Sarah Littman: GOP speaks up too late – The party of Lincoln died long ago

Sarah Darer Littman

Sarah Darer Littman

As a sensitive girl growing up in a family impacted by the Holocaust, I often evaluated people by deciding if they would hide me or turn me in if another such demagogue arose – one of the reasons that I particularly love this song by Jill Sobule.

Since 9/11, I’ve become increasingly horrified and disillusioned, as I’ve watched the political rhetoric in this country become religiously and racially charged, while people who should know better stayed silent. Indeed, to my shocked dismay, people like Pamela Geller have been vocal perpetrators of the same kind of rhetoric that was employed against my own family with such awful consequences sixty years ago.

In December, I wrote a piece calling for moral courage to condemn such hate speech, because as a student of history and based on my own family’s experience, I’ve been seeing too much resonance for comfort. I am not alone. Holocaust survivors warn about Trump. They have been warning us that they see danger in Trump’s rhetoric.  When I visited my friend Irene, who grew up in Nazi Germany, last week, she expressed her concern. My relatives abroad ask me how this can be happening in a “civilized country” like the United States. I ask myself the same question.

Last week, I read that the outgoing Chairman of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee Jim Campbell, endorsed Trump.

This was not long after Christopher Fountain, a real estate broker with the firm of Lockwood and Mead posted a picture of the Ku Klux Klan in response to an open letter by a black Greenwich Democrat highlighting some problems within the Democratic party. When a commenter on Fountain’s blog suggested he take it down, Fountain’s response was “Outrageousness R us.” Another commenter on Fountain’s blog said “i have a hard time finding many forums that have not been taken over by the PC crowd.”

When I told this to my 22 year-old son, he remarked: “That’s not being politically correct. That’s just not being a d*ck.” As someone who writes for and works with teenagers, I often tell those who complain about “today’s youth”: the kids are all right. It’s the grownups who worry me.

And then, last Sunday, on CNN’s State of the Union, the following exchange took place between  Donald Trump and host Jake Tapper.

TAPPER:  I want to ask you about the Anti-Defamation League, which this week called on you to publicly condemn unequivocally the racism of former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who recently said that voting against you at this point would be treason to your heritage.

Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don’t want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?

TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know.

I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.

TAPPER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is, even if you don’t know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say unequivocally you condemn them and you don’t want their support?

TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about.

You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.

TAPPER: The Ku Klux Klan?

TRUMP: But you may have groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So, give me a list of the groups, and I will let you know.

If Trump has truly reached the age of sixty-nine without not knowing anything about the KKK after attending an Ivy League university (something which he is proud of  informing us he did on a regular basis)  then he is, to put it kindly, an idiot with no intellectual curiosity. If that’s not the case, then he’s pathological liar who is willing to bash women, the disabled, the Pope, Mexicans, Muslims, but NOT a white Supremacist anti-Semitic hate group. Either option makes him distinctly unsuitable for the office of President of the United States.

Finally, Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, who has been floated as a Republican candidate for office here in the Nutmeg state,  asks belatedly and rather plaintively “Is this how the party of Abraham Lincoln dies?”

I’m not sure what world Scarborough been living in, but he seems to have missed what I – and many other former Republicans – have been saying for years. That Republican Party died a long time ago. The irony of right-wing message crafters like Frank Luntz who contributed so much to its demise, throwing up their hands in shock and bewilderment at the wreckage they wrought for profit would be laughable, if it weren’t tragic that this undignified, uncivilized celebration of anti-intellectualism is how we’re supposed to be selecting the president of our great nation, and a once great party has been decimated by greed, lack of self awareness, hypocrisy, cowardice, and dark money.

Meanwhile, yesterday, well-known well-known GOP national security leaders published an open letter about the dangers of a Trump presidency. Never mind that some of the same policies they cite were ones they made excuses for during the Bush presidency, while I was getting hate mail calling me an unpatriotic anti-American terrorist lover. Their points about unpredictability and temperament are still valid.

Last December I wrote a piece for warning  The time is now for moral courage – politicians can’t be bystanders to hate speech. At that time CT GOP Chairman JR Romano refused to say anything publicly about Donald Trump. This time, I asked both Jim Campbell and Chairman Romano if Trump’s refusal to disavow the KKK had changed their mind. Mr Campbell didn’t respond to my query, so it’s pretty clear where he stands. Chairman Romano not only refused to comment on the record, he also went above my head to my editor at CTNewsJunkie, in an attempt to shut me down. Now that’s what I call moral courage and support of the 1st Amendment. Apparently, the CT GOP only cares about the 2nd Amendment these days.

I’ll close my response to CT GOP Chair Romano:

It’s pretty hard not to form an opinion of someone who pretends they don’t know what the KKK is and refuses to condemn an organization that hates Jews as much as they hate black people. But hey, go ahead and refuse to comment. Your cowardice says everything I need to know about how low the GOP has fallen. My late father, a lifelong Republican, is rolling in his grave. I was finally able to answer my son, a political science and history major, who continually asks “Would Grandpa still be a Republican?” At this point I can definitely say, “No honey. Not on your life.”

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

  • Frank

    What about Joe Biden saying that every 7-Eleven has indian employees? Then breaks into a bad indian accent in front of a camera? What about Hillary Clinton, who in the 90’s called young african americans “predators”? There are plenty of instances where you’ll find Democrats using the same hateful rhetoric as Republicans, so I think it’ a little silly to point to one party. And for the record, I’m a registered Independent.

  • Ah… the inevitable “But the other side does it!” argument. Works as well with me as it did when my kids were squabbling in the back of the car. If you read my lengthy body of political writing, you will notice that I am an apolitical criticizer. Party is not my concern – I criticize based on actions, not party. What is important to me is our country, ethics, international law, critical thinking, human decency, community – the values for which both of my late parents served this country and which I was brought up to believe were important.

  • Frank

    Ah… The “Let’s make fun of anyone who points out the truth” comment. Sorry I haven’t had the chance to read your “lengthy” body of work. Personally, I think it’s hard to take someone seriously when they make the old “Hitler” comparison to anyone who hasn’t killed anyone that I’m aware of. I guess I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to things like that but go knock yourself out. Just seems a little boorish to me.

  • John B.

    Trump! Trump! Trump!…………

  • Even “Hitler” didn’t kill anyone right away. Go reread some history of the 30’s. Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts might be a good starting point.

  • Frank

    Thanks for sharing Trump’s “Master Plan” Sarah. I’d like to discuss further but I’m due back on planet Earth.

  • Jodi Weisz

    Sarah, you know I am a big fan of yours. Greenwich is on the Vanguard of being the epi-center in the nation for Republican Jews in the know. 20 years ago, I walked the streets, scouring for real estate deals, with “The Donald” as we affectionately called him, 15 years before “The Apprentice.” With only $3,000 to my name, he pushed me to buy real estate–in East Harlem, inviting me to his table at a charity event near Rao’s (also in East Harlem) to build a museum of local culture and discuss how I could no longer have $3,000 dollars to my name. Yep, he also paid every worker that night, every bus boy, waiter, cook, bathroom maid, union wages.

    It was the 90’s in Manhattan and he elevated everyone in the room.
    His ego is part of his persona. He walks the walk by giving people the gift of time and the belief in their ability to achieve.

    Trump is not the Trump you detail. He is a family man and a grandfather of three (with growing) lovely Jewish grandkids who keep the Sabbath with their Mum and Dad.

    Chin up, Sarah. It took me a long time to free myself from group think.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following book:

    Norman Podhoretz’s Why Are Jews Liberals.

    In the meantime, take it from me, somebody you know who is on your side, don’t judge a book by its cover,

    Trump is NOT his persona…just like the good many rappers who are great family men and know it is part of the show.

    Trump has left a wake of thousands and thousands of transformed young people who he has personally mentored, me included!

    Yes, it was his advice to put in all on the line, that got me to Greenwich from East Harlem.

    True story, Sarah!

    Hope to see you at Shul.

  • Maggie Callahan

    “Trump paid every worker that night, every bus boy, waiter, cook, bathroom maid union wages” That’s a compliment? I think paying employees is literally the least he could do.

    • Jodi Weisz

      The point is, he didn’t pay them minimum wage as most restaurants and caterers do. He paid them union hospitality wage which is nearly double, plus generous tips. It is easy to judge someone by their bravado.

      A better way to judge them is watch and see how they treat their employees and also see if they are generous with their money and time.

      Trump is generous with both. That’s why his family loves him and why folks who have had close up dealings with him respect him.

      Trump loves Israel.

      • Sarah Darer Littman

        “Pastor Mark Burns, warming up Trump crowd, says of Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish: “Bernie got to get saved. He’s got to get Jesus.”

        Okay Jodi. You have your views on Trump, the GOP, and Israel. I have mine, which I expressed here: You will not see me at Shabbat services at Chabad anymore because I became disturbed by politicization of the Shabbat sermons in a way that is inconsistent with my deeply held values and so I am attending a different shul. The right wing in Israel and this country have been made deals with the Evangelicals which I find abhorrent for many reasons. You clearly think that’s okay, and that’s your prerogative. But telling me that my views are part of “groupthink” is both insulting and condescending.

  • Frank

    If Trump hates jews so much, why wouldn’t he disown his daughter Ivanka for marrying an orthodox jew? Not only did Ivanka marry into the jewish faith but she converted as well. If Hitler had a daughter, I am not so sure he would be kosher with that!

    • Sarah Darer Littman

      In light of fact that Trump has a daughter who is married to an Orthodox Jew, it’s even more egregious that he is retweeting White Supremacists, particularly one who had previously tweeted a picture of Bernie Sanders in a gas chamber with Trump dressed at Hitler throwing the switch. But apparently you *are* good with that? And that’s before we even get to the comments he made about dating his own daughter and her body, which are so grossly inappropriate it’s mind boggling that anyone could consider him a presidential candidate.

  • Jodi Weisz

    The right wing in Israel hasn’t made deals with evangelicals. That is one of the myths forwarded by the liberal elite.

    Evangelicals also shouldn’t be grouped in with all Christians, there are many, many divergent opinions, from Armenians, to Melkite Catholics, Roman Catholics to Liberty University Christians, to Quakers, to main line Protestants…to European Protestants, they are not united in thought about Israel nor even Jews.

    I am very much in touch with the right wing of Israel, my best childhood friend is the granddaughter of the right-wing Zionist Moshe Arens, these are the circles I know and attend Birthday parties in…you can’t get more right wing AND Zionist. I talk to them person to person–and have for over 30 years–I tell you they are not in bed with “Evangelicals” even if some Christians do believe that the Holy Land/Jerusalem should be the capital of the Jewish nation because God never breaks his word/covenant. An alliance with Republicans that believe in a defended Israel is not a threat to Jewish Americans’ freedom.

    Sadly, the divide is more ontological. Jews in America are becoming more attuned with the complexity of having to have a strong militarily as part and parcel of being a culture of L’Chaim!

    Never an evangelical in sight.

    • Sarah Darer Littman

      “An alliance with Republicans that believe in a defended Israel is not a threat to Jewish Americans’ freedom.” Do you just care about Jewish Americans? What about other Americans? Have you asked women in Texas what the Republicans have done to their ability to receive healthcare? How about Ohio?

      By the way, here’s an actual quote from Trump when asked about who he consults about foreign policy: “I’m speaking with myself because I have a very good brain.” So what if he tips his waiters and gave you, personally, real estate advice? He would be a disaster beyond compare for this country.

      I honestly don’t care which high-ranking right wing Israelis you’ve been friends with for 30 years. My parents brought me up to study geopolitics and history – to think critically and look at the world on a global basis. This isn’t “liberal elitism.” My father was a lifelong Republican. As someone who was active in foreign affairs, he would be utterly horrified to see someone like Trump not only in the lead for the Republican party, but being supported by Jews. As am I. You are welcome your opinion. It is still a free country – for now. Yesterday, Trump prohibited a Politico reporter who wrote a negative piece about him from attending one of his events. Apparently he doesn’t believe in the the 1st Amendment. The President of the United States swears to uphold the Constitution – and yet this guy can’t even do it during the primaries? If you can’t see that is a matter of concern, it’s not worth having further conversation.

    • Sarah Darer Littman

      “The right wing in Israel hasn’t made deals with evangelicals. That is one of the myths forwarded by the liberal elite.”

      So are you seriously saying that the Israeli Embassy didn’t/doesn’t have an outreach person to Evangelicals who spoke at Chabad? That I was hallucinating that? Because there were plenty of other people at that Shabbat lunch who aren’t in any way “liberal” who were there, too.

  • Jackie

    If paying employees for service and loving your own family are the criteria we use for common decency, we’re setting the bar pretty low.

    It may be an exaggeration to compare him to Hitler, but there is no question that Donald Trump has repeatedly made crude, insulting remarks about women, immigrants, Muslims, the disabled, the press and even John McCain. His archaic remarks and flippant demeanor are not presidential, they’re buffoonish.

    Shouldn’t we expect more from a candidate for the office of president of the United States?

  • Frank

    Sarah, sadly the bad behavior you keep attributing to Trump can also be said about Biden (Indians) Obama (special needs) Sanders (creepy 3 way article he wrote) Hillary ( I don’t know where to begin) It’s funny that when Trump had his silly little show for 11 years, that no one called him a racist but all of the sudden he runs for office and he’s the next Hitler. He wouldn’t be my first pick but 7 years of terrible leadership, stagnant wages and the disastrous Obamacare, has opened the door to his nomination. Also, Trump will NOT be the next president by just getting Republican votes. He’s going to have to persuade Independents and Democratic’s. Trump’s rise has everything to due with dissatisfaction with the establishment of BOTH parties. The Democrats didn’t want Hillary 8 years ago, what’s changed? Her trustworthiness? Haha.