Since I was a young child growing up in a liberal Jewish household, I was taught that we Jews should oppose bias and discrimination and violent hatred against others because we know what it’s like when it happens to us. And because we know that it may only be a matter of time when we are the ones targeted. That’s why Jews fought and died in the civil rights movement. That’s why Jews were among the leaders in the effort to save Muslims in Darfur. That’s why our defense organizations call out discrimination against African Americans and LGBT people and other marginalized groups.
Clearly, many in the Republican party never learned this lesson.
To see its leaders desperately scramble now to denounce and distance themselves from Donald Trump after hearing his lewd remarks has made me wonder: What took them so long? Why didn’t they recognize their nominee’s true character, when there were so many examples of his racist and sexist conduct?
Maybe because the targets of his abuse and disregard were other people. People not like them. People they may have harbored ill feelings against, anyhow.
So when Trump suggested that Mexicans fleeing to America for a better life were actually rapists and murderers, that was okay, because those Mexicans were other people.
When he made fun of a journalist with a disability, he got a pass because, after all, most of us are able bodied.
When he called for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, his race for the Republican nomination zoomed ahead.
When he mocked the Muslim mother of a valorous soldier killed in combat, his words were criticized but his campaign continued.
When he finally acknowledged that President Obama was, indeed, born in America, the fact that he had pursued this racist lie for so many years seemed not to register with the party elite. Because it wasn’t about them or anybody who looked like them.
Only when he was caught on a decade-old three-minute tape boasting of attempted sexual assault, of kissing women against their will, grabbing their genitals, sounding like the predator he is, did the Grand Old Party reach its tipping point. Trump certainly had publicly demeaned women before. But they were specific women — a rival on the campaign trail, a beauty queen, a celebrity — and I suppose they were easier to dismiss.
On the tape, there were no distinctions. Somehow it appeared as if he was reducing half the population to the kind of score card kept by a hormonally challenged sixth grade boy. This, evidently, struck far too close to home for those Republican leaders (most of them men) who have wives, mothers and daughters and felt the assault personally.
But they should have seen it coming. They should have understood that when Trump was targeting Mexicans and Muslims and the disabled, he wasn’t targeting the “other.” He was demeaning and belittling all of us.
As a woman, I am, of course, relieved to see many in the GOP establishment take such a strong stand against the sexual objectification of women. None of them, however, should have been surprised. They clearly weren’t taught what I was taught, and what the best of Jewish values has given us — the ability to empathize with the other and to defend them as if they were us.
Contact Jane Eisner at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @Jane_Eisner
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, is writer-at-large at the Forward and the 2019 Koeppel Fellow in Journalism at Wesleyan University. For more than a decade, she was editor-in-chief of the Forward, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward’s digital readership grew significantly, and won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.