“The world has gone mad,” Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, told the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America meeting Sunday in Washington. Sacks’ message was ultimately hopeful, but the madness to which he referred certainly includes the rise in hate crimes across the country since Donald Trump’s election.
“We’ve seen a big uptick in incidents of vandalism, threats, intimidation spurred by the rhetoric surrounding Mr. Trump’s election,” Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., told USA Today. “The white supremacists out there are celebrating his victory, and many are feeling their oats.”
The results are disturbing to Jews and anyone made vulnerable by the appearance of swastikas and Nazi slogans. A synagogue in Missoula, Mont., requested a police patrol after American Nazi Party fliers accusing Jews of controlling the media were dropped in residential areas of the city. In a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, a swastika was painted on a sidewalk. A large swastika and the words “Make America White Again” were painted on a softball dugout in Wellsville, N.Y. A South Philadelphia storefront was spray-painted with a swastika and the words “Seig Heil 2016.” And swastikas were found in the bathroom of a middle school in Bethesda.
Over the weekend, Trump said he was “surprised” to learn of the hate crimes. “I am so saddened to hear that,” he said. “And I say, ‘Stop it.’ If it — if it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.”
That’s a needed start, but it’s going to take a lot more to stop this train. And Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as a top White House adviser only fortifies the impression that the new administration will be influenced by people and ideas that were, until Trump’s campaign, considered too extreme for acceptable American politics. Some major Jewish groups criticized the Bannon appointment, including the Anti-Defamation League, which argued that Bannon’s association with “unabashed anti-Semites and racists” is disqualifying.
Even granting the president-elect the presumption that his adviser is not an anti-Semite, now is the time for Trump to send the right signals to not only his supporters, but also directly to the people who, come January will be his constituents. He needs to take on the issue of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia directly, forcefully and convincingly. This will help allay broader concerns regarding intolerance and bring comfort and a sense of security to segments of the population who are feeling vulnerable and at risk. To paraphrase the president-elect and Sacks, this madness has to stop.