As a child of immigrants, I understand how precious our rights are in America. My parents came here from Germany and Austria. In their home countries, their families lost their rights as citizens—including their voting rights. And they had to register with the government as Jews. Soon they, and other minorities, were rounded up and, eventually, watched their family and friends be murdered by the Nazis.
After surviving the Nazis, building new lives in America, and proudly serving in the U.S. Army, my parents taught my sister and me that America was the land of treasured liberties: the freedom to be educated, the freedom to live as Jews without government intervention, and the freedom to vote. They taught us never to take those liberties for granted.
And now the presidential election is over, and we can take heart in knowing that the people have spoken. The people have voted for a new government.
Or have they?
We are seeing signs of open hatred the likes of which haven’t seen in decades in American life. Neo-Nazis cheering, racist slurs hurled at Jews, Muslims, and people of color, and, most shockingly of all, white nationalists appointed to White House cabinet and other leadership positions.
We need to ask the question: did Americans vote for that?
Did Americans think they were going to the polls to embolden white supremacists?
Did Americans vote for hatred and division?
Surely not all who voted for Mr. Trump believe they were voting for that. And yet this is what all of us have gotten. President-elect Donald Trump and his supporters, Jewish and otherwise, must repudiate bigotry now that it has reared its ugly head for all to see. Now, before it is too late. And they must do so publicly.
The outpouring of prejudice, racism, and discrimination is undeniable. Law enforcement agencies have reported skyrocketing increases in hate crimes. These acts are disgusting and worrisome. But because they are being perpetrated by individuals of small groups, right now they seem to lack the power to inflict mass harm across the country. Hopefully this is not just a momentary illusion.
That is why it is deeply alarming that President-elect Trump has brought onto his incoming team people with, at best, histories of indifference to racism—and at worst, a commitment. People who oppose equal rights for all Americans, who would deprive people of any ethnic and economic groups the opportunity for a public education, who want to bar voters by the color of their skin or disability, and even some who call for registration of individuals based on their religion.
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President-elect Trump has selected and nominated individuals with long, disturbing histories of hostility toward voting rights, including prosecuting civil rights activists for fictitious voter fraud and ignoring actual fraud against African-Americans. One individual was even deemed by other Republicans too bigoted to be a federal judge—30 years ago. Another Trump insider published articles targeting Jews, blacks, gays, undocumented immigrants, and women. Others voice support for crackpot racist theories that suggest some races have higher IQs than others.
Pluralism and freedom from bigotry are not Democratic or Republican values. They are not liberal or conservative values. They are American values. And all Americans must stand up for them.
Because this is how it happens. This is how countries fall into cauldrons of hatred and racially-motivated violence. Not by the actions of a few, but by the indifference of the many.
We must not make the same mistake. We must not normalize bigotry. We must not accept racism and anti-Semitism. It is incumbent upon all of us—Republican, Democrat, independent—to secure freedom from bigotry for all Americans. It is incumbent upon us to voice our opinions in the public marketplace of ideas, to speak in public gatherings, and when necessary to march in our streets.
In my work, I call upon religious leaders to speak out from their pulpits. To proclaim the words of the Bible, the words that speak of America’s cry for freedom: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof."
If nothing else, this election shows us how precious and fragile tolerance can be; how precious and fragile democracy can be. It was something my parents’ generation knew all too well, and that we must carry with us as we move forward.
Rabbi Steven A. Fox is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the rabbinic leadership organization of Reform Judaism in North America and worldwide.