Halie Soifer: Forward: This November, our children are watching
In November 2016, I struggled to explain what the election of Donald Trump meant to my three young boys who had wanted to see a “girl” president. At the time, my oldest – then six – asked me if it meant we could ever leave the country again, out of fear that Trump’s border wall would prevent us from returning home.
Nearly four years later, parenting in the age of Trump has only gotten harder. To my horror, my now nine-year-old saw the tragic murder of George Floyd on YouTube and asked why he was killed, to which there is no good answer.
Our kids are watching, and they’ve seen the corruption, bigotry, and cruelty emanating from and accepted by this White House. That’s why, as we approach November, it’s clear that this election is about far more than politics. Our vote will determine our children’s future.
My view of the 2020 election is not driven solely by my political career, but, first and foremost, by my perspective as a Jewish mother. For parents, these past few months have been especially hard.
We’ve grappled with uncertainty surrounding the health and well-being of our families, only to learn from President Trump himself that he ordered a “slowdown” of COVID-19 testing to serve his political agenda. We watched in anguish as George Floyd pleaded for his life and his mother. We’ve witnessed the gassing of protesters to accommodate Trump’s shallow and morally-bankrupt photo opportunity with the Bible. And we’ve suffered as more than 120,000 Americans have been killed amid a pandemic that the president refused to prepare and take responsibility for, and has now falsely decided is largely over, to our peril.
In 2020, concerns about President Trump risking the lives, security and well-being of American children are magnified because we’ve seen what he’s done in his first term. His sweeping budget cuts to healthcare, education, housing, nutrition and child welfare programs have devastated children and families living in poverty.
His financial exploitation of college students has continued – he slashed student loans to pay for tax-cuts, vetoed a student loan forgiveness bill during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his Secretary of Education was sued last month for garnishing the wages of student borrowers during a national emergency. And let’s not forget the 700,000 DREAMers who live in constant fear of deportation given Trump’s policy to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which he pledged to continue despite the Supreme Court ruling it illegal.
It’s clear that a second-term mandate would only feed Trump’s worst instincts, knowing he’d never again face the judgement of American voters.
Jewish parents have additional fears related to increased security threats targeting our community. There’s a reason my family goes through metal detectors to enter our synagogue, and it’s not left-wing criticism of Israel. The threat to our places of worship has increased commensurate with the rising danger of white nationalism inspired by the extremism and hatred perpetuated by this White House.
According to a national poll of Jewish voters conducted for the Jewish Electorate Institute in February, more than two-thirds of us believe we are less secure today than we were two years ago. 71% of Jewish voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of anti-Semitism, and nearly half attribute this insecurity to Trump’s emboldening of far-right extremism and white nationalism. Last year included the highest number of anti-Semitic attacks on record, and over half of Jewish voters blame Donald Trump for the unprecedented lethal attacks on our synagogues in Poway and Pittsburgh.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, white nationalist propaganda incidents – including on college campuses – doubled last year, compared to the year before, and increased six-fold since President Trump’s first year in office. This is not a coincidence, just as it’s not a coincidence that xenophobic, racist, biased and anti-Semitic language and incidents have increased in America’s schools.
What about the Nazi symbols used in Trump campaign ads taken down by Facebook last week for violating its policy on hate groups that Trump allegedly “didn’t know” were used in concentration camps? Turns out, the Trump campaign used the symbol in 88 ads. One does not mistakenly pay to invoke Nazi imagery 88 times in a row, just as one does not mistakenly give a green-light to concentration camps. Reports of both these horrifying actions by Trump surfaced in the last week alone.
Our children are watching and listening, and our actions and words matter. The anti-Semitic words of a Democratic freshman member of Congress five weeks into her first term were deserving of our condemnation and the denunciation by the Democratic Party.
But what about the constant racist, offensive, and anti-Semitic statements made by President Trump, including instances where he has repeatedly invoked similar negative stereotypes of Jews? Republican silence in the face of Trump’s ongoing hatred and bigotry is as deafening as it is unacceptable.
For those who try to rationalize the president’s words, just look at how white nationalists see it. As with the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, Trump’s statements and tweets are deadly serious to the extremists who threaten our lives. White supremacists have no doubt been emboldened by an ally in the White House who has amplified their views, repeated their conspiracy theories, and refuses to take away the AR-15s they have used in school and synagogue massacres.
I’m trying to teach my children that they will face “good and bad choices,” and ultimately, it’s incumbent on them to make decisions for themselves. Similarly, we all have our own choice to make in November. As a Jewish mother, I know who I’ll choose, and simply ask that others think of their children when voting as well. This election isn’t solely about partisanship or politics. More than anything else, it’s about the fact that our children deserve better.
Halie Soifer is executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA). She previously served as national security adviser in the Senate and House, and as a senior policy adviser in the Obama administration.