Trump and the Loyalty of American Jews

Commenting on the words and actions of Trump can seem like a full-time job. Just when you think he’d give the outrages and insults a rest, he comes back and digs deeper.

After just having written a blog about his Labor Department’s effort to undo decades of settled anti-discrimination law, I thought there is time and space to focus on other issues of concern----and there are many.

But this afternoon, Trump outdid himself. He commented in the Oval Office about Jews and their voting patterns and their intelligence and their loyalty. One of those subjects alone is treacherous territory---a president treads there at his own peril.

But Trump being Trump, he is oblivious to norms, moral constraints, historic tropes, and the dangers of stereotypes.

In response to a question about the four congresswomen whom he is attempting to make the face of the Democratic Party, he said:

 "And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty."

 The citing of “loyalty” issues when discussing any minority group, let alone Jews, is outrageous. Regarding Jews it is historically ignorant and potentially incendiary.

 To suggest that he knows how an entire religious group “should vote” is absurd, patronizing and insulting on its face. To intimate that failing to follow his suggestions as to political loyalty reflects a “total lack of knowledge” is to imply that the 70% + of American Jews who preferred Hillary over him are fools.

 Trump can no longer shock or surprise---his “lack of knowledge, his “disloyalty” to American values and his bigotry are on full display 24/7.

The US is Getting Less Tolerant of Racism---Winograd and Hais

The following op/ed was commissioned by Community Advocates and appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais

Aug. 20, 2019

Racism is increasingly unacceptable to most Americans. It’s increasingly unacceptable among conservatives as well as liberals, and among those with and without a college education. But what’s behind the United States becoming a place where racist expression is more and more unpopular are the beliefs and behaviors of the generation born between 1982 and 2003, the millennials.

USC political scientists Morris Levy and Dennis Chong examined 40 years of data gathered by NORC at the University of Chicago in its rigorous and respected General Social Survey to arrive at that conclusion. The survey traces support for the public expression of controversial opinions on topics such as race, sexual orientation, religion and extreme political views. The USC researchers found that starting with the birth of baby boomers, in the mid-1940s, each annual cohort, as those within it became adults, expressed less tolerance toward racist speech than those born just before them. From 1976 to 2016, tolerance for positive expressions about homosexuality, atheism, more militaristic government and communism have all risen among Americans, and tolerance for negative commentary about race has fallen dramatically.

These trends have been produced, in large part, by the increasing numbers of millennials among America’s adult population — and the surveys’ samples — during the last four decades. They reflect a conviction on the part of younger Americans, as Levy and Chong document, that “racist speech is not just an issue of freedom but an affront to the value of equality.”

In other words, Chong and Levy’s findings contradict the usual portrayal of millennials as uncomfortable hearing ideas that differ from their own. Their careful research suggests that the generation’s outsized impact on the U.S. becoming simultaneously more accepting of what older groups considered extreme views (support for homosexuals, for instance) and much less accepting of racist commentary reflects a deep-seated belief in tolerance and inclusivity. As the nation’s most diverse adult generation (two out of five millennials are non-white), it is not hard to understand why this cohort would be hostile to negative comments about people like themselves or their family and friends.

These findings have crucial implications for the 2020 presidential election. President Trump has chosen to campaign by making it clear that he sympathizes with those who yearn for a whiter America. Republicans ran a test of this strategy by stoking racial and ethnic fears during the 2018 midterm campaigns, using daily images of immigrant “caravans” threatening to “invade” America’s borders. The result was the loss of 40 GOP seats in the House of Representatives, as college-educated women, minorities and millennials turned out in droves to register their dissatisfaction with the president’s rhetoric as well as his performance in office.

There is nothing in the long-term trends in American public opinion identified by Levy and Chong suggesting that hostility to expressions of racism will lessen any time soon. As recently as July, just 3% of voters in a Quinnipiac survey who thought Trump was a racist were willing to find other reasons to support him. Overall, 51%, a majority, of registered voters surveyed by Quinnipiac assigned him to the racist category, meaning it would be almost impossible for the president to gain their 2020 vote.

Of course, it is too early to predict the outcome of the November 2020 election. Much will depend on who is on the Democratic ticket and what the state of the country is 15 months from now. But as long as Trump continues to use racist rhetoric, betraying his own lack of tolerance for people and ideas he deems “other,” he will be campaigning against a wave of disapproval of hateful speech that threatens to drown him and his presidency.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of three books on the millennial generation and its impact on American politics. They wrote this essay in association with Community Advocates Inc. in Los Angeles.

Trumpo, The "Magnificent"

Donald Trump missed his calling, it wasn’t real estate, it wasn’t politics, it is prestidigitation---magic. He is the master of the art of misdirection.

He gets the press, the political world and public to look here---at one of his shiny objects---while he does his serious work over here, away from the lights and the public view.

This past week he did it again---most of America focused on his statements about El Paso, his attacks on the Clintons for Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, his bizarre assertions at his rallies---while his Department of Labor quietly decimated decades of protections against religious discrimination in employment.

Since the 1964 Civil Rights law was passed, it has been illegal to discriminate on religious grounds in employment under federal law. If you employed 15 people you qualify as an “employer” under federal law and can’t discriminate.

However, the Civil Rights Act’s authors included an understandable and rational exemption for religious institutions performing work “connected with the carrying on…its religious activities.” An accommodation that permitted, for example, Catholic churches to hire Catholics to further religious practices in its institutions. They would not be penalized if they rejected a Jew or Protestant or Muslim to be a bishop’s secretary in the archdiocese offices.

In 1972, Congress amended the statute to expand the nature of the religious exemption to cover “all activities of a religious organization” (not just religious ones).

Simultaneously, there is long standing precedent that governments (and the federal government contracts with thousands of contractors), when they contract with private entities for services and goods, can demand compliance with rules and strictures that are not otherwise imposed on employers in the private sector; they can demand greater protections than the law otherwise requires.

Now comes Trumpo, the Magician, and his administration is demanding fewer protections.

The Trumpkins have wedded the government's power to influence those who contract with it with an obvious desire to please Evangelical and other conservative, sectarian folks to essentially do an end run around Title VII’s protections against religious discrimination.

In rules proposed last week, the administration has established three vague and ambiguous thresholds that would allow a contractor with the federal government to be free of the laws that prohibit religious discrimination in employment.

No amendments were offered in Congress to alter the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, rather the government is telling thousands of its contractors, that they are, by fiat, changing the rules that really matter--whether and how firms deal with the US government.

The new rules are a “get-out-of-jail” free card if the employer:

 a) claims to be organized for a religious purpose (the definition is so broad that it can be a non-profit, but needn’t be; it may, or may not be, composed of individuals sharing any single religion, sect, denomination, or other religious tradition);

 b) holds himself out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose (easy to assert, tough to question); and

 c) exercises religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose (“religious purpose” means religious as “measured with reference to the particular religion identified by the contractor”).

The terribly unclear rules are made even more vague since the measure of what is a genuine religious purpose is NOT determined by “whether the act is compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief. An exercise of religion need only be sincere.” It's measured by the employer's "sincerity."

For example, if I “sincerely” believe that I should only hire employees who believe in the Hare Krishna faith, the fact that the faith doesn’t “compel” me to act this way is irrelevant, so long as I “sincerely” believe it does.

To further buttress specious claims of belief in some “divine instruction to discriminate” the new rules proudly note “the religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others to merit First Amendment protections”----point, game, set. There is no yardstick by which to measure the claimed belief.

If I have an aim to practice bigotry, I simply need to “sincerely” (whatever that means) claim that my business is for a religious purpose, then I assert that I am serving that purpose and that my acts are consistent with whatever faith (however bizarre) I claim to adhere to and the government won’t look to see if it all makes sense.

One doesn’t have to be a Supreme Court justice to figure how to game this system. This is an exception that one could drive a Mack truck through and the trumpkins slid it in the Federal Register last week.

Many Trump fans will love the new rules in the belief that anti-discrimination statutes are a meddlesome burden of days gone by (much like the Voting Rights Act).

What they undoubtedly don’t think about is that that same license to “sincerely believe” is applicable to other faiths that they may not be so fond of, whose adherents may not want to hire them. The new rules don’t single out Evangelical Protestants for protection.

While many Trump followers proclaim a “fear of Sharia law trumping federal law”, they have just made a case for how and when it could if its adherents “sincerely believe” in obscure elements of the Koran that don't comport with our non-discriminatory employment laws. This is not to say it would happen, but trumpkins might consider the implications of their "logic."

While the press and the public focuses on Trump’s distractions, his minions are eroding decades old protections for those employed by federal contractors and, abra cadabra---millions of people may be put outside the protections of Title VII and at risk of discriminatory treatment.

Trump, Fantasy and Reality: An Ominous New Low

The past two and a half years have witnessed a multitude of gaffes, outrages, callous acts, ignorant comments, racist rhetoric and sheer stupidity from the occupant of the Oval Office. It would be needlessly painful to recount all that Trump has done to demean the office of the president, the stature of the United States, and quality of civic discourse in our country---virtually the entire country has been exposed to the trumpiana---again and again.

As incendiary and malevolent as many of his words and acts were, few come close to matching the outrageousness of Trump’s tweet this weekend about the death of Jeffrey Epstein.

Political pundits and historians can, and will, debate which acts of the administration most manifest the qualities of Trump that disqualify him from the role of president. His racism? His obstruction of justice? His pathological mendacity? His callous inability to offer even the slightest comfort to fellow citizens after national traumas. His undermining of foreign relations with allies while coddling authoritarians?

All those are secondary to this weekend’s tweet and what it reveals about Trump’s thinking. With that single tweet Trump eliminated the need to sift through thirty months of comments to cull out evidence of his unfitness for office.

Trump chose to retweet a bizarre, unfounded, logically incoherent, illiterate tweet of a comedian who can barely conjugate his verbs alleging that Jeffrey Epstein died at the hands of the Clintons (“the Clintons did it”).

Were Trump a business man in New York retweeting this conspiratorial nonsense, one might wonder about his judgment---of all the folks in the twitter-verse, what would prompt him to amplify the insidious, conspiratorial notion that a former president of the United States is somehow involved in a suicide that took place in a heavily armed federal prison with the victim in isolation. Were a friend to share the tweet, one would have to wonder if they had taken leave of their senses, it is that clearly bizarre and groundless.

But Trump isn’t just some illogical businessman who can’t discern fact-based allegations from fantasy, he IS the president of the United States. By retweeting the Terrence K. Williams tweet, the rationality and mental stability of Trump is called into question.

Does he not perceive that a buffoon alleging that “the word around the street is that the Clintons did it (murdered Jeffrey Epstein)” is idiocy? Does he not get that elevating conspiracy notions to the discourse of the president of the United States is dangerous? That the unprecedented abandonment of reason and logic by the leader of the free world is corrosive?

Does he have any notion that the dignity and aura that his office once held is being devastated by his incivility and the brazen and insolent disrespect (alleging that a former president was complicit in a murder) for his predecessors?

Trump is oblivious to the fact that our judicial system, our news media, our legislative process and, indeed, civic discourse itself is largely based on separating fact from fiction. The courts have rule up on rule to differentiate causal connections from speculation; the media has fact checker upon fact checker to determine what is provable and what is not; every legislature holds hearings to find facts, not suppositions, upon which to legislate; most inter-personal debates and conversations seek to separate speculation from provable fact. All this is, seemingly, alien to the president.

Is he so obtuse as to be unaware that his repeating the absurd charges of T. K. Williams puts his intellect and reasoning capacity on the same level with the ignoramus he cited?

Does he not care that tens of millions of Americans will read and see his tweet and be convinced either that the president of the United States is incapable of basic reason and logic, or that millions will buy the loony conspiracy theory and evidence frightening ignorance.

There is so much that is wrong with this president, as David Frum recently wrote, “The fact is that this presidency shames and disgraces the office every minute of every hour of every day.” But this retweet calls into question not only his bad intentions, his malign personality and policies, but his reasoning capacity. How can he not discern that the Williams’ tweet is crazy; nutty conjecture based on “word around the street,” as reported by a fool.

Many courts in Europe employed professional fools, “court jesters”, for entertainment; but the kings and queens understood the role of the fool—it was not for policy. Trump can’t discern the difference, if the fool serves his purposes, he is more than happy to invoke him and cite him as source material.

Watch the video of Williams. You will inevitably question the lucidity of anyone who would send it out. How much more should we be troubled by the man in the Oval Office—the site where Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama sat--- with the power to make life and death decisions for the nation--- purveying to the American public such insidious sophistry.

It is truly shocking and cause for deep concern.

Trump and Hate: Setting a Tone

On Monday, Donald Trump delivered a televised address from the White House on last weekend’s tragic mass shootings. With all the sincerity and affect of a forced hostage statement Trump mouthed words that expressed shock at the “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” that were reflected in the “manifesto” of the El Paso murderer.

The news analysis of the past few days and the comments of innumerable politicians---Republicans and Democrats---have been focused on the state of mind of the president, whether or not he is a racist—what is and was the president’s state of mind as he opined on numerous topics related to race and minorities over the past three years.

Most of these analyses miss the point---Trump’s personal views are unknowable---he, his God and his confessor know what he believes in his heart. Pundits, advisors, politicians, and his “off-the-record” friends can debate his attitudes from now until Doomsday, it gets us nowhere; what is critical is what he says and does and, no matter his inner most thoughts, is what he should be judged on.

He can monotonously read a condemnation of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” but his track record over the past three and half years belies the hackneyed phrases. He has encouraged, through word and deed, bigotry.

He has stereotyped groups (whether Muslims or Mexicans) and has scapegoated them for ailments of society that have myriad and complex roots (drugs, immigration law violations, violence in cities, “American carnage”), he has ignored data and reasoned argumentation, he has consorted with and apologized for avowed extremists and bigots (Alex Jones and Charlottesville among others) and amplified their conspiratorial theories, he has avoided condemning open bigots (disingenuously denying knowledge of Klan leader David Duke) he has encouraged attendees at his rallies to take out their anger at visible dissenters, and he has suffused his speeches with inflammatory rhetoric and undeniably racist dog whistles.

At no point has he shown remorse for what he has done or said or what he seems to have unleashed. His statement on Monday is the closest he has come to repudiating his prior conduct, “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love. Our future is in our control. America will rise to the challenge. “

This seems particularly opportunistic and out of character coming from a man who, just three months ago "asked a Florida audience how to stop migrants from crossing into the United States. 'How do you stop these people? You can’t, there’s —' Trump said, cutting himself off as a rally attendee yelled back, “Shoot them.” Trump paused and smirked, before responding, 'That’s only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.' The crowd cheered for nearly 10 seconds before Trump continued."

This is not a drunk patron in a bar nodding at another customer’s threat of violence, this is the president of the United States “smiling” as a supporter of his called for migrants to be shot for immigrating to our country. No outrage, no denunciation of the call for violence, no admonition that “that’s not how we act…” ---a wry smile that visibly acquiesces to the hate.

Is Trump a racist? Who cares---he does what a racist does, he encourages conduct that a racist would encourage, he tolerates views that only a racist would tolerate. He smiles and gloats as his audiences seethe with anger and hate and then denies responsibility for what results.

He is the antithesis of what a nation like ours needs----and it is unprecedented in modern American history. No president in memory has done what he does on a weekly, if not daily, basis. He alienates whole groups of Americans, he delights in creating dissension, chaos and tension and smiles all the while.

As someone who has worked in the civil rights arena for over forty five years, I have learned---as extremist groups ebbed and flowed over the decades---that we took for granted, that bigots and racists would find no support among national leaders or the media. That seeming verity was of immeasurable importance. The conservative Ronald Reagan administration was as vigorous in pursuing the Ku Klux Klan and the Fort Smith extremists as the liberal Carter regime. George W. Bush went to great lengths to not stereotype and condemn Muslims (both at home and abroad) after 9/11 and every president in recent memory has condemned raw, un-distilled bigotry at every opportunity with the exception of the current occupant of the White House.

Those were the rules of the game pre-Trump. It was the assurance that bigots, if exposed, would be ostracized by the vast majority of Americans and by our political leadership. That guided the direction and intensity of the civil rights work of the past half century. We didn’t have to educate political leadership about the dangers of bigots and extremists—it was the public that was our target.

My how times have changed---our president is morally rudderless, his supporters are accepting his hate and bigots find an excuser-in-chief in the Oval Office. Where once extremists desperately sought allies and wider support than other unhinged outsiders, today, they need look no further than the nightly reports of the president’s tweets. They find succor in him and for him they have become useful political tools. He fills arenas, he appeals to an entire cohort of disaffected voters who had written off the system before he appeared on the scene.

Trump’s words on Monday are simply more empty verbiage that starkly contrast with his value-less presidency.

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.

By

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.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1I9_8HRhNMnW4xL4iNXhipgse5zCfFMZk/view

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