Trump and Charlottesville---Why the Meltdown?


In the aftermath of Trump’s Tuesday press conference at Trump Tower, there have been countless analyses of why he chose to undo his conciliatory condemnation of haters on Monday that sought to ameliorate his bungled statement of Saturday.

Did he calculate that his hard core base wanted him to come out swinging, to endorse Confederate monuments and thumb his nose at mainstream voters and the “mainstream media”? Was he just seeking to offer an unorthodox, revelatory and counter-intuitive take on events that was “ignored” by the media for their malevolent reasons? Or was he channeling the Fox News feed of that morning which had made virtually all of his talking points?

There was endless speculation as to what animated Trump to have a national, live TV meltdown.

The reality that he revealed in his off-script remarks is far more troubling than most of the conjecture—his Tuesday presser confirmed what should have been apparent from the outset of his candidacy—he is incapable of discerning what makes extremists and bigots different from mainstream politicians and most of civil society.

He won’t relegate extremists to the periphery of American politics—as all his predecessors of the past century have done—because he reasons and thinks as extremists do. Their tools are his tools, their warped reasoning is his warped reasoning, their obliviousness to facts, data and truth is mirrored in our commander-in-chief.

As one who has monitored, listened to, had surreptitious contacts with extremists for over four decades, it is clear that Trump’s thought processes are an awful lot like theirs. He may not be animated at base by hate and venom, but how he reasons is chillingly similar to the policy arguments of bigots.

They believe in conspiracies, they are convinced a hidden hand works against them, they ignore and have a contempt for data, truth and civil dialogue and they always blame someone or some group for what ails them or society.

For most of the last half century plus, American presidents, electeds at all levels, opinion molders, and good citizens have intuitively realized that political extremists were different than mainstream politicians on both the left and the right. Civil rights organizations and good people have endeavored to ostracize and relegate to the fringes of society extremists who violate a set of unwritten rules on public conduct and decency.

From the John Birchers and their flirting with anti-Semitism in the 60s to George Wallace in the 70s to Louis Farrakhan more recently (see my op/ed of  9/17/1985 in the Times) to David Duke and Louisiana politic—-policies or comments that flirted with bigotry and stereotypes, even if made in passing, were enough to derail careers, elicit presidential condemnations and generate near universal abhorrence. It was clear to most leaders that overt expressions of bigotry and stereotypes were not acceptable vocabulary of late 20th century America.

Political correctness, with all its frailties, prevailed and there was a perceptible decline in hate crimes, the diversification of corporate boards and of elected officials, the election of an African American by significant electoral majorities and the virtual elimination in public discourse of racial, religious and homophobic epithets and expressions.

This is not to suggest that dog whistle politics with covert appeals to bias and intolerance didn’t happen—indeed they did (e.g. Willie Horton ads); but they were different than vulgar, overt expressions of hostility.

They can be offensive, but they indirectly acknowledge what the ground rules of civility are—no blatant bigotry. There have been occasional accusations made against fervent advocates on the left and the right of being extremists where the label was sloppily and unfairly applied—passion is not same as unreason. Mercifully, those instances have been few and far between.

Into that environment, comes a candidate who has flaunted all the norms of political discourse and debate and who utilizes the very cognitive tools of extremists (Klansmen, neo-Nazis and far left extremists share the methodologies): he traffics in bizarre conspiracy theories, he blithely ignores data, he bullies, attacks and demeans, he threatens, he blatantly lies with demonstrably false assertions on numerous issues, he perpetually claims to be the victim with a designated culprit[s] (other than himself) who is/are always to blame.

Why would he find extremists deserving of condemnation or isolation? He managed to become president despite all those traits— it has all worked for him.

For traditional politicians, individuals or groups that exhibit these characteristics represent flashing red lights—“stay away, extremists, bigots, crazies at work.” For Trump, they are a mirror of his modus operandi—just bit more extreme in policy.

He simply doesn’t see them as qualitatively different than himself—if he’s mainstream then they likely are too. It is not a basic instinct of his to ostracize and reject them. In fact, if they like him (and David Duke and Robert Spencer do) he may just like them back, or at a minimum, he won’t call them out.

The decades-long work of civil rights advocates and good people in society to relegate bigots and extremists to the fringes of our political system is being undone before our eyes. Trump is normalizing and mainstreaming bigots as we have never seen before—he is, once again, unprecedented in his actions.

As Edmund Burke noted, “All that is needed for evil to triumph, is for good men to remain silent” – if we care at all, that’s simply not an option.

The Vengeful Gods of Purity


It’s all too predictable, a religious/ethnic/political leader dares to deviate from the orthodoxy of the day and the vengeful ideological gods seek to exact a price.

Over the past few weeks, the Jewish right has become animated over the appointment of Professor David Myers of UCLA—a distinguished scholar of modern Jewish History—to head the Center for National Jewish History in New York. His credentials are impeccable—not only does he hold an endowed chair at UCLA, he headed its history department and has been actively involved in Los Angeles’ Jewish community as a leader and public intellectual.

His critics attack him for “radical viewpoints” and even worse, having a “moderate façade” that masks a “radical core.”

Myers’ views on Israel and the Middle East are more complex than Hadassah’s or the Jewish National Fund’s, but that does not make him treif. Virtually all the insidious allegations are either inaccurate or McCarthyite attacks imputing to Myers positions that have been taken by organizations that he wrote for or spoke before. The allegations and the rebuttals to them can be read here.

500 Jewish Studies professors have decried the attacks as “scurrilous” and the “worst kind of MCarthyism….calls for his ouster based on ad hominem charges on purely political grounds must be rejected.”

Despite the pushback the onslaught has continued to this day, he is “an enemy of Israel.”

His credentials for his new position and his political bona fides are really not the issue—-the Center for Jewish History is “standing by their man.” The real question is how self-appointed guardians of Jewish ideological purity have the chutzpah to seek to impose their political viewpoint as a litmus test for leadership of a national Jewish academic institution. They see their views as the only proper path for leaders.

They attack and condemn and threaten with impunity knowing that there are sectors of the community they can animate by simply asserting that Myers “is a fierce critic of Israel” and others who will be intimidated into silence for fear of also being targeted and impugned. That’s how McCarthyites work.

The transcendent question is whether the institutions involved with the Center will have the spine to continue to resist the pressure to acquiesce to threats and intimidation. So far, so good.

Having served for twenty seven years with the Anti-Defamation League, I have some familiarity with those who threaten the Jewish community—David Myers is not among them. Failing to distinguish between dissenting viewpoints and real threats is failing to understand nuance and complexity and the bounty of free speech in a democracy.

It always amazed me in my years at ADL to watch those within the Jewish community who spent their energy railing against fellow Jews for not toeing a particular ideological line—they were in pursuit of an elusive “unity” of thought which they seemed to believe would insulate Israel and Jews from the political realities of the world. Such unanimity never existed and would offer no shield against pernicious external forces if it did.

They create illusory threats to puff up and demonstrate their own bona the guardians of rectitude. Whom they harm, malign, or sacrifice, is irrelevant to them—they are in pursuit of a more noble “good.”

In 1852 Nathaniel Hawthorne warned in The Blithdale Romance of true believers who “have an idol, to which they consecrate themselves high-priest, and deem it holy work to offer sacrifices of whatever is most precious…”

They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience. They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly strait path.

The Jewish community does not need Grand Inquisitors to impose ideological homogeneity on our institutions, those “guardians” simply seek mirrors of themselves, not a “greater good.”

Words----Historic and Current--—To Be Heeded


In November, 1953, less than a year into his first term in office, during the height of the McCarthy era, President Eisenhower received an award from and delivered the keynote address at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual board meeting in Washington, D.C. As the story was recounted to me by someone who was there (I worked for the ADL for 27 years), those in attendance thought it would be a routine address by the new president making nice to one of the country’s leading civil rights/Jewish organizations, kind of a pro forma “you are nice and do good work”.

Shortly before the speech, ADL leaders learned that the national press and the then novel TV cameras would be observing and what was going to be routine was now a “major policy address.”

It turned out that the speech was among the, if not the, first times that Ike spoke out and distanced himself from Sen. Joe McCarthy. But it was by indirection, he never mentioned McCarthy’s name (to that point Ike was still trying to ignore McCarthy, as if the senator didn’t matter).

To those in attendance, it wasn’t clear what the news was, but by the next morning the message had gone out. Eisenhower had spoken about the right of every American to meet “your accuser face to face”, the “right to speak your mind and be protected in it.” He extolled the values of the “soul and the spirit” that make us proud to be Americans; who the threat to those values was became apparent:

Why are we proud? We are proud, first of all, because from the beginning of this Nation, a man can walk upright, no matter who he is, or who she is. He can walk upright and meet his friend–or his enemy; and he does not fear that because that enemy may be in a position of great power that he can be suddenly thrown in jail to rot there without charges and with no recourse to justice. We have the habeas corpus act, and we respect it.

And today, although none of you has the great fortune, I think, of being from Abilene, Kansas, you live after all by that same code in your ideals and in the respect you give to certain qualities. In this country, if someone dislikes you, or accuses you, he must come up in front. He cannot hide behind the shadow. He cannot assassinate you or your character from behind, without suffering the penalties an outraged citizenry will impose.


….I would not want to sit down this evening without urging one thing: if we are going to continue to be proud that we are Americans, there must be no weakening of the code by which we have lived; by the right to meet your accuser face to face, if you have one; by your right to go to the church or the synagogue or even the mosque of your own choosing; by your right to speak your mind and be protected in it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the things that make us proud to be Americans are of the soul and of the spirit. They are not the jewels we wear, or the furs we buy, the houses we live in, the standard of living, even, that we have. All these things are wonderful to the esthetic and to the physical senses. [Emphasis added]

I was reminded of this historic statement by two speeches this week from leading Republicans, who, like Eisenhower, bravely took on one of their own and made clear what others fear, or lack the courage, to say. They laid down markers as to what is acceptable conduct in American politics and, without being explicit, who was engaging in conduct that was beyond the pale.

On Monday night, Sen. John McCain spoke at the National Constitution Center as he received its Liberty Medal. It’s a passionate statement about what’s important and unique about America.

During the course of the speech he offered the following:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to. [Emphasis Added]

Like Eisenhower, without mentioning the name of his antagonist, the senior senator from Arizona got his message across loudly and clearly.

Then on Thursday, former President George W. Bush delivered a speech in which he never mentioned Trump, but the sinner he was referring to was transparently clear:

Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication…. We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.


This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed. And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.

We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation. [Emphasis Added]

The McCain and Bush speeches are historic moments; perhaps the beginning of a wave of revulsion at the lies, distortions, hate and awful policies that emerge from the Trump White House. When two pillars of a party, much like Eisenhower in 1953, say enough is enough and that it is time to “step up”—perhaps people will listen.

The Fallout of Bigotry


Many in the civil rights community have warned of the corrosive effects of President Trump's attitude towards minorities and extremists from the day he announced his candidacy. His comments at his announcement, during his campaign regarding Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, and, occasionally, Jews are now stuff of legend. He has continued in his incendiary musings during his tenure as president; he clearly holds stereotypic views of those who aren't just like him.

But as insidious as his remarks are, even more troubling is his reluctance, or his inability, to relegate extremists (those who blatantly purvey hate and bigotry-not just dog whistles) to the periphery of American politics-as all his predecessors of the past century have done. He meets with them, he grants them interviews, and he ignores their toxic views to focus on those that align with his.

Instead of rejecting bigots out-of-hand, he has flaunted all the norms of political discourse and debate by using the very methodologies of those bigots. He traffics in bizarre conspiracy theories, he blithely ignores data, he bullies, attacks and demeans, he threatens, he blatantly lies with demonstrably false assertions on numerous issues, he claims to be the victim of a perpetual witch-hunt with a designated culprit[s] (other than himself) who is/are always to blame for what goes wrong.

Is it any wonder then that his brand of thinking has become more common, that extremists are being normalized and accepted, that bizarre-hitherto ostracized- views are now offered as an acceptable part of political discourse? The ripple effects of a sloppy thinker like Trump are only beginning to impact us.

This week, Moscow's man in the House of Representatives, Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, made clear that he has no qualms about consorting with a Holocaust denier.

After it was revealed that he took "conservative journalist" Charles C. Johnson [who has claimed that during the Holocaust around 250,000 Jews were killed in concentration camps and that the existence of gas chambers is questionable] to a meeting with Sen. Rand Paul, Rohrabacher found nothing amiss. He blithely asserted that "I welcome his support on those issues of agreement and oppose those ideas on which we disagree."

Apparently, Holocaust deniers, bigots and extremists are acceptable if they endorse other issues that Rohrabacher supports.

He doesn't get that Holocaust denial, and hate more broadly, are not isolated imperfections. The thinking that denies the most well documented crime in history, which blames minorities for society's ills reflects a distorted and bizarre mind and an absence of reason and logic-it's not a blip on an otherwise clear screen of sanity. Who would want the support of a bigot such as that?

That an American elected official in 2017 doesn't feel compelled to ostracize and separate himself from a manifest extremist is an indicator of what is transpiring more widely.

This week the Anti-Defamation League reported a 67% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the US through the third quarter of 2017 as compared to 2016. Not surprisingly, of the 1,266 incidents some 221 occurred on or near the August 11 rally in Charlottesville-the event that Trump had such ambivalence in condemning (recall, he thought a bunch of regular folks were marching with torches and Nazi chants).

What Trump clearly doesn't get is that political extremists are different than mainstream politicians on both the left and the right. For decades, civil rights organizations and good people have endeavored to ostracize and relegate to the fringes of society extremists who violate a set of unwritten rules on public conduct and decency.

From the John Birchers and their flirting with anti-Semitism in the 60s to George Wallace in the 70s to Louis Farrakhan more recently (see my op/ed of 9/17/1985 in the Times) to David Duke and Louisiana politic-policies or comments that flirted with bigotry and stereotypes, even if made in passing, were enough to derail careers, elicit presidential condemnations and generate near universal abhorrence. It was clear to most leaders that overt expressions of bigotry and stereotypes were not acceptable vocabulary of late 20th century America and those who purveyed them were deservedly isolated and shunned.

But we now have a president who not only doesn't understand what extremism is (except for the easy to discern Islamic version), he inspires others to follow his myopic lead; to wink at hate and sanitize the hater because "he agrees with me on other significant issues."

The reality is that the hater wins, his bigotry ends up tainting everyone who consorts with him; the rationalizers become aiders and abettors of prejudice and their own words and deeds become suspect.

Trump can't be stalwart and uncompromising in condemning radical Islamic terrorism and its brand of hate while being timid and apologetic regarding other versions of bigotry. It's morally and politically dishonest and corrupting.

As Sen. John McCain said in his speech to midshipmen at the Naval Academy earlier this week,

We have to fight against propaganda and crackpot conspiracy theories. We have to fight isolationism, protectionism, and nativism. We have to defeat those who would worsen our divisions. We have to remind our sons and daughters that we became the most powerful nation on earth by tearing down walls, not building them.

Bret Stephens Lecture

This piece was originally featured in The Jewish Journal on July 5, 2017.

By Ryan Torok, Staff Writer, and Jakob Marcus, Contributing Writer

As a New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens expresses views on some of the most complicated topics of the day, including terrorism, immigration and President Donald Trump. He also recognizes the value in a healthy dose of self-doubt.

“The challenge of a columnist, I think the challenge of all intelligent people, on the one hand is to express your views confidently, but to have enough internal security to know you might be wrong — to know that there is some floating small percent of wrongness in any single point of view,” Stephens said on June 20 at Stephen Wise Temple.

Stephens delivered a lecture and participated in a Q-and-A with Stephen Wise Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback at an event titled “The Jewish Future in a Changing America.” Among the topics Stephens discussed were anti-Semitism in the Arab world, free speech on college campuses and the future of journalism.

“The people who have been most damaged by anti-Semitism in the long run have been the anti-Semites,” Stephens said. “In this case, the Arab world has done itself irrefutable harm by expelling 800,000 talented people, as they did in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel.”

Stephens lived for several years in Israel while serving as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. The former Wall Street Journal columnist predicted the top newspapers in the United States will survive well into the future, despite predictions about the death of traditional journalism.

“I have no doubt there is going to be a New York Times in 20 years,” he said. “I have no doubt there is going to be a Wall Street Journal. And I have no doubt that people do want reliable, authoritative news that they don’t have to double check or wonder [if] that could be true.”

Stephens appeared before a crowd that featured many of Los Angeles’ Jewish leaders, including Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Emeritus Eli Herscher, former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, UCLA Jewish history professor David Myers, Community Advocates Inc. President David Lehrer and VBS Rabbi Noah Farkas.

Stephens expressed frustration with the culture on college campuses that has fomented the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel while stifling other speech found by some to be disagreeable.

“One of the things I find disturbing at colleges [is] they seem to be incapable of dealing with an opposite point of view,” he said. “Their way of dealing with it is saying, ‘That’s evil,’ ‘That’s stupid,’ or something like that, as opposed to saying, ‘That’s another approach to the truth.’”

Has Trump Split the Jewish Community? Hardly.

By Michael Hais


Every four years, in an attempt to maximize their share of the "Jewish vote," the major political parties include language in their national platforms expressing support for Israel as America's truest ally and only democracy in the Middle East. Often that expression contains a pledge to move the U.S embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The belief that the political and even national allegiance of many Jewish Americans is driven by devotion to Israel extends beyond party politicians to a sizable share of the U.S. public. A 2016 survey conducted by the Marttila Strategies polling firm indicates that although anti-Semitism has declined significantly in the United States over the past half-century,  since at least the mid-1960s, about a third of Americans have believed the anti-Semitic dual loyalty canard that Jews are "more loyal to Israel than to America."

To what extent do psychological ties to Israel actually shape the political beliefs and behavior of American Jews? If they do not motivate the Jewish community as much as is often believed, then what does?

Undeniably, a large majority of Jewish Americans have an affinity for Israel. A 2013 Pew Research survey indicated that an overwhelming (87%) said that "caring about Israel" is an important part of being Jewish.  On a more demanding measure of affiliation, about 7 in 10 Jewish Americans (69%) said they are at least somewhat "emotionally attached" to Israel.

But, that's not the whole story. In spite of their psychological connection to Israel, most Jews ´placed greater importance on other "Jewish" values-remembering the Holocaust (73%), leading an ethical and moral life (69%), working for justice and equality (56%), and being intellectually curious (49%)-than they did on caring about Israel (43%). Beyond this, when asked if being "strongly critical of Israel" is compatible with being Jewish, a large majority (89%) said that it is.

Moreover, to borrow from Borscht Belt comics' assertions that "where there are two Jews, there are three opinions," Jewish Americans are not of one mind about Israel. While it is true that a sizable majority have at least some emotional connection to Israel, the extent of that link varies by denomination, generation, and political party identification.  The ties are strongest among the Orthodox, those 50 years old and above, and those who identify as Republicans. This split in the opinions of Jewish Americans toward Israel and other matters runs throughout the Pew study.

If allegiance to Israel and support of its current policies is not the primary determinant of the political beliefs and behavior of Jewish Americans, what is? Pew's research suggests the crucial factors are the very things that shape the opinions and votes of most other Americans-their party identifications, their opinions on current political issues, and their perceptions of major political figures. Pew sums those up by saying that "Jews are among the most liberal and Democratic groups in the population."

A large majority of Jewish Americans (70%) identified with or leaned to the Democratic Party; this when 49% of the U.S general public claimed a Democratic attachment. More remarkable, nearly half of Jewish Americans (49%) said they were liberal and just 19% called themselves conservative. This was almost reverse the numbers for the general public, within which 38% said they were conservative and 19% liberal.

To confirm the trend, millennial Jews (18-29 year olds) were the most Democratic, liberal, and pro-Obama age cohort that Pew sampled. They are also the least emotionally connected to Israel and the most critical of its policies. Interestingly, Jewish millennials are as likely to have been to Israel as any other generation of Jews; suggesting that it isn't simply indifference or ignorance that account for their disconnect from the Jewish state. 

Undoubtedly, the vigorous embrace of the unpopular Trump by Netanyahu compounded by Bibi's public disdain for the ever-popular Obama may, inadvertently, be undoing the hard work that Birthright Israel undertakes when it provides free trips to Israel for the young.

These liberal and Democratic identifications were reflected in the opinions of Jewish Americans of all ages on major issues.   A huge majority (82%) said that "homosexuality should be accepted by society." A majority (54%) also preferred "a bigger government that provides more services" rather than a "smaller government that provides fewer services (38%). A majority of U.S. Jews approved of Barack Obama's job performance (65%) at a point in his administration when 50% of the general public did.

Despite the assertions of Jewish conservatives and many Jewish organizations today, the positive perceptions of Obama carried over to his policies toward Israel and Iran even when those organizations and the Israeli government were highly critical of those actions. With the exception of the Orthodox, Jewish support for the president's policies crossed all demographic and denominational lines. It also substantially exceeded  that within the U.S. general public.  

The liberal and Democratic proclivities of Jewish Americans continued in 2016 when a large majority  (71%) voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016; only 23% voted for Donald Trump. The Jewish vote for Clinton as similar to what it had been for other Democrats since 1968 and may have exceeded that for Barack Obama in 2012.

The attitudes of Jews toward Donald Trump have not improved since his election. A March 2017 Gallup survey indicated that Trump's job approval as president was only 31% among Jewish Americans, 11 percentage points below that of the electorate overall. 

The data are clear.  Jews remain disproportionately Democratic and highly negative about Trump. This makes it even more surprising that a number of important Jewish organizations remain reluctant to criticize the president. . Their likely rationale is that Trump will be supportive of Israel and that little good would be served by alienating a potential friend of that country, especially in light of Trump's campaign promises to revoke the nuclear limitation treaty with Iran and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

But these leaders and organizations run the serious risk of misunderstanding and, indeed, alienating their own Jewish base on the unlikely chance (already disproven in large measure) that Trump will honor his hyperbolic campaign promises in his presidential policies. Given the high stakes, the low probability of success, and the president's erratic behavior and elusive beliefs, it is a gamble better not taken.

Mike Hais is an expert in market research having served for more than 22 years at Frank N. Magid Associates. He has a doctorate in political science specializing in American politics and political behavior. He is co-author with Morley Winograd of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, Millennial Majority: How a New Coalition Is Remaking American Politics, and Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America. This op-ed was written in association with Community Advocates, Inc.

This piece was featured in The Jewish Journal on April 14, 2017.

A Deafening Silence

By David A. Lehrer, George T. Caplan, Steven Windmueller, Rabbi Laura Geller and Michael Hirschfeld

For at least the past half century, Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes. 

Today, that is not the case. 

What was once the Jewish community’s umbrella organization, the Jewish Federation, remains deafeningly silent on an issue that is high on the list of major concerns of most Jews — the actions and words of the Trump administration. 

We know that if there is any group in society that should be wary of a leader who exhibits the traits of Trump, it is us. The history of the twentieth century sets off our antennae and ought to make action natural, reflexive and immediate.  

Over past decades, the authors of this piece were active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances that were meaningful benchmarks on the path to Los Angeles becoming the diverse, vibrant and accepting environment that it is. Avoiding tough issues, running from controversy, or fearing internecine backlashes were not how we operated.

Whether it was engaging minority communities in contentious, but civil, debates over affirmative action and preferences in the 1970s or reaching out to neighbors and allies to cobble together opposition to police abuse and the resurgent Klans and Aryan Nations in the 1980s and 1990s, or creating roundtables and coalitions with Muslims, Latinos and African Americans in the 1990s and 2000s — we knew that our faith and our fate were intertwined with those of others; parochial self-absorption was not the prevailing ethos, for us, or for others. 

It was not without thought that in the early 90s, as Operation Desert Storm began, Jewish leaders (at a time when passions related to the war and Muslims were high) spoke out against potential hate that “might” be directed at our Muslim neighbors. Some in our community were unhappy (“what’s the need?”) but it was the right and proper thing to do and we did it; to remain silent was seen as an abdication of our leadership responsibility and of our Jewish values.

There is little doubt that were a politician to have surfaced over the past forty years who pilloried minority groups, maligned immigrants as racists and thugs, promoted conspiracy theories that historically were the stock-in-trade of racists and bigots, and scorned reason, data and facts — protests from the Jewish community would have been thunderous in warning of the danger to our democracy, to the fabric of the community and to ourselves. The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition. 

Today, the absence of a unified Jewish community leadership protesting President Trump’s incendiary comments on myriad topics, including his targeting of minority groups and immigrants, is shocking. 

The Jewish Federation in particular, the once community umbrella, has remained appallingly silent on Trump’s order restricting the admission of refugees [ironically, they answer critics by pointing out what they did on behalf of Jewish refugees] and his manifest contempt for civility, reasoned arguments and facts. 

Whether it is due to Trump’s perceived support for Israel’s prime minister, or a fear of angering conservative major donors, the silence is inexplicable (nearly ¾ of Jews supported Clinton nationally, considerably higher locally).

Leadership demands that one take a stand on vital issues that may not be perceived as essential to one’s mission — protesting on core issues is easy; that’s self-preservation, not leadership. Leadership asks that you recognize threats where others may not see them and then act, even if at a cost. 

We need an overarching community voice willing to condemn the blatant lying, paranoia, undermining of decency, consorting with bigots and bigotry, and targeting of minorities that will, ultimately, harm us all and debase our most treasured values. Do we get lulled into indolence because we are not today’s target? Why are LA’s Jews compelled to start new grass roots organizations to protest Trump (such as Jews United for Democracy and Justice which garnered over 2,200 supporters in just a few weeks) when the armatures for action already exist? 

The silence from “6505” is deafening especially when three leading conservative pundits have all parted company with the prevaricator-in-chief and described him as either “irrational bordering on mental illness” (Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal), or as the “most reckless, feckless, and malevolent president in the country’s history” (Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine), or admonished Republicans to not “define lunacy down” (Michael Gerson, The Washington Post). 

Stephens, Sullivan and Gerson all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage — but they spoke out nonetheless. 

In Los Angeles there is no over-arching Jewish community voice speaking clearly and unambiguously about the all too obvious dangers, just a troublesome silence. The warning signs are everywhere, where is the leadership?

Lehrer headed the Anti-Defamation League in LA from 1986-2002, Caplan was president of the Federation from 1988-1990, Windmueller headed the Federation’s Community Relations Committee (“CRC”) from 1985-1995, Geller was director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the American Jewish Congress from 1990-1994, and Hirschfeld headed the CRC from 1995-2003.

This piece was published in The Jewish Journal on March 29, 2017

The Future and Young Voters?

[Countless articles have been written since the November election about the electorate and the voting habits — present and future — of various demographic segments. For example, in a recent article, a Harvard professor suggested that Millennials (a cohort of some 95 million young Americans) were going to become more conservative and that the Democrats ought to beware. Community Advocates asked two of the leading mavens on Millennials, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, to offer their analysis. —David A. Lehrer]

By Morley Winograd and Michael Hais

“The man who is not a socialist (read ‘liberal’ in the United States) at 20 has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at 40, he has no brain.” That aphorism has been variously attributed to Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and French World War I-era Prime Minister Aristede Briand. Most recently, the idea that people move from liberal to conservative beliefs and votes as they age was stated by Harvard political scientist, Yascha Mounk. However, as so often happens when conventional wisdom comes up against empirical data, the outcome is quite different.

First, young people are not always liberal (or socialist). Mounk, in fact, provides an example when he writes that “in France…Marine Le Pen’s National Front does much better among the young than the old.” The same can be said about Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia and, to a lesser extent, Germany.

Closer to home, a longitudinal analysis of survey data by political scientist, Patrick Fisher, indicates that, “In every presidential election from 1960-1976 the 18-34 year old age group was the most Democratic age group, but in the presidential elections from 1980-1992 the 18-34 age group was the most Republican age group. Especially notable is the strong preference of younger voters for Ronald Reagan, which dispels the stereotype that younger voters tend to support relatively younger candidates.” It also refutes the canard that younger voters always support liberals and Democrats.

But, could it be that those “younger voters” who start out as liberals or Democrats eventually turn to the right as they age? In most cases, the answer is no.  A classic example is the GI or Greatest Generation, those Americans born in the first quarter of the 20th century who lived through and overcame the Great Depression and then won World War II. That generation voted heavily for Democrats starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, awarding him 85% of their vote in 1932. (Generations, Strauss and Howe, p. 262) As late as 2004, the last measurable segment of GI generation voters gave Democrat John Kerry a majority of their votes.

So, there is no clear tendency for voters to move right or left or toward either party as they age, as Mounk suggested. Instead, as Professor Fisher indicates, due to differing socio-economic conditions experienced during their formative years (generational theorists would add differing parental child rearing practices to the mix), “different generations have distinct political leanings that they will tend to maintain over their lifetime.”

In fact, there is data from Pew Research demonstrating that there is a direct relationship between the identity of the president when voters were 18 years old and the partisanship of those voters in the elections that followed. The perceived success or popularity of a president during a voter’s formative years influences their vote even decades later. Younger Boomers and older Gen-X’ers who came of age during the term of the popular Ronald Reagan voted disproportionately Republican in elections from 1996 to 2010. On the other hand, Boomers who were 18 during Richard Nixon’s tumultuous administration have consistently cast Democratic votes in later years while Boomers and X’ers who came of age during Jimmy Carter’s presidency have normally been Republican in their partisanship.

Meanwhile, in Pew’s initial survey of the Trump presidency, Millennials disapproved of his performance by greater than a 2:1 (64% to 28%) margin. Even among white 18-29 year olds, 59% disapproved. A just published survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago similarly found that Millennials disapprove of Trump at rates ranging from 55% (whites) to 71% (African Americans). Unlike Mounk’s unfounded predictions of the future voting behavior of Millennials, this data point alone suggests that Millennials’ Democratic tendencies are likely to be reinforced unless the president’s appeal to their generation increases significantly.

There is a body of accumulated academic research and current polling making possible a realistic forecast of how America’s most populous generation will vote in the future.  Not surprisingly, those projections suggest that the Democrats currently have the edge in winning the long term loyalties of Millennials. While Mounk points out that white Millennials voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a plurality of 47% to 43% in 2016, it should be noted that the Millennial generation is not only America’s largest, it is also the nation’s most diverse. About 40% of all Millennials and close to half of the generation’s youngest cohort are nonwhite. Around one in five have at least one immigrant parent. Latinos 18-29 voted for Clinton by a greater than 2.5:1 margin (68% to 26%). Among African-Americans in that age range the ratio of Clinton to Trump voters was nearly 10:1 (85% to 9%). That overwhelming Democratic vote among nonwhite Millennials meant that Clinton carried the entire generation handily (54% to 37%).

Party identification is an even better indicator of the deeper partisan proclivities of Millennial (and other) voters than their choice in a single election. That is because in each of the five presidential elections of the 21st century, about 90% of those who identify with a party voted for the nominee of that party. And, by 1.6:1 majority (57% to 36%) Millennials identify with or lean toward the Democratic rather than Republican party.

Younger (18-25 years old) and older Millennials (26-35 years old) are equally likely to call themselves Democrats. Two-thirds (66%) of Latino and 84% of African-American Millennials identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. White Millennials are evenly divided in their party ID (47% for each party). White female Millennials are decisively Democratic (54% to 39%). It is only among white males that the GOP has an edge over the Democrats among Millennials (57% to 40%).

Yascha Mounk may be right in saying that nothing in politics is foreordained. But, in the contest to capture the loyalties of the Millennial generation and control the future of American politics, the Democratic Party continues to hold a clear advantage.

Morley Winograd and Michael Hais are co-authors of “Millennial Makeover, Millennial Momentum and Millennial Majority.

This article was published in The Jewish Journal on March 23, 2017.

Photo by Elizabeth Hahn

Tuition-free College Would Rev Up California’s Economic Engines

By Morley Winograd

Higher education is the key to economic mobility in America. A recent study with unprecedented access to individual and family incomes has proved the case for this proposition beyond a reasonable doubt.

The study done for the Equality of Opportunity Project rated every college in America on how well they did in improving their students’ income after their college experience, whether they graduated or not, compared to their families’ income before they entered college.

The top 10 colleges with the best track record of moving students from families in the bottom 20 percent of all incomes in America when they entered to individual incomes in the top 20 percent when they left included three public colleges in California.

Cal State Los Angeles had the highest “Mobility Rating” of any college in the country, moving almost 10 percent of its student body from the bottom to the top levels of income after their college experience. Glendale Community College ranked seventh, moving 7 percent of its students up the economic ladder, just about tied with the performance of the City University of New York. Rounding out the top 10 of mobility engines was Cal State Polytechnic University’s Pomona campus, where 6.8 percent of all students from the lowest income quintile ended up in the top quintile after taking classes there.

The UC system’s results also earned it some bragging rights. UC Berkeley moved a higher percentage of its students whose family incomes were in the lowest 20 percent to the top 1 percent of incomes than any other elite college, as the study’s authors called them, in the country. And UCLA had the highest percentage of enrollment of students from the lowest quintile of incomes than any other such university in the country, even though their post-graduation income success was not as great as some others. 

But the real stars of the report were what the researchers call “working class colleges,” such as Cal State University or community colleges, that earned their high marks by having the most success with the greatest number of students from lower income families.

How did these colleges achieve this outstanding performance? It wasn’t by spending more money than elite colleges. The average per student instructional expenditure at places like Stanford is $87,100. By contrast, the average per student expenditure for working-class colleges that were able to achieve Ivy League levels of completion was only $24,600, or less than a third of what elite schools spent.

Overall, the study demonstrated that places such as Cal State and community colleges were contributing the most to our state’s need for economic mobility by providing the broadest access possible within their unique academic roles and at a much more reasonable cost.

To rev up the state’s economic mobility engine, we need many more of California’s families to gain access to a higher education experience. Today, many families think they can’t afford college for their children, even though they know, as this study shows, that it is key to their economic success. But experience also shows that when states eliminate that worry by making a promise that tuition will be free, enrollment rates soar. For instance, in Tennessee in the first year of its Promise scholars program, which makes all of the state’s two-year institutions tuition-free for high school graduates, enrollment in the community colleges rose 24.7 percent.

Now that we have incontrovertible data showing that going to college is the key to upward mobility and that we know how to do it with reasonable levels of expenditures, California should enact a Promise program to make tuition free for two years at Cal State or any of our community colleges. Without spending very much money at all, such a program would open the floodgates of economic opportunity to families throughout the state and provide California with the workforce it needs to remain competitive in the global economy.

Morley Winograd is president and CEO of Campaign for Free College Tuition. He can be reached at This op-ed was written in association with Community Advocates Inc. of Los Angeles.

This piece was featured in The Sacramento Bee on February 13, 2017

President Obama, The Millennial Whisperer

By Morley Winograd and Michael Hais

President Obama will be seen by historians as the first president to bring millennial values to the challenges of the Oval Office. He isn't a millennial (in fact he has two millennial children), but his leadership style and beliefs reflect America's largest and most diverse cohort. And while much of the rest of America is divided on how well he has performed as the nation's 44th president, Obama has won overwhelming approval from the millennial generation, born 1982-2003.

More than three-fourths of millennials (77%) approved of Obama's job performance in a mid-December Pew Center survey, surpassing even the previous high mark the group gave him — 73% — just after his first inauguration in 2009. For much of his administration, millennials were only marginally more positive about the president than the rest of the population, but once his departure from office drew closer and the contrast between him and either of his potential successors - Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton - became clearer, millennial approval of the president's job performance shot up by about 15 percentage points, accounting for just about all of the increase he has enjoyed in his final year in office.

Some of the enthusiasm stems from millennials' perception that Obama tackled the issues they care about most. Almost half of millennials (46%) credit the president with making significant progress "toward solving the major problems facing the country," a far greater percentage than for any other generation. Only 10% of millennials, compared with 30% of older generations, think he made things worse.

Millions of millennials have health insurance because Obamacare allowed them to remain on their parents' plan. Theirs is the only generation in which a majority tell pollsters they support the Affordable Care Act. Millennials in particular have also benefited from Obama's initiatives to reduce the interest rates on student loans and allow millions to convert loan repayments to a percentage of income rather than a more onerous flat amount. In addition, the president's improved job-performance marks, especially their latest rise, reflect improvements in the economy that millennials now see in their incomes.

But more than any specific benefit, millennials appreciate the way Obama has championed their causes and created a more tolerant America.

One in five millennials has an immigrant parent, and most in the generation credit the president with trying to find a comprehensive solution to the immigration issue, especially for the youngest "Dreamers" who found new hope under the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order. By carefully building a foundation of support of gay rights, Obama's leadership also helped enshrine same-sex marriage among our constitutional protections. According to Pew surveys, close to three-quarters of millennials view immigrants and immigration positively (76%) and support gay marriage (73%); less than a majority of older age groups agree.

Finally, Obama's daily demonstration, as our nation's first African American president, that race should not be a barrier to achievement has reinforced millennials' desire to include everyone in the group and to celebrate their own diversity. In fact, some of the president's finest millennial "whisperer" moments happened when he addressed the question of race in America, including his eloquent speech on the topic as candidate Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary. In an interview with NPR, he couched his answer to a question about political correctness with a defense of tolerance that fits millennial attitudes: "Don't go around just looking for insults," he said, quoting advice he has given his daughters. "You're tough. If somebody says something you don't agree with, just engage them on their ideas."

It's not surprising that the same set of Americans that overwhelmingly approve of Obama would disapprove of the man who will replace him as president on Jan. 20. Already 64% of 18- to 29-year-olds disapprove of Trump's performance as president-elect, the highest disapproval rating of any age group in Pew's January survey.

Millennials will represent more than one out of three Americans by the end of this decade. Despite Trump's electoral college win in November, it seems likely that millennial attitudes will dominate American political discourse and policy decisions in the coming years. It's not clear now how much this generation's demographic and political importance shaped Obama's presidency and how much the cause and effect ran in the other direction. But it is clear that the optimism the president expressed in his farewell address is based in large part in his faith in his children's peers:

This generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I've seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America's hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You'll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.

And with that the country's first millennial president left the stage.

Morley Winograd and Michael Hais are co-authors of "Millennial Makeover, Millennial Momentum and Millennial Majority." They wrote this essay in association with Community Advocates, Inc. in Los Angeles.

This piece was featured in The Los Angeles Times and The Arizona Daily Star in January 2017.

Should You Intervene in a Bias Attack?

By Francine Russo  [Community Advocates cited below]

 In the aftermath of November's election, many have expressed distress at an apparent wave of reported bias incidents. There were 867 reported incidents of language or behavior in which bias or prejudice played a role in the 10 days following the election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-bigotry advocacy group. One of the most visible such events occurred on December 6, when a man screamed “terrorist” at a hijab-wearing New York City transit worker and pushed her down the stairs in Grand Central Station. An unidentified “good Samaritan” stepped in and took the woman to the hospital.

Was that the right thing to do? Did the helpful bystander risk danger? Was the action typical of most bystanders? Over the past few decades researchers have studied the behavior of bystanders at violent incidents. They have discovered factors that motivate these people to act or do nothing. They have also studied the result of various forms of intervention, both for the bystanders and for the victims.

Early research found that the more witnesses there were to an incident, the less individual responsibility to act each person felt. Subsequent study has discovered, however, that witness response is far more complicated. In fact, experts say, whether and how to act in such a situation involves a complex calculus in almost all circumstances. But learning the best possible approaches can help prepare you, should you ever witness an aggressor threatening or harming someone.

—Prepare yourself by thinking ahead or getting training. If you see a news story about a bias incident, suggests Sherry Hamby, an expert on the psychology of violence at Sewanee: The University of the South, “Role-play in your head what you would do and say. That may help you be more ready.”

—Stay alert to potential incidents. That’s one of the things taught by Elena Waldman, executive director and instructor of Artemis, a self-defense training organization located in New York and other east coast cities. “If I see an agitated or menacing person stalking another person,” she says, “maybe I’ll strike up a conversation with the vulnerable person. I might even say, ‘That guy over there is giving me a bad vibe. Is it okay if I stand here?’ I might ask another person to stand near us, just to create a safer space.”

—Call 911 immediately if there’s violence. This sounds obvious, but in the heat of the moment not everyone thinks to do it first, experts say. Then try to apply first aid if you have had training. Offer comfort and a sense of safety.

—Consider what feels safe before you attempt any intervention. Research by Hamby and her colleagues shows that a significant number of people are harmed when intervening. That's bad enough—but in addition, she says, “It was more traumatizing to the victim if the bystander made it worse or got harmed. It’s trickier than it’s treated to be a helpful bystander.”

—Don’t confront the aggressor with angry talk or violence. If you talk to the aggressor at all, do it in a mild and unchallenging way. “We all think we are going to be Harrison Ford in a movie,” 

Hamby says. It’s important, she says, not to escalate the situation. Instead, defuse the tension by changing the subject or even using humor. If the attacks are just verbal, she suggests you move closer to the victim and talk to him or her about something unrelated such as the weather or a popular television show, or pay them a compliment such as, “Love your outfit!” “You can act like you didn't even notice the person harassing the victim,” she says.

—Aid the victim. Ask whether he or she needs help; whether it is a ride or calling a friend.

—Enlist other bystanders. Often they will join you if you ask.

—Record the incident. If it feels safe, photograph or video the scene and the person. Or memorize everything about the attacker and the incident, including the actual words used. “The words used in the commission of the act,” says Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Kacey McBroom, “can be the difference between a regular crime and a hate crime.”

Remember that intervening is a personal decision. In such a threatening situation many people feel frightened and freeze. Decisions often have to be made within seconds. A former Navy Seal may decide to act in a way you wouldn’t—and depending on the situation, that might make things better or worse. At a minimum, you can call 911.

If you want to be better prepared, Waldman says, there are free or low-cost bystander classes at empowerment self-defense organizations around the country. For additional resources, she recommends the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation Web site. At Artemis, “We have lots of people of all genders in our classes,” she adds.

The fact that so many people are distressed by these bias incidents can be seen as a good thing. 

“The sky is not falling,” says David Lehrer, president of the human rights organization Community Advocates and a former executive of the Anti-Defamation League. “We believe Americans are more tolerant than ever before. The trends are in the right direction.”

This article was published by Scientific American on December 14, 2016.

Trump’s ‘international bankers’ speech: A template for hate

By David Lehrer

Last week Donald Trump invoked, wittingly or unwittingly, a classic anti-Semitic canard,

Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plan the destruction of global sovereignty in order to enrich these global interest powers, her special interest friends and her donors.

Charges regarding “international bankers,” “Bilderbergers,” “Illuminati” and “Elders of Zion” meeting to secretly undermine the world of finance and enrich themselves have been the stock in trade of anti-Semites for eons. Disproven forgeries, virulent demagogues’ fall, the millions of lives lost to hate’s influence have not shaken these absurd conspiracy theories’ attraction — here or abroad.

In the wake of Trump’s comments his defenders have come forward to proclaim his relationship with Jews as friends, family members, and employees as if that insulates the candidate from the charge of fomenting bigotry and hate. 

As one who has been actively involved in combatting, exposing and monitoring hate groups and their leaders for decades, I long ago abandoned the notion that an individual’s state of mind was relevant to an assessment of whether they were bigoted or not. I am not, nor is anyone who is speaking publicly, Trump’s psychiatrist or his confessor. What his innermost thoughts and motivations are remain unknown — we can only judge him by his actions and his words.

On that score, Trump is now a classic demagogue who lays the foundation for bigotry and prejudice on a massive scale. Virtually all of his rhetoric is laced with the classic historic tropes of racists and anti-Semites.

Last year, Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, wrote an illuminating essay in the Wall Street Journal, The Return of Anti-Semitism. In it he warned of a disturbing resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East and opined that “an ancient hatred has been reborn.”

Sacks found a link between the instances over the past two millennia when anti-Semitism became deadly, 

Anti-Semitism becomes deadly only when a culture, nation or faith suffers from a cognitive dissonance so profound that it becomes unbearable. It happens when the way a group sees itself is contradicted by the way it is seen by the world. It is the symptom of an unendurable sense of humiliation. 

These humiliations resulted not in introspection but in a search for foreign culprits — for external enemies who could be blamed and destroyed.

Hate cultivated for such cultural and political ends resolves the dissonance between past glory and current ignominy. By turning the question “What did we do wrong?” into “Who did this to us?”, it restores some measure of self-respect and provides a course of action. In psychiatry, the clinical terms for this process are splitting and projection; it allows people to define themselves as victims.

Donald Trump invariably engages in “splitting and projection”, no matter what goes wrong it is someone else’s fault — from the macro to the micro — that’s clearly how he thinks. He doesn’t need “external enemies” he cleverly feeds off of domestic differences that he terms foreign and alien.

In Trump’s view, our nation has been “humiliated”, it has been disrespected; only he can keep us from the “brink of collapse and chaos” brought about by duplicitous leaders who don’t care about our future. Only he can counter the secret financiers and political leaders who meet to undermine our financial system (with a manipulated Federal Reserve as a co-conspirator). He alone can protect our cities from the alien “hordes” that are tolerated by corrupt political leaders who want to swell their voting rolls. The first debate was lost because of some hidden hand’s fiddling with his microphone, his position in the polls is due to a conspiracy of the media and the “corrupt elites.” Speaker Ryan and other Republican leaders haven’t done their jobs in defending him appropriately because they too have conspired against the “anti-establishment” candidate. 

He has also mastered anticipatory victimhood — the election “will be rigged,” obviously by forces that are out to humiliate him — as they have the nation. And on and on — the list of manipulators and “hidden hands” seems endless. Even Melania claims his Access Hollywood comments were the fault of Billy Bush who “egged him [Trump] on.”

No matter what goes wrong there is never a hint of introspection or doubt — it is always “who did this to me?” 

The “other” in Europe was invariably Jews; in Trump’s 2016 America, the “other” can be, and has been, Muslims, Latinos, African Americans and other targets who can fill the role of the culprits in humiliatingAmerica [and Trump] and keeping it [him] from being “great again.”

Trump is reading from a script that inevitably leads to rancor, division, stereotyping and scapegoating. The horrible template is clear to anyone with a sense of history: perpetually blaming the “other,” while seeing oneself as a victim, in combination with political power can become toxic. 

Whether Trump knows, or cares, about what his rhetoric leads to is unknown and largely irrelevant. What is known is that its historical precedents are tragic and cause for deep concern. 

This piece was featured in The Jewish Journal on October 18, 2016

Trump has become the great unifier

By David A. Lehrer

I have spent my life working for civil rights, including 27 years as a representative of the Jewish community with the Anti-Defamation League. I lost count of the inter-group meetings I've participated in to craft agendas that reflected common interests. 

There have been Muslim-Jewish dialogues, African-American Jewish leadership coalitions, Latino-Jewish roundtables, and Asian outreach. Living as I do in Los Angeles, I am part of the great California melting pot.

Some of our efforts to find common ground worked better than others. But no matter the issue of the day, we were always bound together by opposition to anyone who would promote bigotry, division and hate. That was always a transcendent concern.

Bigots who attack one group threaten us all. People who depend on prejudice and stereotypes against one segment of society don’t have a singular target. They were more likely to harbor prejudice against other groups as well; it's their way of viewing the world and the other.

African American, Latino, and Jewish leaders might have disagreed on affirmative action or busing, but we were united in our condemnation of David Duke, Tom Metzger and similar demagogues.

And so we have Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate.

Trump can go to a Black church with Don King or Ben Carson and his support in the African American won’t budge.

He feigns outreach to the Latino community after disparaging Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, and saying a judge of Mexican heritage has a conflict of interest in hearing a case involving Trump. 

He decries Mexican “hordes” flooding across the border bringing chaos in their wake, when the data show that Mexican migration is down, and that there is a net outflow of immigration to Mexico, and that crime committed by undocumented immigrants is less than in the general population. 

He maligns an entire religion by pledging to bar all Muslim immigrants. His son likens refugees seeking asylum to poisoned Skittles candies.

He disdains women and demeans them with a long history of vulgar comments.

He goes lighter on the Jews, but has said he “likes little guys with yarmulkes counting my money” and told Jewish Republicans, “I’m a negotiator like you folks.”

If he lies and disparages this assortment of groups, which groups are free from such blatant distortions?

He decries “political correctness,” which, for all its excesses, constrains bigots by inducing them to keep their prejudice to themselves.

Trump clearly views others through the prism of stereotypes and thinks there is nothing wrong with assessing the world that way; indeed, he seems to be proud of his attitudes.

No matter our differences, anyone who is part of a minority group can sniff out bigots who traffic in fear.

Trump’s abysmal poll numbers among African-Americans hover at 5 percent and Latinos at 19 percent. Jewish contributions to his campaign are a seventh of what they were to Mitt Romney when he ran for president four years ago.

Efforts at building inter-group coalitions have a dappled track record. Over the decades, dialogues have not always resulted in common agendas.

But Donald Trump, by virtue of his stereotyping, bigotry, and wild assertions has become a cohesive force in a way he never intended. In Trump, we see a reminder of what we all fear in this land of diversity. Intent on turning back the clock on decades of progress, Trump has become, accidentally, the great unifier.

This piece was featured in The Sacramento Bee on October 2, 2016.