Trickle Down Bigotry

The Trump-generated headlines and news clips suck up much of the media’s and the nation’s attention---from Colbert to CNN to Fox News it’s virtually all Trump, all the time. As we are inundated and outraged by Trump’s overt misdeeds, the insidious impact of his rhetoric and uncivil behavior frequently gets lost---it’s not as obvious and requires some spadework to be noticed.

This week the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington published a survey which explored the extent there is support for the notion that discrimination is justified if the discriminator is motivated by religious beliefs. Support for that belief has appreciably increased over the past five years (although still a minority view among Americans) especially with Republicans----nearly half believe that discriminatory denial of service is legal (up from only 21% in 2014).

The targets of discrimination for which so many Americans allow an excuse are gays and lesbians, transgender, atheists, Muslims and Jews. In the case of Jews, atheists and gays/lesbians the increase in those justifying discrimination has increased by over 50% since 2014. Those approving discrimination against gays and lesbians increased from 16% to 30%; against atheists from 15% to 24%; against Jews from 12% to 19%.

The sectors demonstrating the greatest willingness to allow bigotry against gays and lesbians are Republicans (47%) while 48% oppose the discrimination. Age plays a large role as well---seniors over 65 tolerate the discrimination at 39% (in 2014 support was at 17%) while Americans 18 to 29 years old accept it at 26% (12% in 2014).

Democrats support discrimination at 18% (close to where Republicans were in 2014).

Clearly, support for allowing discrimination based on religious beliefs is less tolerated than when the targets are gays or lesbians BUT the support for such conduct has also increased appreciably over the past five years.

The top graph shows the increase in support for discrimination against gays/lesbians, transgender, atheists, Muslims, Jews and African Americans over the past half-decade.

The PRRI poll also reveals the willingness of various religious to tolerate religiously and sexual orientation-based bigotry. Evangelical and mainline Protestants are far more willing to rationalize discrimination than are Catholics or non-white Protestants. Somewhat surprisingly in the case of transgender people and Jews, mainline Protestants are more willing to excuse discrimination than are evangelicals.

The study does not ascribe causes or speculate as the reasons for this disturbing change in attitudes.

It seems obvious that last year’s case involving the bakers in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple (in which the US Supreme Court ruled in the bakers’ favor) has had an impact.

The news coverage of the decision left the distinct impression that civil rights and public accommodation laws have a loophole that one can drive a MACK truck through—claim a religious belief and the laws get stayed.

Adding to the notion that the laws have limited applicability is the impact of Trump and his rhetoric of intolerance. He has empowered many to not only express their hostility towards other groups (witness Charlottesville) but to also seek out rationales to legitimize their biases. Being intolerant today is not as lonely as it once was.

It wasn’t that many years ago when the Klan and like-minded bigots cloaked their hate in a mantle of religious justifications (Klan rallies burned crosses, not wreaths or other non-descript symbols).

Fortunately, a majority of Americans don’t buy this line of reasoning (67% reject the notion that religion can justify discrimination) though that number is down from 80% in 2014.

Additionally, California and its Unruh Civil Rights Act is broad in its application to “all business establishments of any kind whatsoever.”

Thirty-five years ago, I was involved in a case (Pines v Tomson, (1984) 160 Cal. App. 3d 370, 206 Cal. Rptr. 866) involving a business in California that discriminated against non-Christians in the advertising in would accept in its “Christian Yellow Pages.” The firm required an oath that an advertiser had accepted Jesus Christ as personal savior and was a “born-again” Christian.

The owners claimed devout religious motivation for their policy---it was “to strengthen the Christian community in which it is being published by pointing out some of the many businesses operated by Christians—therefore offering the entire community the opportunity to do business with Christian business people.” They talked about keeping money “within the body of Christ.”

The proprietors of the Christian Yellow Pages, argued, similar to those who today believe that their religious beliefs somehow trump statutes against discrimination. The California Court of Appeals didn’t buy that line of argument in 1984 and likely wouldn’t buy it today.

The court wrote,

while the application of the anti-discrimination laws over First Amendment objections has chiefly occurred in the context of racial or sexual discrimination, California has chosen to broadly interdict discrimination on the basis of religion on the same terms as discrimination on other invidious bases.

Thus, the California statutes at issue here may be viewed as implementing not only the Fourteenth Amendment's promise of equality, but also the greater guarantee of the California Constitution's equal protection clause, Article I section 7(a), and the guarantee of equality in the workplace and marketplace, provided by Article I section 8, which has no federal counterpart. California's interest in eradicating discrimination on the basis of race or sex is unquestionably “compelling” and is “unrelated to the suppression of ideas.”

‌The California court---unlike a portion of the public and the US Supreme Court--- recognized that non-discrimination is a compelling governmental interest that cannot be obviated by claims of a religious mandate to treat others unfairly.

As the Court of Appeals concluded, “Religious liberty ‘embraces two concepts---the freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute, but in the nature of things, the second cannot be.’” That is a lesson that needs to be retaught.

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Concerned, Exhausted and Embarrassed by Trump

by David A. Lehrer

Tuesday night Donald Trump launched his 2020 campaign with a bombastic speech in Orlando---a reprise of his greatest hits of 2016 replete with attacks on Hillary Clinton, her emails, and repeated references to his victory in November of that year.

Even the Wall Street Journal noted the time warp witnessed by thousands, “how backward looking it was…. Mr. Trump won’t win by relitigating the 2016 election or by playing only to his political base. He needs more than he offered the voters Tuesday night.”

But it wasn’t just the absence of future oriented policy substance in Trump’s comments that was disturbing and off-putting, it was the incendiary and nasty comments he made that got little press attention and betrayed how out of sync he is with a public that he has exhausted (56%, 2.2 million more viewers watchedCelebrity Family Feud in the same time slot a week before).

It’s one thing to engage in the school yard bully boy tactics of demeaning your opposition with diminutive and dismissive terms---“crooked Hillary”, “crazy Bernie” et al. It’s childish and diminishes the stature of the office of the president but we’ve learned that that’s who Trump is---a nasty and childish bully.

But he went beyond the demeaning monikers that are his bread and butter, he entered a dangerous realm of hyperbolic fearmongering that we have not heard from high elected officials before.

Politics is a “contact sport” as Bill Clinton observed; but even “contact sports” have rules that are explicit and norms and values that transcend even the heat and high stakes of a political brawl.

But norms and values don’t constrain Donald Trump----his attacks seem unfettered by logic, good sense or decency; no holds are barred.

In Tuesday’s speech he attacked Democrats in the most dystopian and incendiary terms imaginable---it wasn’t about policy. He asserted that they are out to flood “the country with illegal immigrants” for they want the country “splintered” and “divided.”

  • They wanted to deny you the future that you demanded and the future that America deserves and now is getting…. They want to destroy you and …destroy our country as we know it. It’s not acceptable, and it’s not going to happen.

  • [He called Democrats] depraved, radical, extreme, and unhinged…. They would shut down your free speech and use the power of the law to punish their opponents.

This is not normal political rhetoric. It’s hard to imagine any president within memory speaking of their colleagues in leadership in a similar way.

It’s one thing to disagree on immigration policy, attitudes towards North Korea or Iran or a myriad of subjects; it’s quite something else to charge your political opponents with the malign intent to “splinter” the country, of harboring the aim to “destroy you and our country as we know it…and deny you the future that America deserves.”

His rhetoric crossed a line of decency and is dangerous.

He must have read too many disheartening polls over the past week because his rhetoric reached another realm of indecency over the weekend when he malignedThe New York Times. The Times is not just as “failing” or “fake”, but it is guilty of “treason” (a capital offence). The charge is so disturbing that the Times’ publisher, A. O. Sulzberger, wrote an op/ed in the Wall Street Journal (the Times’ most serious competitor), that the president had crossed a line—into dangerous territory,

  • But this new attack crosses a dangerous line in the president’s campaign against a free and independent press... There is no more serious charge a commander in chief can make against an independent news organization. Which presents a troubling question: What would it look like for Mr. Trump to escalate his attacks on the press further? Having already reached for the most incendiary language available, what is left but putting his threats into action?


  • Meanwhile, the president’s rhetorical attacks continue to foster a climate in which trust in journalists is eroding and violence against them is growing. More than a quarter of Americans—and a plurality of Republicans—now agreethat “the news media is the enemy of the American people” and “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”

Trump is taking a tack that appears to reflect who he is but is out of touch with where America is. This week the Pew Research Center released a poll that reveals how uncomfortable Americans are with what Trump has done to our political discourse (the poll was conducted before the latest outrage

55% of Americans say that Trump has changed the tone of political debate for the worse. 77% of Americans report that they are “often” or “sometimes” concernedabout Trump’s comments, while 68% say they are “often” or “sometimes”exhausted by Trump and 69% are embarrassed by him.

Trump hopes to animate and scare his base by any means---guardrails be damned. But in doing so, he gives all thinking Americans good reason to be concerned, exhausted and embarrassed.

The Legislature's UnconscionableSupport for Implicit Bias

By David A. Lehrer, Special to CALmatters                                                June 9, 2019

The California Assembly has passed three bills that display a superficial understanding of human relations, and reflect a desire by certain politicians to look as if they are promoting diversity and combating  discrimination.

Given the overwhelming bipartisan votes for Assembly Bills 241, 242 and 243 by Democratic Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove of Culver City, legislators probably thought they were voting on an issue for which the opposition was minimal and support widespread.

They were wrong.

The bills would mandate that lawyers and judges, and all subordinate judicial officers, trial court managers, supervisors and court staff, physicians, nurses, and physicians’ assistants, and virtually all peace officers in California undergo periodic training regarding “implicit bias.” The bills are a troubling reminder of how legislators chase fads and are resistant to evidence, reason and logic. Implicit bias is the bogeyman du jour.

In reality, legislators who voted for these bills ignored science and disregarded the needs of the professionals they seek to train.  

Each of the bills deals with what legislators perceive the impact of implicit bias to be. They define it as the “implicit or unconscious biases that affect their [all persons] beliefs, attitudes, and actions towards other people.”

As the Assembly Judiciary Committee analysis of one of the bills says, implicit bias is “an unconscious preference (positive or negative) for a group based on a stereotype or an attitude that operates outside of human awareness. Implicit bias is, to some extent, a part of human nature.”

After their prefatory statements, each bill makes huge and unwarranted leaps. One asserts, with no evidence, that implicit bias “often contributes to unequal treatment of people based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and other characteristics.”

Another claims that “all persons possess implicit or unconscious biases that affect their beliefs, attitudes, and actions toward other people.”

The bills blithely assert, as if it were established fact, that our unconscious thoughts, as revealed in Implicit Association Tests or functional magnetic resonance imaging, affect how we actually treat others.

Undoubtedly, our unconscious thoughts impact us. But the extent to which they impact our actions is not clear.

The bills take as a given what science hasn’t proven: that because our mind may make associations with a stereotype, that we then act on that association negatively or positively.

It simply hasn’t been proven that just because we associate a person, an image, a screen shot or a word with a negative connotation that we act on those thoughts, images or inclinations.

Renown psychologist and author Daniel Levitin has warned of the risks of making that leap.

To demonstrate the error of drawing simple real-world conclusions from complex data, Levitin noted that when author Malcolm Gladwell took the Implicit Association Test, it showed that he, the son of a black woman, is racist against blacks.

“Mr. Gladwell was suitably shocked and distressed. But if a test gives results that are so far-fetched, it's time to start questioning the validity of the test.”

It is perilous to assume individuals’ future actions from their “unconscious preferences” and build a superstructure of mandatory instruction on that foundation. To ascribe “unacceptable disparities” in the world around us to “those perceptions, judgments and actions” is wrong-headed, the world is more complex than that.

Neuro-science research ought not be exploited to further political agendas that assume facts not in evidence. Tens of thousands of Californians should not be forced to sit through political re-education courses triggered by what they are presumed to have thought in their subconscious. Such a requirement would, in fact, be unconscionable.   

Commemorating D-Day and Trump

By David A. Lehrer


Next week will be interesting and, likely, sad. The world will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day---the beginning of the final chapter of World War II. Leaders will gather at Normandy to remind the world of the legendary courage of the young men who faced withering German fire to take the beaches and cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.  

Having just been at Normandy last month, the cliffs and the Nazi gun emplacements alone [without speeches] make transparently clear what a colossal undertaking D-Day was and evidence how brave and self-sacrificing the thousands of young men who fought there were.

Today’s Washington Post offers a warning at what might well transpire next week when President Trump joins the commemoration.                 

Paul Waldman writes,   

 The president has shown a repeated willingness to inject nationalistic rhetoric and political partisanship into moments once aimed at unity. For Trump, there is no water’s edge for politics, no veneer of non-partisanship around military or national security matters.

The president, who did not serve in the military before becoming commander in chief, has feuded with Gold Star families, blasted political opponents on foreign soil, and mocked Sen. John McCain, a prisoner of war, for being captured by the enemy.  

 Trump’s antipathy for the late senator was so well known that the White House this week requested that the Navy keep the USS McCain out of the president’s line of sight during a recent trip to Japan, so as not to rile the president.

 We all know that the chances that Trump will do something to ruin this occasion are extremely high. As much as he loves talking about “my military,” there’s one part of the values we associate with the military that Trump is not so comfortable with: sacrifice.

 In addition to his irritating disposition, Trump has shown himself incapable of decent, let alone, soaring rhetoric---he manages to make seemingly fluent texts sound trite and pedestrian. It’s almost guaranteed, that no matter what he says, he will sound disingenuous [self-sacrifice, courage and bravery aren’t words that are usually associated with Trump].  

 We can only hope that he doesn’t ruin the last commemoration for the few veterans of that historic day who will be present.  

 It might help all of us make it through the ceremony if we re-read the soaring rhetoric of Ronald Reagan who had no difficulty reminding his audience of what happened forty years before on the sands and cliffs of Normandy: 

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June 1944, two hundred and twenty-five Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.

Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs, shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.

And behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor."

The Facts About Trump and Jews

This week, the Jewish Electoral Institute, a group founded by individuals long associated with Democratic and Jewish, pro-Israel causes, published a national poll of some 1,000 Jewish voters.

The results confirm what most observers might have otherwise concluded---Jews dislike Donald Trump in overwhelming numbers, they feel less secure vis a vis anti-Semitism than they did a few years ago and that issues related to Israel are not high on the list of priorities when it comes to the 2020 elections.

Jews “overwhelmingly oppose President Trump generally and disapprove of his handling of a wide range of domestic policy issues.” The findings are that 71% of the Jewish public disapproves of Trump’s job performance while only 29% approve. This compares with the general public that disapproves of Trump at 53% level (that is the Real Clear Politics average of polls as of May 22) and approves of him at a 42% level. Jews are not fond of how Donald Trump is handling his job or of him (70% unfavorable).

To compound Trump’s problems in the Jewish community, respondents were asked whether “Trump is at least partially responsible for the targeted attacks on synagogues, including those in Pittsburgh and Poway.” The response was staggering----59% of those polled answered affirmatively that Trump bore some responsibility for those tragic, anti-Semitic incidents. That datum can be paired with the fact that 73% of those polled felt less secure than they did two years ago.

Trumpkins might console themselves by imagining that Trump will yet win over Jews by evidencing greater support for Israel and Bibi Netanyahu. But if this poll is accurate, that won’t make much difference. The poll revealed that even though the Jewish community remains “strongly pro-Israel” it is at “the bottom of the list of 16 policy priorities of Jewish voters” in determining which candidate to support in 2020.

That latter datum may be the most interesting fact in the poll. It seems paradoxical that high levels of support for Israel could be paired with its seeming irrelevance to next year’s presidential elections, but it may relate to Trump’s showy display of support for Prime Minister Netanyahu while simultaneously being so hostile to historical Jewish values.

It may come down to the notion of “cognitive dissonance”----the mental discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.

A majority of Jews find Trump’s views on a myriad of issues unacceptable yet realize that he professes strong support for Israel. To accommodate those seemingly irreconcilable positions, they affirm their support for Israel yet lower its importance for the next election. The rejection of Trump, despite his blandishments regarding the Jewish state, makes sense.

Israel is important, but so are historically salient issues that have deep roots in the community (e.g. healthcare, Social Security and Medicare, gun safety laws, extremism, combatting terrorism, etc.).

The implications of this study are significant.

For the Trump advocates in the Jewish community it may offer a much delayed epiphany---despite his protestations of love for Israel and its prime minister and despite his moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem---Jews are not a single issue monolith and ardor for the Jewish state will not change the historic and humanistic values of the Jewish electorate.

It may also have real implications for the leadership of major Jewish organizations (from the local Jewish Federations to the Wiesenthal Center and other national Jewish groups) who seem convinced that a significant percentage of their constituencies are sympathetic to Trump and so avoid criticizing him—even for his most egregious acts (i.e. family separations, targeting Muslims and Mexican immigrants, etc.).

It’s likely that some of these organizations major supporters are trumpkins and their fear of alienating contributors is real; but for their broad constituencies, there is no doubt that they remain overwhelmingly unsympathetic to Trump and his policy positions and the leaders ought to take note.

In the not too distant future, they will be held to account for their silence in the face of bigotry, demagoguery and extremism.

For this writer, it is reassuring that support and admiration for the Jewish state do not blind the vast majority of the American Jewish community to the toxic politics of this most divisive and destructive president in our history.

Trump's Disgrace---Embracing Hungary's Orban

By David A. Lehrer


Further to my blog of yesterday. William Galston, a columnist in The Wall Street Journal and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, writes a piece today echoing my sentiments that Trump's meeting with Hungary's Viktor Orban was a "disgrace."


It's worth a read.

Trump's Dubious Hungarian Friend

'Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job,' the president says. What a disgrace.


William A. Galston

"Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job in so many different ways," said President Trump as he received Hungary's prime minister in the Oval Office Monday. "Respected all over Europe. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that's OK." With these remarks, the U.S. president gave his seal of approval to Europe's leading illiberal politician less than two weeks before elections for the European Parliament.

 David Cornstein, the U.S. ambassador to Hungary and a personal friend of Mr. Trump, remarked in a recent interview: "I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has."

This is easy to believe. The 2019 Freedom House survey demoted Hungary's status from "free" to "partly free." The report shows that Mr. Orbán and his Fidesz party have mounted "sustained attacks on the country's democratic institutions" by imposing restrictions on-or asserting control over-"the opposition, the media, religious groups, academia, NGOs, the courts, asylum seekers, and the private sector."

 According to the report, Mr. Orbán's administration has deployed government advertising, which represents a substantial share of Hungary's media revenue, to bolster supportive media outlets and weaken his critics. This encouraged the formation of a massive pro-government media conglomerate, which the government then exempted from Hungary's antitrust laws, which almost certainly would have prohibited it.

 In Hungary, the press has been brought to heel. It is no longer the enemy of the people. No wonder Mr. Trump is envious.

It's not only creeping autocracy the president's embrace of Mr. Orbán legitimates; it's also anti-Semitism.

 The Hungarian prime minister's campaign for re-election last year featured a barrage of attacks against George Soros, the Jewish and Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist. "We are fighting an enemy that is different from us," Mr. Orbán said at a campaign rally in March 2018, "not open but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world." As numerous observers noted, this rhetoric replicates-almost verbatim-the anti-Jewish tropes of the 19th and 20th centuries.

 As the anti-Soros campaign gathered strength, the leader of Hungary's Jewish community made a personal appeal to Mr. Orbán to end it. Ignoring this plea, the Hungarian prime minister took full advantage of the evil sentiments from Hungary's past that his tactics had rekindled.

In June 2018 the Hungarian parliament adopted what the government called the "Stop Soros" law, which criminalized helping asylum seekers, a measure criticized in stinging terms by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, among others. Undaunted, Hungary's parliament subsequently imposed a 25% tax on financial support for "an act which supports immigration." By the end of 2018, Mr. Orbán's attacks on the Soros-backed Central European University, a distinguished center of free inquiry, forced the institution out of Hungary.

 The Orbán government has also systematically attempted to whitewash Hungary's anti-Semitic past. The prime minister has repeatedly praised Miklós Horthy, Hungary's leader from 1920 to 1944. Under Horthy, Hungary became the first European country after World War I to impose quotas on Jews who wished to attend university. In the late 1930s, his government adopted racial laws that disenfranchised Hungary's Jews and authorized the seizure of much of their property. In 1940 Horthy told his prime minister, "I have been an anti-Semite all my life." Although he initially resisted German pressure to deport Hungary's Jews, Horthy told Adolf Hitler in 1943 that "the measures I have imposed have, in practice, deprived the Jews of any opportunity to practice their damaging influence on public life." This is the man Viktor Orbán has chosen to rehabilitate as a national hero.

 According to Paul Shapiro of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mr. Orbán's handpicked former director of the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center in Budapest, András Levente Gál, dismissed Horthy's alliance with Hitler and participation in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia "as 'irrelevant' to the Holocaust." Mr. Gál's efforts to minimize Hungary's role in the deportation of its Jews, more than half a million of whom were murdered, continued until international criticism forced his dismissal.

 In 2012 Fidesz revised Hungary's public-school curriculum to include books by three anti-Semitic authors published between the two world wars. One of the authors declared: "Jews are the most serious and deadly enemies of Hungarians."

Another was convicted of war crimes, including complicity in the murder of Jews.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Trump's Oval Office meeting with Viktor Orbán was a disgrace that no amount of White House realpolitik can justify

Trump Sells Out Democracy May 14, 2019

By David A. Lehrer

The past day has been a revelatory one in terms of Donald Trump and insight into his policies and character.  

On the one hand he has thrown down the gauntlet against the Iranian mullahs and their efforts to destabilize the Middle East. The ostensible reason being that their ideology is one that is antithetical to our notions of liberty, freedom, democracy and security.  

The president similarly has expressed his disgust for and interest in destabilizing the Maduro regime in Venezuela. A regime that has successfully impoverished a country that has bountiful resources and was once a model of democracy.  

Any purported concerns Trump has expressed about "democracy" and its importance, were decimated yesterday in what was among his most revelatory meeting. He entertained Viktor Orban, the far-right prime minister of Hungary in the Oval Office. This is a meeting that Orban has sought for years to legitimize his regime in the eyes of his countrymen and his colleague nations in NATO.

With his Orban meeting, Trump revealed that there is NO rationale for what he does. Orban has praised him and sidled up to him and Trump glowingly welcomed the Hungarian despite his abysmal record---so Trump returned the favors,

Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job in so many different ways.  Highly respected.  Respected all over Europe.  Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that's okay.  That's okay.  You've done a good job and you've kept your country safe.... And you have been great with respect to Christian communities.  You have really put a block up, and we appreciate that very much.

Were Orban the somewhat conservative leader of a western European democracy, Trump's effusive praise might have been appropriate. But Orban is the authoritarian leader of an "illiberal democracy" (Orban's preferred term) who undermines the norms and values that are essential to a democracy---he traffics in bigotry and any other, decent or indecent, means that further his power.  

He isn't a "little bit controversial" --he is a corrupt autocrat who dabbles in explicit and implicit anti-Semitism, overt anti-Muslim hate, and has no compunctions about doing so.

The luster that he gains from entering the Oval Office and sitting vis a vis with the president of the United States who is, ostensibly, the leader of the FREE world is incalculable.

Several years ago, I attended a commemoration at the Reagan Presidential Library of the thirtieth anniversary of the formation of the National Endowment for Democracy under President Ronald Reagan. The NED and its sister organizations were feted by George Shultz and Madeleine Albright. Both former Secretaries of State quoted liberally from Reagan's speech at Westminster establishing the fund whose purpose is "to foster the infrastructure of democracy-the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities."

Orban's goals are the precise opposite,  

[he] dreams of liquidating the intelligentsia, draining the public of education, and molding a more pliant nation. But he is a state-of-the-art autocrat; he understands that he need not resort to the truncheon or the midnight knock at the door. His assault on civil society arrives in the guise of legalisms subverting the institutions the might challenge his authority" (Franklin Foer in The Atlantic).

Our president has chosen to thumb his nose at what has historically been the bi-partisan effort---the promotion of democratic institutions around the world. His embrace of Orban, whose small country of 10 million could be pressured to alter its insidious course, is unforgivable and un-American.  

Today's New York Times and The Atlantic have lengthy articles about what a bad actor Orban is. He is a leader who, in words The New York Times quotes from Hungarian philosopher and Holocaust survivor Agnes Heller, "has no ideology, his only goal is power and whatever means is going to get him more power, he is going to use it."

This amoral and insidiously dangerous autocrat got the privilege of an Oval Office visit and received the praise of the president of the United States. It is shameful and a stain on the presidency.

How NOT to React to Trumpian Politics

By David A. Lehrer

The past two years of the Trump administration have been unsettling, to be generous. From obstruction of justice to admiration for Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, et al. On the policy front his nasty and counter-productive immigration “policies” have shocked the nation’s conscience, his hostile comments about minorities and those with whom he disagrees have been blatantly offensive.

Granting that this president is unprecedented in the modern era in his abandonment of the norms and values of our democratic system, the response that he occasionally evokes from the loyal opposition can be troubling as well. In an effort to counter the tainted “bully pulpit,” some disturbing policies are being proposed.

For all of Trump’s hostility to minorities and the disadvantaged, the response ought not be policies that are themselves divisive and ineffective.

This past week in Washington State there was a troubling example of Democratic legislators-undoubtedly reacting to the chilling climate of racial hostility that Trump has engendered---acting in a precipitous and counter-productive manner.

For some months, Washington politicians have been considering Washington Initiative 1000, a measure intended for the November 5, 2019 ballot that would restore affirmative action (in fact, preferences) to public employment, public contracting and public education in the state. By its terms, Initiative 1000 would allow race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status to be considered in governmental hiring, contracting and employment.

Last week, in the last days of the state’s legislative session, majorities of both houses of the legislature decided to discard the notion of an initiative in which the people of the state would vote on the policies. Initiative 1000 would have undone an initiative of twenty years ago that banned discrimination for or against “any individual or group on the basis of “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” That initiative (Initiative 200) passed in 1998 with a 58% majority.

The new measure eviscerates the non-discriminatory protections created in 1998. While expanding the classes of protected groups (added now are “age, sexual orientation, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or honorably discharged veteran or military status”) the bill bans preferential treatment only if the protected classification (i.e. race, ethnicity, etc.) is the “sole qualifying factor to select a lesser qualified candidate.”

The authors of the legislation well know that it is rare to find instances where racial, ethnic and other similar categories are the “sole qualifying factor” for hiring someone; there are virtually always some other issues at play, in the past with many preferential treatment programs, race/ethnicity became the determinant; not the “sole” determinant, but a decisive one. It is also unusual to be able to find the candidate who was turned away who “more qualified” and is willing to be the cause celebre that raises the issue of discrimination.

With seemingly innocuous language, the Washington legislature has taken a step to reimpose racial and ethnic preferences in a state in which it appears that enrollment (at least in 2018-2019) in the University of Washington (which has an active office of Minority Affairs and Diversity) reflected the diversity of the state. The racial/ethnic groups that are underrepresented (as compared to their percentage of the state population) are whites (38.6% of the enrollees vs 68% of the population) and Latinos (8.4% of the enrollees vs 12.7% of the population). Asians have a higher percentage of the enrollees than their percentage of the population---Asians/Filipino/Pacific Islanders are 31.1% of the enrollees vs 9.7% of the population. Blacks are virtually at parity with 4.1% of the enrollees and 4.2% of the population.

One needn’t be a rocket scientist to figure out that if the aim is to tinker with the racial and ethnic makeup of the enrollees at UW, the most likely target will be the Asian admits---they are the ONLY group whose percentage of the population is exceeded by their enrollment numbers. It is no wonder then that within days of the initiative being passed by the Washington legislature, Washington Asians for Equality filed for a referendum to place the controversial measure on the ballot to see where the electorate stands on a divisive measure such as this.

California faced a similar issue several years ago when the legislature passed bills that sought to undo the reforms of Proposition 209 (which amended the California Constitution) and banned racial and ethnic preferences in higher education in the state. Each effort was wisely rebuffed by Governor Jerry Brown who understood the divisive impact were the bills to have passed.

Eventually, the legislature chose to do an end-run around Brown and pass a constitutional amendment which would not require his signature and would go directly on the statewide ballot. The bill (SCA 50) received the requisite two-thirds of the State Senate until the Asian American community found out and flooded their electeds with a petition with over 100,000 signatures. Three votes changed and the bill died. With Prop. 209 still the law and banning preferences, California’s UC and Cal State systems are acknowledged to be among the country’s most diverse and successful in moving socio-economically disadvantaged students up the income ladder (The New York Times described the UCs as an “upward mobility machine”).

Initiative 1000 is a case study of a bad policy that, given the political climate today, can be rationalized as necessary to counter the tide of intolerance that emanates from the other Washington---D.C.

No doubt, in the waning hours of the legislative session, the electeds-with the best of intentions---sought to strike a blow against Trumpian bigotry and insensitivity: “we’ll show him.” But in the process, they appear to be upending admissions policies that have, for over twenty years, diversified their university and avoided racial and ethnic strife. Good intentions and benign motives---no matter the political climate---do not justify bad public policies that divide----not even as a reaction to Trump and his policy disasters.

Judging the Past Today

by David A. Lehrer

The media firestorm surrounding Vice-President Joe Biden’s interactions with women is a stark reminder of the perils of public life. Public figures are especially subject to the sanctimonious and self-righteous imposition of today’s mores and values on actions of a prior time when different standards and norms applied.

Given our nation’s and our media’s profound lack of historic perspective, it is no surprise that actions of years ago are viewed as if they were of today. That myopia is partnered with a singular unwillingness by the media and pundits to take the time to explain how times have changed---in many cases, very rapidly.

As a caveat to this discussion, the changing ethos of America is not an explanation or justification for certain types of conduct. There is a vast distinction between marginally troublesome acts alleged to have been committed by Biden and those proudly described by President Trump in his Access Hollywood tape (as well as the allegations of several of Trump’s victims)—they are worlds apart.

First, Trump’s own words betrayed an intent to “grab ‘em by their pu**ies….” A lustful and sexual goal---conduct that is unacceptable now and has been since time immemorial. There is no expiration date on boorish and disgusting behavior.

On the other hand, in Biden’s case---at least so far---there is no allegation that he was animated to touch people by a lascivious desire to sexually engage with them. The complaints are about personal space and the tactile nature of his interactions (which, apparently, included men). That kind of conduct was acceptable, or more precisely, tolerable a few years ago; today it can get someone fired. 

Virtually anyone fifty or older has, during their career, probably encountered older gentlemen who had no compunction about hugging colleagues or acquaintances (especially younger women) without seeking prior approval; it was considered to be tolerable conduct. In the instances I witnessed involving older colleagues, it was avuncular, not predatory, behavior.

In addition to not distinguishing between insensitive and predatory behavior, there are many voices which claim that a man’s intention is irrelevant and the assertions of discomfort by the female must be accepted as genuine and legitimate, no matter the circumstances.

As one who has been active in the civil rights field for nearly half a century, my experience has taught me that it is a serious mistake to accept claims of “victims” of bigotry or untoward conduct without applying a reasonable person standard to

the allegations. There are too many people who see boogeymen and threats and dangers where non exist or where ambiguous conduct exists. I NEVER accepted a claim of discrimination as true without attempting to verify the claims AND also determine whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances would feel similarly aggrieved. This was not to denigrate the genuineness of the complainant’s feelings, it was to determine if there was a claim that merited pursuit and could be actionable.  

I had a good many complainants leave my office dissatisfied---their concerns were often heartfelt but made no sense in a rough and tumble world where behaviors can be perceived as potentially offensive and simultaneously benign and innocuous.  To accept every assertion of grievance at face value is a mistake, #MeToo notwithstanding.

The Biden piling on also reflects a longing by many in the punditry and the electorate to imagine a candidate who has led an error free life---no missteps, no insensitive comments, no actions that don’t comply with the latest rules of political correctness. Good luck!

Were modern standards of political toxicity applied to some of America’s greatest leaders of the past century---some historic heroes would never have impacted our history.

Justice Hugo Black, one of the great US Supreme Court justices of the twentieth century, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his youth in Alabama. By today’s standards he would never have had an opportunity to prove that joining the Klan was an act of youthful political expediency, not of beliefs. He would have been shunted aside and never would have been able to vote for desegregation in Brown v Board or called for the “immediate desegregation of schools” in 1969.

Harry Truman, the first president to commit the country to equality for all Americans since Reconstruction and who desegregated the armed forces, would have been discarded if his youthful (and not so youthful) racist letters referring to Blacks as “ni**ers” and “c**ns” were widely known. Ditto for Lyndon B. Johnson, the man responsible for the most important civil rights legislation in American history. He would frequently refer to Blacks as “ni**ers” and Asians as “barbaric yellow dwarves.”

Eleanor Roosevelt as a young woman wrote terribly disparaging comments about Jews. She described future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter as “an interesting little man but very Jew” and dismissed in bigoted terms a party thrown for financier Bernard Baruch (who was Jewish) “The Jew party was appalling. I never wish to hear money, jewels, and sables mentioned again….[it was the kind of party] I’d rather be hung [sic] than seen at.”

Unless a degree of discernment and sophistication enters the discussion of matters involving discrimination and insensitive conduct we will be writing off as public servants good people who may have made a mistake in their past or who---like most people---reflect the temper of their times and just need some help to catch up.

California's Back-Stop to Scandal

California's Backstop to Scandal

By David A. Lehrer

March 14, 2019

The unfolding scandal involving the super-wealthy and their kids' admission to universities across the country is fascinating. It has generated a revulsion that crosses ideological lines. Both liberals and conservatives have expressed their disgust at the "side door" access that the wealthy and famous were able to purchase through dishonest and, apparently, illegal means.

Many commentators have, understandably, focused on the disparity between disadvantaged students' access to higher education and that of the affluent that this incident demonstrates. There is a good deal of discussion regarding the impact that these undeserving admits had on qualified disadvantaged kids who ended up competing for fewer available slots. 

Many schools that have been mentioned as having been taken in by the scam (Harvard, Yale, Stanford) are distinguishable from some of their California colleagues in having a lesser commitment to the admission of socioeconomically disadvantaged students.  

Their admission rate of Pell Grant students (an index of economic disadvantage) lags behind many of California's public universities (e.g. in 2015, Harvard admitted 15% Pell grantees, Stanford 13%, while UCLA admitted 28% and UC Irvine 40%). The universe of poorer students has been and remains much larger at California's public schools than at most others; the impact of the cheaters is diluted. 

Several years ago Community Advocates published an op/ed in the Sacramento Bee which examined the data (which has not appreciably changed) on California's public universities and their commitment to admitting the disadvantaged. Many of California's schools recognized then, and still do, the need to consider the inequalities that inevitably result from poorer students not having tutors, SAT prep courses, high paid college counselors and the like.

The relevant paragraphs (and links to data) in the op/ed are below:

The University of California budget woes have deeply affected campus life.  

Yet the system's nine campus lead the nation in providing top-flight college education to the masses.  

 The New York Times reported on a sophisticated "College Access Index"  

that it developed to determine how well a university does after it has

admitted poor kids. Using several metrics to determine accessibility  

and chances for success for disadvantaged students, the Times concluded  

that of the top 10 schools in the country that "are doing the most for  

low-income students" six are UCs: Irvine, Davis, Santa Barbara, San Diego, 

UCLA, and Berkeley.

 Simply put, the University of California is the best educational system in the  

country to foster upward mobility for the disadvantaged. If you are poor  

and have potential and drive---no matter your race, ethnicity or gender---  

there is no place better.

 The UCs are not elitist enclaves oblivious to the disadvantaged. They have  

dedicated resources and effort to making sure that disadvantaged kids with  

potential and moxie are admitted and given every opportunity to succeed.   

 There is little doubt that that commitment will continue.  

Confronting Bigotry---When and How?

By David A. Lehrer

For the past forty-four years I have been active in the civil rights field with a primary focus on anti-Semitism and racial and ethnic bias. My early years dealt with numerous acts of bigotry ranging from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Ford, George Brown (talking about Jews controlling the banks) to the gutter level hate of a resurgent Klan and its leaders David Duke and Tom Metzger.  

 In later decades, although bigotry was usually less overt and less present. Nevertheless, the change in the nature and extent of hate was often not reflected in the community's responses----the "sky is falling" remained the predominant tenor.

 One significant lesson I have drawn from my experiences is that the response to what appears to be anti-Semitism and hate must be measured, accurate, commensurate with the offense and, where appropriate, forgiving. Vengeful furies who are perpetually indignant, always claiming that the "sky is falling" and assuming the worst motivations from even the flimsiest of evidence, lose the confidence of the public and, eventually, the potential to impact public attitudes. Much like the boy "crying wolf," after a while, people won't (and, frankly, shouldn't) listen.

 The past couple of months, as in few times in recent memory, illustrate what can go wrong when excessive and inconsistent responses to insensitivity and bigotry impinge on the accurate assessment of misdeeds. Republicans and Democrats have transgressed.

 First came the Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia storm when the guardians of rectitude and virtue were unleashed with seismic force. Virtually the entire media, and much of our political leadership, were in a race to see who could condemn Northam first. His conduct was undeniably, racist and insensitive and merited condemnation, scrutiny and an apology.

 But the focus of virtually all the condemnations was on the decades old event itself and the risk-free condemnation of Northam's stupidity and insensitivity. What was almost totally missing from the discussion was whether the act of a twenty-five-year old in a fraternity-like environment was conduct requiring summary removal from an important job without a dispassionate examination of the man's life in the decades since.  

 It is often much easier to come up with a catchy sound-bite excoriating the bad act and the actor; it is more difficult to suggest that we all make mistakes and that what is relevant is whether the act reflects deep seated bigotry or racist bias.  

 Similarly, a storm of outrage and indignity was generated by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's (D-Minn) recent (and repeated) anti-Semitic slur that asserted that Jewish contributions and financial means account for Israel's support in the Congress, and that AIPAC is the culprit. The stereotype is a classic anti-Semitic canard but its hold on the body politic is a fraction of what it was decades ago. Surely it needs to be responded to and its purveyor condemned---but that's the easy part.

 What is more challenging is measuring the response knowing that it is not the end of the world or a threat to the Republic or American Jews. Omar deserves to be criticized and ostracized by her party and the opposition (which she was). She does not, however, merit the self-righteous and hypocritical piling on by the president of the United States or the vice-president. Nor does Omar's transgression warrant a national petition campaign that demands her "censure" and removal from her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as the Simon Wiesenthal Center has undertaken.  

 The nuclear option was invoked for a tactical skirmish with a freshman congresswoman.

 Unfortunately, there is little to be gained by a measured and moderate analysis---the headlines go to the vocal, the brazen and the first-out-of-the-box with a comment. Few will later ask if there are consistent standards for evaluating offensiveness.  

 For example, why is the president listened to regarding Omar when, during his campaign, he blithely asserted to a Jewish group, "I know you are not going to support me because I don't want your money.... you want to control your own politicians"? I don't recall the Wiesenthal Center calling for Trump to be politically ostracized and neutered.  

 When the president and groups like Wiesenthal come out with guns blaring,yet have been virtually silent about other bigoted and stereotypic comments, the reserve of goodwill and believability that a minority community has gets depleted. The public will legitimately question what their motivations for indignation are and why now?  

 Every public act of bigotry or seeming racial/religious/ethnic insensitivity needs to be examined, the motivation assessed, the response evaluated, and the impact considered. There is no one size fits all perpetual state of outrage---as the rapid-fire defenders of Jussie Smollett (the actor with the discredited claim of being the victim of a hate crime) learned. Facts are troublesome.

 There were numerous times over the past several decades when I was approached by the press to comment about what seemed like a bigoted remark by a public figure or corporation---Cong. Bob Dornan describing a Soviet spokesman as a "disloyal betraying little Jew", Michael Jackson singing "kick me, kike me, Jew me sue me"[They Don't Care About Us-1995], Walt Disney's original Three Little Pigs cartoon's depiction of the wolf as a menacing, hook-nosed Jewish peddler---but held my fire to determine what the context, the intent and the import of the alleged offenses were.

 The response (or absence of one, as with The Three Little Pigs) was then calibrated to the act---not pre-ordained by a covert agenda to secure PR, claim "purity" or the moral high ground, or to curry favor with one political party over another. In the case of Dornan, I was virtually his sole defender against an onslaught accusing him of bigotry.

 Whether Northam or Omar or Smollett-or even someone accused in the "Me Too" maelstrom--we all ought to hold our fire and our conclusions before going on the attack to label someone as an irredeemable bigot or predator. There are few charges that are as indelible. Such accusations also make the "offender's" redemption and altering course less likely. The weapon of righteous indignation and condemnation must be wielded with care, precision, fairness and, most of all, honesty and consistency; none of which we have seen much of recently.

Community Advocates on the BBC

Community Advocates' David A. Lehrer appeared on the BBC's 5 Live last night discussing civil rights, hate crimes, etc. The show is broadcast live throughout the UK and Europe. The program begins at 1:23:10 (in the link below) and runs for approximately one half hour.
The broadcast is aimed at British insomniacs---it is broadcast all night long.

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Interview on KPCC's AIRTALK February 21 2019

Discussion of Jesse Smollett Incident and faux Hate Crime

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Hate crime or fake attack: the twists and turns of the Jussie Smollett case

AirTalk® | February 21, 2019

Last month, “Empire” actor and R&B singer Jussie Smollett told Chicago police that two men physically attacked him and yelled racial and homophobic slurs.

Smollett said he was attacked by two masked men as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop at around 2 a.m on Jan. 29. Police say the investigation shifted after they questioned two brothers who were in the area that morning.

The 36-year-old was charged Wednesday with felony disorderly conduct, a charge that could bring up to three years in prison. Police say the actor hired two brothers to help him stage an attack against himself.

Smollett turned himself in and was arrested earlier Thursday to face accusations that he filed a false police report.



Dominic Patten, senior editor at Deadline Hollywood, the entertainment news site, who’s been following the story; he tweets @DeadlineDominic

Michael Kraut, criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, and former prosecutor who worked as a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles for close to 15 years

Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino

David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates, Inc., a nonprofit organization looking at race relations; former Los Angeles regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for 27 years; he tweets @dlehrer

Why Trump is Bad for Israel

By David A. Lehrer and Janice Kamenir-Reznik

OCTOBER 17, 2018 

There are few policy arenas in which President Donald Trump has been more successful in his misdirection of the nation's attention than the Middle East. For many in the Jewish community - including many in its leadership - there is a reticence to speak up about the outrages of the Trump administration, in large measure because of the president's perceived "support" for Israel.

After all, he recognized Jerusalem as the nation's capital, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he has been a staunch advocate for Israel in international bodies, and he embraces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while making virtually no demands on him. It looks so appealing.

But the reality is that much of what Trump has done vis-a-vis Israel is, in fact, a superficial performance - rhetorically, diplomatically and symbolically - that is at odds with the very policies that will help the Jewish state in the long term. In fact, his policies put the nation, and what exists of an international order striving for calm, in greater peril than it has been in many years.

Community Advocates, in partnership with Jews United for Democracy and Justice ("JUDJ"), four major synagogues (Valley Beth Shalom, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Stephen Wise Temple, Leo Baeck Temple), and the Jewish Center for Justice recently hosted an event at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino featuring Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy and special adviser for Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia in several administrations.

Ross is among the most knowledgeable experts in the world on the diplomacy of the Middle East. He has served as the point man in negotiations between the Arab states, Israel and the United States in every administration since President George H.W. Bush (under Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama). He facilitated the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty; he brokered the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the 1997 Hebron accord, and intensively worked to bring together Israel and Syria in a peace deal. He is also the author of several authoritative books on the region and the peace process.

If one wants a thoughtful, fact-based, nonpartisan analysis of what is transpiring in the Middle East, what the future portends and what the real-world implications of policy decisions are, there is no one who knows more and has more experience in the region than Dennis Ross. He is the best of the Middle East mavens.

In describing Trump administration policies toward the region's issues, Ross spoke of a "crisis of values" and "a real Russia problem." Trump has made the situation far worse than it has been in decades.

"Trump's world view - much like his domestic agenda - in its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts is dangerous to everyone involved. "

For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to provide Syria with S300 surface-to-air missiles as well as sophisticated electronic counter measures, which the Trump administration has not objected to. Those moves, combined with "malign Iranian activities," has put Israel in a nearly impossible, precarious and potentially existentially dangerous position. Ross observed that until now,

the Russians have given the Israelis a free hand to carry out operations (in Syria) and they (the Israelis) have carried out more than 200 operations in Syria against Iranian and Shia militia targets. They no longer have a free hand and the Iranians have been given a free hand. ... The Israelis won't allow themselves to be put in a position where they are threatened in almost an existential way by what the Iranians are introducing into Lebanon and Syria. far, they have had to manage the Russians entirely on their own. Do you think it's an accident that Prime Minister Netanyahu has made nine visits to Moscow to see Putin? (emphasis added)

Ross made clear how the Trump response to Russia's actions in Syria, to essentially absent himself from the conflict, differs from his predecessors and places Israel in peril.

Historically, there was a relationship that we had where we kind of said to the Israelis 'OK, you are responsible for dealing with the threats in the region, we will provide the material support, but when it comes to the Soviets and others outside the region that might threaten or inhibit you, that's on us.' That was the historic posture of Republican and Democratic presidents alike - and I know that since I served in most of those administrations. That has not been the case now." (emphasis added)

Ross laid out the steps that the administration should take to counter Russia, Iran and the Shia militias - none of which is happening. Rather, Trump has offered a vague pledge, "'I'll call Putin at some point.'" Ross sarcastically observed, "well, that's reassuring." The way to deal with Putin, Ross advised, is not to follow the Trump playbook. "He (Putin) is a transactionalist ... you have to speak his language, you don't tout him with incredible offers."

Trump's missteps aren't just related to Russia and the Middle East,

We have walked away from a 'rules-based international order. ... [Trump sees] no value in multilateral institutions. ... the essence of what Trump said to the U.N. is that national sovereignty trumps everything else. Well, we've seen what that means - that means that governments can do whatever they want to their own people and national sovereignty precludes anyone from the outside being able to intervene and do anything about it.

The whole import of 'Never Again' was that it wasn't supposed to be a slogan, it was supposed to be a principle. But when the principle is national sovereignty, you can forget 'Never Again.'

Ross couldn't have been clearer. He sees Trump as a huge threat to whatever equilibrium might exist in the Middle East by his inexplicable inaction vis-a-vis Russia. That failure of will increases the likelihood of escalation as the Israelis defend their interests against the Iranians, the Shia militias and the Syrians; all without the United States neutralizing the Russians.

In its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts, Trump's world view - much like his domestic agenda - is dangerous to everyone involved. As Ross observed, "what we are contending with now is really an assault on our values; by the way, it's not just an assault on our democratic values, it's an assault on our Jewish values."

Last week saw further confirmation of the Trump administration's denigration of the values that are intrinsic to the survival of the Jewish state: American moral leadership.

In his dismissal of taking action against the Saudis in the Oct. 2 disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump betrayed a disdain for America's leadership role in the world if it might exact a price on our economy - "they're [the Saudis] are spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment ... that doesn't help us" - he responded when asked about Khashoggi.

A far cry from President Harry Truman recognizing Israel in 1948 despite threats of retaliation from the Arab states, or President Richard Nixon sending arms to Israel in 1973 notwithstanding the Saudis' imposing a painful and costly oil embargo on us. 

President John Kennedy once urged Americans "to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Trump is brazenly rewriting our 60-year-old American creed.

Symbolic gestures, such as moving the embassy to Jerusalem, might bring momentary satisfaction, but too much is at stake to think in such short-sighted terms. Looking at the big picture, as Ross so eloquently stated, leads to the inevitable conclusion that Trump's failure of will with the Russians isn't good for Israel, for the international order, or for the prospects for a moderately peaceful world.

David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. Janice Kamenir-Reznik is a longtime community leader in Los Angeles.

Eisen and Ross on Ethical Democracy

By Ryan Torok | Oct 10, 2018

Author and CNN commentator Norman Eisenbelieves there is an "axis of illiberalism that is anchored on the two sides of the [Atlantic] ocean," when it comes to President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Eisen, the former ambassador to the Czech Republic and ethics czar under President Barack Obama, made his remarks at a Sept. 26 event at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) titled "The Assault on Ethical Democracy at Home and in Europe." He was also in town to promote his recently published book, "The Last Palace," inspired by his experiences living in the Ambassador's Residence in the Czech Republic.

Ambassador and Middle East expert Dennis Ross, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, co-headlined the conversation, organized by Jews United for Democracy and Justice (JUDJ) and Community Advocates, Inc.,headed by David Lehrer.

The event drew about 600 people, including former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Jewish World Watch co-founder Janice Kamenir-Reznik, who was among the founding members of JUDJ in 2017.

Eisen spoke of how the Petschek House (the name of the palace in his book), was a metaphor for the three main surges of democracy Europe experienced over the last century: in 1918 and in 1945, at the end of World War I and World War II, respectively; and in 1989, when the Berlin wall came down.

Referring to a Rosh Hashanah sermon denouncing President Trump by VBS Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Eisen said, "Every one of these surges has been met with on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean eventually with a counterattack, but never before -I feel liberated by the rabbi's sermon to say whatever I want - has the counterattack invaded the Oval Office, the holy of holies of American democracy. So we are in a very unique situation now."

Eisen quipped, "I can say [Rabbi Feinstein's] inspiring Rosh Hashanah sermon made it all the way to the East Coast. I only shared it with my fellow socialists, so no one was outraged by it."

Ross was also blunt when it came to critiquing the current president. He called on the Jewish community to stand up and speak out against his falsehoods.  

"We look at these populist leaders who challenge expertise, who want to fuzz facts and the reality," Ross said. "Jews are the people of the book. If you're the people of the book, you really cannot believe in alternative facts."

With his anti-immigrant rhetoric, his quotas on refugees and his "America First" slogan, Trump's emphasis on nationalism undercuts Jewish values, Ross added.

"In our tradition, we're supposed to accept the stranger," he said. "Accepting the stranger appears 36 times in the Torah. The idea that you accept 'the other' is the essence of democracy. The idea of rejecting the other is the essence of nationalism."

Despite his criticism of the current presidency, Ross said he is nonetheless optimistic that things will eventually return to normal.

"[I] can't predict if it will be a short eclipse or a long night," he said, "but the dawn of democracy always comes back."