The answer, of course, is both. White supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville and the staggering upsurge of racist violence in our country since the beginning of his campaign are part of the Trump presidency. There isn’t enough space on this page to detail every time Trump has stoked white nationalist fear and grievance, nor is there room to demonstrate all the ways he and his team have embraced white supremacy and failed to condemn it in any meaningful way. Trump has thrived not least thanks to the white supremacists and white nationalists, and sadly, they have thrived thanks to Trump. It is symbiotic.
And let’s be clear how he responded: On Saturday, Trump equivocated those who protested against Nazis and Klansmen with those who murdered an American citizen in the name of white supremacy. He ended his remarks with the message “we must cherish our history,” a clear message of support to those fighting against the removal of Confederate monuments in public spaces. There was one chance to respond appropriately to Charlottesville, and that was the moment it happened. Trump’s failure to do so was nothing less than a PR and propaganda victory for the white supremacist “alt-right.”
To those who may be feeling defensive: The point is not that all Trump voters are evil or racists. The point is that Trump voters who oppose racism and white supremacy knew what they were getting with Trump, and made the moral calculation to vote for him anyway. As an aside, it’s worth noting that Jewish voters are generally some of the smartest and most highly educated in the electorate. It wasn’t ignorance that allowed some Jews to morally justify voting for Trump – it was denial.
And you know what? I gave those voters the benefit of the doubt. I have Jewish friends, colleagues, and family members who voted for Trump. Some genuinely believed Trump would eschew his white nationalist supporters once he got to the White House. Others downplayed the concerns since they didn’t really expect him to win – especially Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes. Still, others feared a Clinton presidency so much, they were willing to ignore all of Trump’s red flags. They made a moral calculation. I couldn’t believe it at the time, but I accepted it.
People have different red lines. For some, Trump was disqualified from even running for president because he so energetically led the racist birther movement designed to delegitimize the first black president. Trump’s explicit calls to violence were the red line for some. For others, that line was crossed when Trump retweeted anti-Semitic memes from Nazi Twitter accounts.
We all have our red lines. The question for those who voted for Trump, and still support him, is where is your red line?
Saturday wasn’t just a moment of truth for the President. His total failure on Saturday creates a moment of truth for those who still support him. There is a reason Fortune 100 CEOs are rapidly exiting the President’s American Manufacturing Council now. For all the perceived economic benefits of serving on the council, the moral hazard of standing next to this president has simply become too great.
I am not here to shame my Jewish brothers and sisters who voted for Trump; you had your reasons. I still love you and I still cherish you as people, as Americans and as members of my tribe. I’m here because we need your help. We need you to stand up and speak out, specifically in Jewish enclaves where support for Trump is the majority opinion and not the minority.
And I’m not asking you to abandon Trump altogether. We can laud, for example, the Trump administration’s unwavering support for Israel or its efforts to enable public funding to flow to yeshivot, and at the same time denounce with our strongest possible language and actions this administration’s ties to white supremacists. We can do both at the same time. We can hold this administration accountable without walking away entirely. We have a moral obligation do so.
Yes, from a sheer perspective of communal security, Jews are under greater threat under this administration. But I want to make one point abundantly clear: Trump-emboldened Nazis and Klansman posing greater threats to Jews should not be the only reason to distance yourself from this hateful administration. Basic Jewish values call on us to welcome the stranger, not vilify him. Basic Jewish values call on us to honor and respect women, not denigrate them. Basic Jewish values call on us to defend and protect marginalized people, like African-Americans, as we are all created “b’tselem Elohim.”
We cannot do the right thing only because it is in our self-interest. We must have the moral clarity and backbone to do the right thing because we are called as Jews, to take righteous action. When President Trump failed to call out Nazis and Klansmen in the immediate aftermath of white supremacist terrorism, he abdicated the moral authority of the office of the President of the United States. American Jews—especially Trump supporters—must not follow his example and abdicate our moral authority. No more equivocation. No more benefit of the doubt. No more silence. You, Trump supporter, still have the chance to do the right thing. What is your red line?