I have spent my life working for civil rights, including 27 years as a representative of the Jewish community with the Anti-Defamation League. I lost count of the intergroup meetings I’ve participated in to craft agendas that reflected common interests.
There have been Muslim-Jewish dialogues, African-American-Jewish leadership coalitions, Latino-Jewish roundtables and Asian outreach. Living as I do in Los Angeles, I am part of the great California melting pot.
Some of our efforts to find common ground worked better than others. But no matter the issue of the day, we were always bound together by opposition to anyone who would promote bigotry, division and hate. That was always a transcendent concern.
Bigots who attack one group threaten us all. People who depend on prejudice and stereotypes against one segment of society don’t have a singular target. They were more likely to harbor prejudice against other groups as well; it’s their way of viewing the world and the other.
African American, Latino, and Jewish leaders might have disagreed on affirmative action or busing, but we were united in our condemnation of David Duke, Tom Metzger and similar demagogues.
And so we have Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate.
Trump can go to a black church with Don King or Ben Carson and his support in the African American community won’t budge.
He feigns outreach to the Latino community after disparaging Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, and saying a judge of Mexican heritage has a conflict of interest in hearing a case involving Trump.
He decries Mexican “hordes” flooding across the border bringing chaos in their wake, when the data show that Mexican migration is down, and that there is a net outflow of immigration to Mexico, and that crime committed by undocumented immigrants is less than in the general population.
He maligns an entire religion by pledging to bar all Muslim immigrants. His son likens refugees seeking asylum to poisoned Skittles candies.
He disdains women and demeans them with a long history of vulgar comments.
He goes lighter on the Jews, but has said he “likes little guys with yarmulkes counting my money” and told Jewish Republicans, “I’m a negotiator like you folks.”
If he lies and disparages this assortment of groups, which groups are free from such blatant distortions?
He decries “political correctness,” which, for all its excesses, constrains bigots by inducing them to keep their prejudice to themselves.
Trump clearly views others through the prism of stereotypes and thinks there is nothing wrong with assessing the world that way; indeed, he seems to be proud of his attitudes.
No matter our differences, anyone who is part of a minority group can sniff out bigots who traffic in fear.
Trump’s abysmal poll numbers among African Americans hover at 5 percent and Latinos at 19 percent. Campaign contributions from Jewish donors to his campaign are a seventh of what they were to Mitt Romney when he ran for president four years ago.
Efforts at building intergroup coalitions have a dappled track record. Over the decades, dialogues have not always resulted in common agendas.
But Donald Trump – by virtue of his stereotyping, bigotry and wild assertions – has become a cohesive force in a way he never intended. In Trump, we see a reminder of what we all fear in this land of diversity. Intent on turning back the clock on decades of progress, Trump has become, accidentally, the great unifier.
David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates Inc., a human relations organization based in Los Angeles. firstname.lastname@example.org