“The press is the enemy of the people.” That was said by Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong. It is now being said by President Donald Trump.
“Invaders” and “horde” are terms used about the Chinese in the late 1800s to drum up hatred against them. Those terms are now being used by the president and members of Congress about a group of 4,000 people marching toward the U.S. southern border, and who are expected to legally seek asylum. For those children, women and men who have the stamina to reach the U.S. border, they will come upon possibly as many 15,000 armed military personnel.
Words matter. Trump encouraged violence at his pre-election rallies. He offered to pay legal fees for those who committed acts of violence against those who did not agree with him. He praised a congressman who body-slammed a news reporter. He refers to those who disagree with him by name-calling. He speaks of his critics as traitors and enemies.
Violent rhetoric leads to violent action.
The man who sent bombs to critics of Trump and the man who slaughtered 11 Jewish people during their shabbat prayers are responsible for their own actions. But they both referenced a Trump speech.
During the Charlottesville march, white supremacists and neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Trump said there are “good people” on both sides. Good people do not march with such people.
When the information came out about the bombs and shooting, Trump said a few words about unity and how these actions do not belong in this society. A short time later, he was back to attacking the press and those who are his critics. His answer to the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue is that houses of worship and schools should have armed guards. That is what they do in third-world countries and countries where wars are being fought. That is not what should happen in the United States.
Trump is providing the toxic environment of intolerance. He has not made any attempt to unite this country. He provides the red meat rhetoric that riles his base.
Columbine, 9/11, Charleston, Newtown — there have been presidents of different parties who were able to provide some solace and compassion to the nation after these tragedies. Unfortunately, President Trump appears to have no idea what words or acts are needed to unify this country or show compassion and comfort to those who suffer great tragedies.
The world is approaching the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in November 1938 when the Nazis attacked Jewish businesses and individuals. That was the beginning of the Holocaust. It has been unthinkable that it could possibly happen in the United States. Is there now even a sliver of a possibility that it could? Maybe not a Holocaust, but the violence?
Since Trump has been in office, anti-semitism attacks in this country have increased by almost 60 percent — the largest increase in many years. His incendiary rhetoric gives extremists an excuse to spew and act on their hatred. When asked if he felt that his words were in any way to blame for the violence and division in this country, he answered no — that it was the fault of the press. That is an answer that defies common sense and reality. Nothing is ever his fault. Someone else is always to blame.
The current administration has chosen to govern by fear and intimidation. Until Republicans find the courage to care more about this country than their terms in office and are willing to call out Trump and others for their hateful speech, I fear that people cannot begin to come together again as a united country.
The Shabbat service at Temple Shalom on Friday evening, Nov. 2, gave me some hope. There were more than 200 people of many faiths who came together in support of the Jewish community in that time of sorrow. If only that lesson could be taught throughout this great nation — that we must all stand up to hate and prejudice.
Stan Tetenman is a resident of Poland.