So my boss tells me to take today off and focus on a special project.
Yes sir! I think.
And then, as if to mock me, I flip open the paper and read about Congress last week declaring that hatred in all its varieties — including that against “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others”—is bad.
What’s a guy to do?
First, bigotry doesn’t have varieties. Underneath the thinnest veneer, it’s all the same thing: treating people in a particular group with contempt because doing so somehow makes you feel better about yourself.
Sure, the forms that might appear to be different. But that’s just personal style: Chocolate or vanilla, rocky road or rum raisin, it’s all ice cream.
I can’t tell you how many readers insisted I weigh in on Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, one of two Muslims new to Congress, and her pair of remarks regarding Israel. My hunch is they do so not out of their overflowing human kindness, but from their own low-grade fever anti-Semitism. They want to nudge me into a trap: Ha, make this Jewish Democrat denounce his fellow Democrat. Sort of the way Louis Farrakhan is used as a pry bar to wiggle apart Democratic coalitions.
Honestly, Democrat or Republican, feeling queasy about Israel as it slides toward extremism under Benjamin Netanyahu seems more an expression of sincerely-held Judaism than of anti-Semitism, and if that were a sheitel on Omar’s head instead of a headscarf (sigh: sheitel = wig worn by Orthodox Jewish women) nobody would have noticed her opinion, never mind initiated an Act of Congress.
Let me tell you a story….
In the summer of 2016, the paper sent me to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. It was something of an afterthought — somebody realized that if they sent me there, then I wouldn’t be here, annoying people — so I didn’t have any passes or lanyards to get into the convention itself.
Just as well. Plenty to distract myself with outside. I hung around with the Bible Believers, with their neon anti-gay signs — a motley of low-rent Westboro Baptist Church wannabes. I wrote a story on how the Cleveland cops used their bicycles for crowd control.
And I buttonholed Jews — guys in yamulkes — and asked how they could support the hideous enormity of Donald Trump, unleashing the pandora’s box of prejudice in the hopes its furies would blow him into the White House, which is about what happened. Did they not see the danger?
No, they did not. Every Jew I talked to, to a man, said some version of this: Israel, Israel, Israel. Trump was marginally better on Israel than Hillary Clinton, for some reason I couldn’t quite grasp that had to do with Barack Obama being a secret Muslim.
Not exactly putting the good ol’ U.S. of A’s best interests first; indeed, close to the “allegiance to a foreign country” Omar referred to. Though I use a different term: “framing.” This is not unique to Jews (another classic hater tactic: fault the despised group for qualities that everybody displays, including themselves). When you talk to people who back the liar, bully, fraud and probable traitor in the Oval office, they take their hands, like a movie director, and frame some small section of the political landscape. He’s against the immigrants they also fear and hate. He’s putting right wing anti-choice zealots like us on the Supreme Court. He’s promised to revive the coal industry.
As long as we view prejudice as being like having your fly open — an embarrassing blunder to be pointed out, hastily corrected, and then forgotten — we’re going to spin our wheels. Bigotry is a condition of life, affecting all people everywhere. Maybe we’re focusing on these tiny battles to ignore what that we can’t unseat the Toscanini of Hate straddling the White House, conducting his fans in a booming oratorio of bigotry. To have any hope of showing Trump the door, Democrats must hang together, not because we all love each other and our hearts are pure. But because the nation we all love is going down the toilet and we need to work together to save it. That’s the prize we should have our eyes on.