Responding to Hate

As a civil rights attorney, I have spent over 3 decades using the tools of my trade to respond to hate that has been unleashed upon my clients. However, until recently, society has generally supported victims of hate and vilified the hate mongers. Sadly, the campaign and subsequent election of our president-elect has resulted in something I had hoped I would never see in my lifetime-the legitimization of hate.

Even a casual news observer cannot help but notice the daily occurrences of swastika graffiti, beatings and even killings of Muslims, and shaming of schoolchildren of color. On the Saturday night before this past Halloween, I went to see friends who perform in a local band at a nearby neighborhood club. Many were dressed up in a wide variety of costumes. Before the show, a complete stranger sitting next to me wearing a long Pinocchio nose, apparently thought it was completely ok to tell me a vile anti-semitic joke. Whether he knew I was Jewish does not matter. What was most disturbing was that he felt completely free to spew his hate in public to a total stranger.

Though I consider myself a strong advocate, I was so stunned when that stranger shared his anti-semitism with me that I failed to respond. I have been thinking about this incident ever since to try to understand my failure to respond. Beyond just being in shock, I also did not want to cause a scene at an otherwise festive public affair. But after I posted this incident on Facebook and a number of friends said they would have responded strongly, I realized 2 important things:

  • Never judge how someone responds to a crisis because you never know how you will respond if confronted with the very same crisis; and
  • It is often easier to respond on behalf of someone else than to actually defend yourself.

Sadly, once the election was over, the president-elect moved quickly to make sure the world understood that he would continue to legitimize hate when he appointed a purveyor of hateful prejudice, Steve Bannon, as his Chief Strategist, a position in the White House that has never previously existed. For those who are unaware, Bannon was the editor of Breitbart.com before joining the president-elect’s campaign. In that capacity, he regularly denigrated Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, people of color and women, and he did so in vile and hateful language. Until recently, such a man would not be accepted in civil society, but since the president-elect has normalized hate and prejudice, he has now welcomed it, through Bannon’s appointment, to the highest level of his White House.

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Fortunately, yesterday, I was given a chance to respond belatedly to the anti-semitism I experienced, when a local TV news reporter called me in my role as President of my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim, to ask if I would be willing to publicly respond to my Congressman Mark Pocan’s call that the president-elect withdraw Bannon’s appointment. I gladly agreed to do so and you can watch my interview at this link.

During this interview, I was able to convey the following in response to Bannon’s appointment and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s acceptance of it:

“Our president-elect has chosen to legitimize hate within his own administration. We had a big Bat Mitzvah this past weekend (and) people are worried. They’re very worried. He has an opportunity – Speaker Ryan – to say directly to the President of the United States – hate does not belong in the White House. I understand that he was just renominated as Speaker of the House, but that’s not leadership to duck a question like that.”

This TV news story not only provide me with the opportunity to delegitimize hate, but as the story has been shared widely, local leaders have approached me to work with them to strategize on an organized local response. I look forward to doing so in the days and weeks to come. Unfortunately, given the results of our recent election, this will just be the first of many battles which good people simply cannot shy away from. The timing and manner of each of our responses to hate will vary, but respond we must.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

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Building Community: Now more than ever

Like many people around the world, the election of an American President who has actively engaged in and encouraged racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, frightens me. It reminds me of why I never bank on electoral politics to provide the solutions to our nation’s and our world’s problems. Of course, I vote, but in the end of the day, I only have one vote, and in this particular instance, even when the candidate I favored won a majority of the popular vote, our political system nevertheless gave the Presidency to her opponent.

I have spent my entire professional career working for progressive systems change. This election does not alter that. In fact, it will only cause me to work harder on behalf of the disenfranchised people I represent. A former colleague once called me a “good loser.” At first I did not understand that she was giving me a compliment. Then, she explained, that I never give up even after losing a hard fought battle. I simply examine the new situation for the best way forward and get back to working on making our world a better place. That is what we all must do right now.

Starting last night, many people have asked me what they can do in response to America electing perhaps the scariest President in its history. My sister-in-law just called me in tears. The vast majority of our nation was targeted by our President-elect, including women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, and people with disabilities, as somehow less worthy. But we know better. We also know that, now more than ever, we need each other, and together we can still accomplish great things.

So, here are a few suggestions (with underlined links to prior posts for more detail):

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So, today, give hugs to friends and family. Tomorrow, start looking for local projects that you can dive into to make your local community a better place. Together we can build community and create a better world for everyone.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Donald Trump: a 21st Century Charles Lindbergh?

As the nation suffers through Donald Trump’s bombastic racist xenophobic campaign for President, and wonders whether his campaign will have enough staying power to carry him into the White House, I was reminded of Philip Roth’s fictional account of Charles Lindbergh’s defeat of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential campaign, entitled The Plot Against America.

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While Lindbergh is best remembered for his valiant trans-Atlantic flight, during the 1930s, he revealed himself to be a known anti-semitic Nazi sympathizer. Nazi military leader Herman Göring presented him with the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle, on behalf of Adolf Hitler, in 1938, the same award the Nazis presented to another famous American anti-Semite, Henry Ford earlier that year.

Lindbergh actively opposed entry into World War 2, which was not that uncommon prior to Pearl Harbor. What was more disturbing about Lindbergh’s opposition to the war was his clear sympathy for the so-called racial purity theories espoused by the Nazis. He spoke at America First rallies and in 1939, published an article entitled Aviation, Geography, and Race in Reader’s Digest in which he stated,

We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.

In his diaries, Lindbergh wrote,

We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence … Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.

While Lindbergh did not run for President, he had an avid following which makes Roth’s book both realistic and frightening. I highly recommend it, and for those who have not read it, I will not reveal the ending.

I doubt that Roth had Trump in mind when he wrote The Plot Against America, but the lessons in that book which reveal how racist xenophobia can quickly catch fire in our nation and potentially elect a candidate who spews vile hate to the most powerful job in the world are well worth heeding. Recently, some have compared Trump to the infamous red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy, and like McCarthyism, the media has some responsibility in fueling Trump’s rise.

Hopefully, Trump will not rise as far as McCarthy, but will fall as hard as he did when he was finally discredited. Whether you prefer the McCarthy comparison or the Lindbergh comparison, Trump’s vile racism does not belong in the White House. Our nation has a long way to go in defeating racism, but we turned a corner in electing Barack Obama twice, and we must not allow the pendulum to swing so far back we end up with a xenophobic racist in the White House.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.