Bob Franken




For a man who doesn’t read a lot, President Donald Trump sure has been influenced by history. What’s amazing about the days of yesteryear is not just that we keep repeating their errors, but that these mistakes move so seamlessly through time, the past being prologue and all that Shakespeare stuff.
So it is with the defining tradition of prejudice in the United States. There is no group we haven’t hated and abused: ethnic groups, racial groups, gender groups and, of course, religious groups. Our intolerance casts a wide net.
Does anyone remember that John F. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic president? Why was he the first? Because of anti-Catholic bias. In spite of the fact that there were 42 million Catholics in the country in 1960 — 16% of the population — there was a prevalent belief that any Catholic politician would owe his first allegiance to the Vatican. One of John Kennedy’s most important speeches was to the Houston Ministerial Association: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.”
It worked. John F. Kennedy was elected the 35th president, overcoming the Catholic issue and a strenuous opposition from many prominent Protestant clergymen, among them Norman Vincent Peale.

Guess who was the Trump family pastor as Donnie was growing into Donald? Yup: Norman Vincent Peale, who was the lead cleric at New York’s Marble Collegiate Church, where the elite formed a large part of the congregation and where the Trumps liked to be seen when the occasion suited. Young Donald was taught a lot by Rev. Peale. There was self-promotion: Peale wrote the bestseller “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Donald Trump had a bestseller, too: “The Art of the Deal.” True, it was ghostwritten, but let’s not quibble.
Trump also apparently learned a lot about intolerance. Where Peale led the charge against a Kennedy because of a claim he’d be taking orders directly from Rome, as all Catholics do, President Trump has assumed that all Jews in this country have an overriding allegiance to Israel. Period. Any criticism of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies that many find odious will therefore be sacrilege to any American Jew. Never mind that in the U.S., the majority of the Jewish population has traditionally voted Democrat; the Trumpster has seen an opening: He has tried to pander to his perception of Jewish sensitivities, taking advantage of the fact that some Democratic congresswomen have been outspoken in their opposition to the Israeli government. He doesn’t even try to hide his demagoguery, stating more than once: “In my opinion, if you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”
That premise assumes that American Jews are a lockstepping monolith who automatically support Israeli policies, whatever they are at any given time. More than a few people find that to be anti-Semitism, including many Jewish leaders, like the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt, who said he was “staggered to have to deal with this kind of statement.”
Typically, Trump doubled down, following up by quoting a longtime right-wing conspiracy theorist, Wayne Allyn Root, as saying the Jewish people in Israel love Trump “like he’s the King of Israel … the second coming of God.”
So let’s see now, all Roman Catholics owe their primary fealty to the pope, all Jews to Israel, and all must worship Donald Trump.
Speaking of King Donald’s history, let us not forget who his lawyer and mentor was: Roy Cohn, who taught Trump self-serving ruthlessness. Before he latched on to young Donny, Cohn had been chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Yes, that Joe McCarthy, whose red-baiting hearings still stain our political history. President Trump is a stain in progress.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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