1. According to Webster’s, a “demagogue” is “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.” In recent memory, I can’t think of any American politician who fits this description better than Donald Trump.
2. Still, Trump isn’t the central villain here. While he may be the most prominent figure walking down his path of choice, plenty of others are responsible for paving that path. For the past quarter century, Rush Limbaugh and his progeny have been trading in vituperation and polarization. CNN and the other cable news networks have played their part as well, always going for the most sensationalist story and never worrying about beating a story to death if it gets ratings. And let’s not forget the politicians on both sides of the aisle; when is the last time we’ve seen profiles in courage from Capitol Hill?
3. Let me make the point a bit differently. Why is Trump so popular? We can all reel off many good reasons that paint a sorry portrait of the American public – they’re prejudiced, they’re uneducated, they’re short-sighted, they’re parochial … blah, blah, blah. But there’s one reason underlying his popularity that speaks well of the electorate: they’re responding to the fact that he’s giving a middle finger to the political establishment. The establishment deserves that middle finger. They, not Trump, are the ones most responsible for the decline of the American political sphere, a decline that has been going on relentlessly for decades.
4. Trump is a born entertainer with an excellent sense of comedic timing. In a different era, he could have played the Borscht Circuit. There was a point during this campaign when I just sat back and enjoyed the comedy – like when he called Anthony Weiner a “perv.” Trump seems stuck in grade school, which is probably when our senses of humor are at their height. I’ll tell you this much, he’s a whole lot more talented as a comedian than the guy they picked to replace Jon Stewart.
5. Sadly, though, I haven’t laughed at anything Trump has said in a long time. He has become too dangerous a figure to evoke humor at this point. What I have laughed at is the criticism that is being heaped upon him by men like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. Do they honestly think that their criticism will derail the Trump Express? Trump may be dangerous, but they have already proven to be extremely destructive themselves.
6. Trump is from Queens. Archie Bunker was from Queens. Discuss.
7. I find it difficult to believe that Trump will be elected President, even if he gets the nomination. Hillary Clinton is not the most popular or even talented politician, but she is known to be extremely experienced and intelligent, and her views are essentially moderate. How can she lose to a fringe candidate like Trump? Well, consider the polls. When you look at the numbers on Real Clear Politics, Clinton is beating Trump by only three percent in head-to-head polling, whereas in the spring and summer, she held double digit leads. It doesn’t pay to underestimate that guy – or perhaps it is better to say that it doesn’t pay to overestimate the American voter. After all, they gave W a second term.
8. Trump is doing a lot to catalyze the forces of bigotry generally and xenophobia in particular. Now it is incumbent on his opponents to catalyze the forces of universalism. Talk is cheap. If you oppose Trump, demonstrate that opposition with action. Join interfaith organizations. Get to know the people who Trump lambasts and ask them what you can do to help. Don’t just sit on your butts and criticize – that is not what it means to be part of the solution.
9. Jewish and Japanese people in particular need to join the fight against Trumpism. We’ve been the target of his brand of politics before. In the case of my fellow Jews, it has cost us many millions of lives and an entire civilization (Eastern European Jewry). To be sure, the situation back in the 30s and 40s was very different than the situation today, but can we really not see the profound parallels?
10. How do we take Trump down as a political candidate? Honestly, that’s not an easy question. As indicated above, the guy is not without political skills. And he seems to be clothed in Teflon – the more outrageous his statements, the more popular he becomes. Honestly, the best way to defeat Trump would be for the political establishment to start behaving as statesmen, and not as hypocrites, but you and I both know that won’t happen soon. So, realistically, how best do we take Trump down as a political candidate? For now, I’ll just have to leave that question to you to ponder. In the meantime, get busy working AGAINST his causes: not with words, but with action. Pretty much every city in America has at least one interfaith organization. This coming week, find out the name of such an organization in your city, and join up. You owe that to Donald Trump.