Angry Ayes

Jewish Light Editorial

We congratulate President-elect Donald J. Trump and hope for the adoption by him and Congress of policies, programs and successes that benefit all Americans.

Some might say there should be a honeymoon period of non-judgment after a presidential election. While we would normally fall into that camp, the events of this past week don’t afford us the luxury of complacency.

Already there are statements by Trump, who gave a wide-ranging interview to “60 Minutes,” of rapidly deporting up to three million immigrants, which we find fraught with a number of moral and pragmatic concerns. And it appears that the new leader is comfortable with appointing a U.S. Supreme Court justice who would side with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the seminal case protecting women’s rights over their own bodies and reproductive choices. The Light has been consistently supportive of the protections afforded women under Roe.

From a Jewish perspective, one of the most jarring early decisions was Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as a senior advisor. Some Jewish groups have already expressed major concerns about the elevation of this man to a prominent position in the administration.

As reported in virtually every major news outlet in the U.S. and Israel, the Anti-Defamation League has roundly condemned Bannon’s appointment, and several others followed suit. (See related story on page 6.)

Why? As ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in his recent statement, “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’ ”

Lest one think that Greenblatt’s words comprised a political anti-Trump effort, you should know that ADL in the same statement praised the selection of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as the president-elect’s chief of staff.  The ADL’s condemnation was specific to Bannon, a brilliant, well-educated man whose Breitbart website became a focal point for the so-called alt-right.

Sure, there have been complaints about Bannon from the Democratic side of the aisle, and no doubt some of the rhetoric is political in nature. But the concerns about Bannon were voiced from the moment he signed on to the Trump campaign, and even aside from Jewish voices, the fears of his focus on hateful vitriol have emanated from more than simply liberal or leftist corners.

For instance, the website quoted a couple conservative sources to echo the view that Bannon is not a good choice: “John Weaver, a GOP strategist who oversaw Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign, said his appointment meant ‘the racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office.’ Conservative third-party presidential candidate Evan McMullin called Bannon an ‘anti-Semite’ and asked for national elected GOP politicians to condemn the decision. 

None of this suggests that Trump shares any such alleged views. In fact, it would be wholly inappropriate to ascribe anti-Semitic intent to the president-elect simply due to the views of his most fringe supporters, or even via his appointment of a man who appeared to have little issue courting such fringes on the pages of the website he led.

No, our concern is that in a climate which is fragile in part because of the incendiary rhetoric of a nasty campaign, Trump chose to elevate someone closely associated with such rhetoric to a high position in his administration. Doing so at the very least creates an appearance that there is little concern for those deeply disturbed by the more hateful, racist and xenophobic aspects of the campaign.

That is unfortunate, given what Trump has said about wanting to be president of all the people. Yes, we understand well that there are those who believe the notion of political correctness has put a chilling effect on speech, and have chosen to support candidates and websites who are willing to “say things the way they truly are.” To his apologists, Bannon can certainly be seen from this perspective. We just don’t happen to share that view.

We have zero issue with having a full and open discourse on a variety of issues and public policy matters; in fact, we think it’s essential to a successful democracy. The voters have spoken, in many campaigns, quite resoundingly about the ways they would like to see the nation, state and their localities governed. 

That’s all well and good. But that doesn’t mean that the public discussion should be led by those who have gone out of their way to cultivate boorish, mean-spirited and in some cases, downright hateful speech in their professional and personal lives. So as we wish our president-elect all the best, we caution that the tone he sets is reflected in the choices he makes for those who advise him. And in the case of Bannon, that tone is dubious at best and frightening at worst.