These are troubling times in our country, with strains of bigotry that many of us had hoped were buried with the passing of the 20th century.
Earlier this week, I debated Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson on “The Kelly File” about the controversy generated by a tweet her campaign had sent out of Hillary Clinton’s face next to a six-pointed star atop a pile of cash.
The Trump campaign insists that the six-pointed star represents a sheriff’s badge. But for those of us familiar with 20th century anti-Semitic tropes, this image was reminiscent of the bigotry Jews had experienced in Europe, and which they continue to experience there again today.
For my Jewish friends who saw the tweet over the weekend, the image brought immediate recoil. Even those whose families had lived here for generations experienced a visceral reaction when seeing the image of what they construed to be a Star of David atop a pile of cash.
Perhaps it is because my family fled an anti-Semitic regime that I have a healthy appreciation of what this language portends and how quickly words have the capacity to turn into action.
As soon as I left the studio Tuesday night, my Twitter feed began to explode. Many of the comments were from Trump supporters who felt that his tweet was innocent and not emblematic of any bigoted sentiment. Perhaps – but in that case, the least we could hope for is a presidential candidate who has a modicum of historical knowledge and would anticipate the response this imagery would evoke from those who are familiar with the history of anti-Semitism.
Other messages were less political in nature. One told me that if Trump were really racist, he would be burning crosses outside my house. Another called me a “kike” – a term I hadn’t heard directed at me since leaving the Soviet Union almost forty years ago. Another threatened to put a bullet through my “Jew spine.”
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I am not the first to receive messages like this. Journalist Julia Ioffe was forced to file a police report after she had the temerity to write a well-researched article about Melania Trump – the facts of which the Trumps did not contest. In return, Trump supporters threatened Ioffe with the vilest language, calling her a “filthy Russian kike” and telling her that she should be “burned in an oven” and “shot in the head.”
Donald Trump has refused to repudiate any of this, telling CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, “I don’t have a message to the fans.” Melania Trump said that she doesn’t control her fans and while some of them “maybe went too far,” Ioffe provoked them by writing a story Melania found unflattering.
By refusing to repudiate this behavior, directed at Ioffe, me and countless others who don’t worship at his altar, Trump has unleashed an unacceptable strain in our political discourse. It is dangerous, it is malignant and it must be repudiated by all sides, regardless of political affiliation.
This is my fourth presidential election at Fox News. In the past, I have said less than flattering things about the political views of former President Bush, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney. Never have I been subjected to death threats and anti-Semitic tropes in return. Never have I witnessed a presidential candidate whose supporters consistently engage in death threats and racist language refuse to repudiate their actions.
This should not be about partisan politics. Left unchallenged and unchecked, this behavior will fester and metastasize, like a cancer that is left untreated.
Perhaps it is because my family fled an anti-Semitic regime that I have a healthy appreciation of what this language portends and how quickly words have the capacity to turn into action. Perhaps it is because, unlike Donald Trump, I have a historic understanding of anti-Semitic imagery and its effect on the Jewish community, intentional or not.
Perhaps it is because I have worked in politics for two decades and know that sharp elbows are acceptable – but xenophobic, racist and threatening language is not.
The writer Elie Wiesel, who died last week, called upon well-meaning people to resist this behavior. “We must take sides,” Wiesel wrote. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Regardless of political affiliation, none of us should acquiesce to silence in the face of such hatred – whether you are a presidential candidate or one of his supporters.
Julie Roginsky has extensive experience in government, politics and public relations on both the federal and state levels. She is the president of Comprehensive Communications Group, a public relations and crisis communications firm that counts Fortune 500 corporations, elected officials and non-profit organizations among its clients. Follow her on Twitter @JulieRoginsky.