Donald Trump and bigotry

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is author of 10 books on international and American politics, including  his latest book, “New Warfare: Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.”

By Marty Rochester

Is President Donald Trump a bigot, as many of his detractors claim? He surely has many flaws, some of which I often have written about — for example, his careless, even reckless, unpresidential tweets. But I doubt bigotry is one of them, at least based on an analysis of logic and evidence.

The Random House Dictionary defines bigotry as “complete intolerance of any opinion that differs from one’s own.” By that definition, we are almost all becoming a country of bigots, given the extreme polarization and mutual contempt for competing viewpoints we see daily on both the left and the right. 

Liberals will blame Trump for creating a toxic environment of hate, but they ignore their own contribution and complicity. In a recent ranking of U.S. presidents based on a survey of historians conducted by C-SPAN, Trump is not yet rated; but I would not be surprised to find many left-leaning academics already ranking him as No. 44 on the list, before he even has had a chance to appoint his entire administrative team. 

Let’s drill deeper and examine the bigotry charge against Trump. I will focus on two specific accusations: that he is an anti-Semite and an Islamophobe. 

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

The anti-Semitism charge that has been leveled by so many critics locally and nationally, frankly, is bizarre. The accusation is based largely on his association with Steve Bannon of Breitbart and “alt-right” fame, never mind that Trump has repeatedly repudiated hate groups. 

Trump initially was criticized not for anything he said but for what he failed to say — for not explicitly denouncing anti-Semitism, for not including mention of Jews in a Holocaust observance statement, and other sins of omission. 

Even when he did finally specifically condemn anti-Semitism as “horrible and painful” Feb. 21, the narrative continued unabated that his failure to act sooner proved his anti-Semitism. Even when Vice President Mike Pence came to Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery after the terrible vandalism of headstones, symbolizing clearly the administration’s stand against anti-Semitism, Trump critics absurdly claimed it was a publicity stunt. The anti-Semitism slander has persisted despite his highlighting the problem and the cemetery vandalism in the very first words of his address before a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28.  

If Trump is an anti-Semite, what does that make Barack Obama, whose associates were as shady as Bannon, if not more so? Al Sharpton, widely viewed as a notorious anti-Semite and race-baiter, visited the Obama White House more than 100 times. For more than 20 years, Obama’s pastor was the Rev. Jerimiah Wright, who married Barack and Michelle Obama; his anti-Semitic credentials included saying, once Obama was pressured to cut his ties to Wright, “Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me.” Should we conclude Obama was an anti-Semite? Really?  

Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and grandchildren are Jewish; his son-in-law Jared Kushner is an Orthodox Jew (in whose bedroom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a family friend, slept while visiting the Kushner home in New Jersey when Jared Kushner was a little boy);  his father, Fred Trump, donated the land and money to build a synagogue; and the chief legal officer of the Trump Organization is an Orthodox Jew. 

Donald Trump has named an ultra-Orthodox Jew as U.S. ambassador to Israel, has supported  moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, has had his U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, deliver a vigorous defense of Israel and denunciation of the one-sided pro-Palestinian Security Council resolution Obama refused to veto, and thus far has  sounded like the most pro-Israeli American president in history. 

To suggest that someone with these credentials evidences anti-Semitism is mind-boggling. Even if he were to opt for a circumcision and bar mitzvah at age 70, this would not satisfy the folks whose political agenda requires demonizing him as being in bed with Jew haters. So can we put this silly canard to rest? It belongs with the now discredited association of Trump with the post-election wave of JCC bomb threats.

How about the accusation of Trump being an Islamophobe? 

Admittedly, Trump regrettably has been very loose-lipped in talking about Islam and its connection to terrorism. But he tends to be loose-lipped about everything, so why should we be shocked? Granted, he should be much more careful in use of language. Sloppy, sophomoric tweeting does not equate to bigotry. Neither does a sloppy, indeed incredibly incompetent rollout of an executive order aimed at protecting the country from terrorist threats.

Let’s look at his executive order of Jan. 27, subsequently blocked by federal courts, that would have placed restrictions on immigrants and refugees entering the country, in particular suspending for 90 days the admission of foreigners from seven Middle East countries: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Was this really a Muslim ban, as critics claimed?

First, although the United States should be welcoming toward immigrants, any country has a right to control its borders and a need to maintain the rule of law. This means limiting “illegal aliens” (a term that Bill Clinton used frequently and traditionally has been accepted among international lawyers as referring to foreigners living in one’s country unlawfully but, thanks to political correctness, is now equated with the N-word by never-Trumpers). There are roughly 11 million illegal aliens in the United States, so we hardly need more.

Second, the seven countries had been identified earlier, even by the Obama administration, as “countries of concern,” precisely because not only were they leading hotbeds of jihadist terrorism but also included mostly chaotic, failed states where vetting of incoming immigrants was virtually impossible due to lack of internal governmental controls. 

Third, there are more than 1 billion Muslims in more than 50 majority Muslim countries in the world. Most of these, including the largest Muslim country (Indonesia) and the largest Arab country (Egypt), are not included in the ban. Cynics say that the United States has not suffered a single fatality since 9/11 from natives of the seven countries, but that is a clever statistic that overlooks, for example, the Somali who ran over several people at Ohio State University without killing them, as well as several thwarted terrorist plots. 

Note Afghanistan and Pakistan are not included in the ban, even though a Pakistani jihadist committed mass murder in San Bernardino and an Afghan jihadist in Orlando, which only proves that Trump did not have in mind a “Muslim ban” or otherwise he would have included those nations on the list as well.  

Fourth, listen to the congressional testimony of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Feb. 7, when he was careful to acknowledge that the problem was not Islam but rather radical Islam, which he said was a small fraction of Muslims. 

Some critics argue that the terrorist threat has been exaggerated, citing statistics that an American is more likely to die from drowning in a bathtub or from a lightning strike than from a jihadist attack. However, according to the New America Foundation, there have been 13 lethal and just over 400 jihadist attacks on American soil since 9/11, with the potential for far more, including nightmarish destruction caused by WMDs, disruption of electronic grids and other mayhem.  

The same people who have called Trump an anti-Semite have been hyperventilating over his immigration policies. It is fair to debate the fairness and reasonableness of the latter policies. It is not fair to engage in, shall we say, “alternative facts.”