"An Open Letter to Robert Kraft," published in the January 30 Tablet Magazine, encapsulates a good deal of what is wrong with America today. Robert Kraft, for those who might not know, is the owner of the New England Patriots.
In any event, Matthew Fishbane evidently feels that by virtue of his father's birth in the Boston area and status as a lifelong Patriots fan, a tradition which he passed down to his son, that he, the son, has the right to demand of Kraft, a fellow Jew, that he justify to Fishbane's satisfaction his friendship with President Trump.
Not that young Matthew is ungenerous. He grants Kraft the right, like Patriot's quarterback Tom Brady, to vote for whomever he wishes. But what crosses the line into the intolerable is that Kraft attended the Trump inauguration and has been seen in the president's company.
Matthew is even kind enough to draft for Kraft a public confession that he wants him to make. He does not insist that Kraft disavow his friendship with Trump, who reached out to Kraft after the passing of the latter's wife, Myra, in 2011. But after acknowledging that friendship, he would have Kraft make the following public statement: "But I cannot stand by and allow him to make the kind of reckless moves that have already done so much damage to the country I love. As a Jew, I cannot agree with his positions on immigration. As a man, and as Myra's widower, I abhor his disrespect of women. As an avowed lover of Israel, I understand that someone so ignorant of history . . . can only do harm in such a volatile region."
If Fishbane thinks that such a public statement is consistent with professions of friendship and gratitude, I would guess he does not have too many friends.
THE UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION of Fishbane's piece and Tablet's decision to publish it is that there is only one legitimate Jewish attitude towards President Trump: boundless contempt for everything associated with him. That is precisely what is so pernicious about political correctness of all sorts, and why it has made civil debate in the United States all but impossible: the assumption that on any given issue there is only one legitimate opinion, and all others can only be explained by gross stupidity or unlimited malevolence.
Is it really the case, for instance, that talismanic invocation of the Holocaust is fully determinative of what a Jewish approach to immigration policy should be? I wonder if Fishbane is even aware that President Obama placed restrictions on immigration from the same seven countries for similar reasons. Does he know anything of the number of terrorism prosecutions generated by the Somali community in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area alone?
Jews have benefitted every country where they were permitted to settle, and most of our ancestors who immigrated to America were staunch believers in American ideals and eager to partake of the American civic constitutional creed. Can the same be said of would be immigrants from the seven majority-Muslim countries on the Trump list? And how many of them face the same stark choice between entry to America and being sent to extermination camps.
Immigration policy is an enormously complex subject – the appropriate level of legal immigration, who should have priority if the border is not just thrown open, the status of illegal immigrants are all issues about which there are numerous perspectives. Waving the banner of the Holocaust does not resolve them.
Plus the Holocaust banner proves too much. Did Fishbane write any open letters to former President Obama arguing that "as a Jew" he condemns Obama's refusal to enforce his red lines against chemical weapons in Syria or to impose a no-fly zone on Assad's air force and its barrel bombs, which policy arguably resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. What would he think of the comparison to refusal to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz when it could have been done without any effect of the American war effort and Obama's passivity in Syria?
In an aside, Fishbane admits that, "[Obama] and his secretaries of state may have exposed the Jewish State to the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, intent on fulfilling its stated goal of the annihilation of Israel." That ranks up there with: "Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play."
Against that eensy-weensy little failure, Fishbane describes Trump and his advisors as inarticulate about what it means to be a friend of Israel. Apparently, that makes it game, set, match Obama, as Fishbane scores it.
Does it occur to him that those who care about the fate of the more than six million Jews of Israel might score the matter differently? One thing about which Trump and his leading advisors have surely not been inarticulate is their view of Iran as an enemy.
OBVIOUSLY, I WOULD NEVER HAVE A FRIEND WHO BELONGED TO THE KKK or the American Nazi Party. But what is so objectionable and has turned America into such a hyper-partisan, uncivil country is the need to turn every politician one does not like or with whom one does not agree into an American Hitler, ym"sh, or at the very least David Duke. Once we do that all discussion, much less friendship, with those across the political divide becomes impossible.
I, for one, would prefer to think that I have many friends with whom I disagree on various political issues, but with whom I share other things that make friendship possible. How sad to impose such rigorous political litmus tests for friendships.
Has it occurred to Mr. Fishbane that voting is a binary choice? Or that there are usually dozens of issues dividing the candidates, and that particular issues – a nuclear Iran, for instance – may trump every other issue for a particular voter. In other words, it is absurd to assume you know much about a particular voter by the candidate he or she chose, unless you know why he voted as he did. And it is even more absurd to identify a person with a candidate he voted for unless one knows what the alternatives were.
So, for instance, let us stipulate that President Trump has made vulgar and indefensible comments about women. Is that self-evidently worse, however, than humiliating credible accusers of one's husband for untoward actions, not words? Reasonable men and women can differ. Is President Trump vain and inordinately thin-skinned? So it would appear. But again, is it really so hard to make a case for President Obama's narcissism – the non-stop "I's" and "me's", the speeches in front of faux Doric columns, "We are the change we have been waiting for"? When Robert Kraft contributed $70,000 to Obama, did Fishbane demand, as a lifelong Patriots' fan, that Kraft justify himself for giving money to a narcissist? Somehow I doubt it.
BUT MY MOST STRONGLY FELT objection to the Fishbane piece was that the over politicization of life furthers processes that are negatively affecting the quality of our citizenry. George Will has made a highly useful distinction between values and virtues: Values are something one proclaims, and it is easy enough to profess hundreds of them. Virtues, however, have to be acquired, usually through hard work.
Those whose sense of themselves as "good" people depends on how many others they can label as fascists or racists or how many unprintable epithets they can shout at those with whom they disagree are not likely to engage in the hard work of attaining virtue. Why should they bother? Insulting others is a much easier way to prove one's "goodness." The over emphasis on political opinions comes at the expense of the acquisition of virtue.
If I wanted to know about Robert Kraft the man or the Jew, I would be far more interested in how he runs his business, how much tzedakah he gives and how involved is he with the recipients of his largesse, etc., than in whom he voted for.
Kraft can figure out for himself how to respond to Fishbane. But if I were in his shoes, I would say, "You little pipsqueak. Who are you to feel that you have the right to demand of me an accounting of my life?"