephens writes that “the right’s attempt to downplay the specifically ideological context of the El Paso massacre is a transparently self-serving effort to absolve the president of moral responsibility for his demagogic rhetoric.” (Stephens also calls comparisons between the El Paso and Dayton shootings “idiotic.”)

Stephens concludes that Trump “is a disgrace to his office, an insult to our dignity, a threat to our Union, and a danger to our safety.”

That was Joe Biden’s message when he accused Trump of fanning the flames of white supremacy. I haven’t decided who I’m supporting for president, but Biden called it the way it is.

Republicans refuse to condemn anti-Semitism from Republicans. Anti-Semitism within the Democratic Party comes from outliers and is swiftly condemned by other Democrats. Anti-Semitism within the Republican Party comes from Republican leadership and is met with silence from other Republicans.

Last week, we learned that Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), the Chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, invoked the same anti-Semitic stereotypes raised last October by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) about Jews trying to buy elections. It’s no coincidence that McCarthy and Emmer mentioned George Soros. The ADL explains the anti-Semitism behind the Soros conspiracy theories. Neither Emmer nor McCarthy has apologized, and neither has been condemned by other Republicans.

That’s not surprising because their leader, Donald Trump, regularly engages in anti-Semitism. In 2015, Trump basically said that Israel controls the U.S. Senate and certain senators (see for yourself starting at 3:38). Trump’s presidential campaign trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes, including Jewish money in politics and other anti-Jewish stereotypes. Last October, Trump promoted an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on Twitter. Trump accused Jews of dual loyalty at the 2018 White House Hanukkah Party and last April in Las Vegas.

As Halie Soifer said, “It’s not enough for Republicans to feign concern about anti-Semitism when it’s politically expedient — there must be a zero-tolerance policy for hate, regardless of political affiliation.”

No wonder 30 of the 32 Jewish members of Congress are Democrats. We have no place in the Republican Party, not if we have any self-respect.

How do we talk to our friends who support Trump? We want to believe that our friends support Trump despite, not because of, his racism and anti-Semitism. Otherwise, we could not be friends with them. We should test that belief by asking them to think about the damage Trump is doing to the soul of this country and about the violence and hatred that his rhetoric has unleashed.

Trump has given us nothing on gun safety. Nothing on climate change. Nothing on access to affordable, quality health care. No strategy on Iran. Nothing for the middle class and those aspiring to the middle class. Nothing but tax breaks for those who least need or deserve it, separating families, caging detainees in inhumane conditions, abdicating American leadership abroad, palling around with dictators, and making America safe again for racism and bigotry.

If your friends are not racists, ask them what on the other side of the ledger outweighs Trump’s racism and bigotry. Their own tax cuts and maybe less threat of regulatory red tape for their businesses? Our country doesn’t always live up to its ideals, but Trump is undermining the ideals that are the raison d’etre of America, and that should be more important than any policy disagreement with a Democrat. They might not want Medicare for All, but it’s not immoral or racist. Ideals can’t always be counted in dollars, but we lose our humanity when ideals lose their value.

Trump’s moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights did nothing to make Israel safer or more secure and probably made Israel less safe by making a two-state solution harder, but if your friends can appreciate the symbolism of these gestures, ask them to think of the symbolism of Trump’s racist rhetoric. The difference is that while his rhetoric on Israel has yielded no tangible benefit, his racist rhetoric has cost American lives, including Jewish lives in Pittsburgh and Poway. Jews feel less safe and secure under Trump, and so should all Americans.

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Steve Sheffey is Strategy and Policy Adviser to the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) and the publisher of the weekly Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update. The views expressed here are his own.

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