I am not an alarmist. But after the recent presidential election, my attitude may have changed.
President-elect Donald Trump has turned minority groups into targets for discrimination by taking advantage of the hardships and dissatisfaction voters experienced over the last eight years. Many in the American Jewish community, 71 percent of whom voted for former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, have drawn parallels between Trump’s claims and dark episodes in Jewish diaspora.
The phrase “We’ve seen this before” has become popular within Jewish social activism groups, and as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, this is a not a phrase I use lightly. But the climate toward Jews following Trump’s election calls for reflection about how his inflammatory rhetoric could normalize anti-Semitism in everyday conversation.
The Trump campaign reeked of anti-Semitism. Trump’s speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in December 2015, in which he harped on nearly every Jewish stereotype, was an early indication of his anti-Semitic attitude. Trump has also praised Alex Jones, a radio host who believes a “Jewish mafia” runs the country, and it is equally concerning that Trump’s chief strategist and the former head of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, objected to his children going to school with Jews, .
In an article for The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that the “self-described alt-right” has been empowered in that “the white nationalist far-right has decided … that Trump will advance its interests.” It cannot be a coincidence that of the 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets directed at Jewish journalists during the 2016 election season, the Anti-Defamation League report found that about two-thirds were tweeted by users whose bios contained the terms “Trump,” “nationalist,” “conservative” and “white.” The increase of swastikas recently reported by the New York City Police Department is a manifestation of these views.
I have not even touched the issue of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, which labeled Mexicans as rapists, attacked the Muslim family of a U.S. veteran and directed misogynistic language toward women. My hope is by encouraging reflection upon the conversations we have in everyday life, we can stop the type of rhetoric that leads to policies such as the deportations of millions of immigrants without documentation or the forced registration of an entire religious minority group.
It is not as if the day after Hitler’s election my grandparents were forced to wear yellow stars. Germany was in a terrible economic state and derogatory comments about Jews gradually became socially acceptable, first in private conversation, then in large political meetings and finally in Nazi speeches. Ultimately, anti-Semitism was normalized and digested enough to be codified into policies.
If we want our country to celebrate its diversity, we must be inclusive of minority groups and attentive in our everyday conversations. If friends say something xenophobic, call them out. Doing so will send a message that there is no room for conversation that isolates members of our community. If our daily conversations normalize discriminatory policies, then these changes may even be accepted passively. We have seen such passive acceptance before.
We can use the same approach to keep our elected officials in check. If we are concerned about Islamophobia in government, we should call our representatives and ask them to make statements. If we see politicians increasingly associating themselves with the alt-right, we must hold them accountable.
This request for accountability is bipartisan. This country was built from its diversity and it is the only way we will continue to grow. Only a collective social conscious can ensure that this country continues to be a home for Jews, Muslims and all groups within American society.
Jonathan Muhlrad is a sophomore in the College.
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