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Commentary: Voters must act against demagoguery

By Deborah Waxman When the Reconstructionist movement called on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to rescind its invitation to Donald Trump, we branded him a demagogue.

By Deborah Waxman

When the Reconstructionist movement called on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to rescind its invitation to Donald Trump, we branded him a demagogue.

Trump abases multiple groups - Muslims, Mexicans, POWs, women - while at the same time offering mind-boggling assurances that "plenty of these people" actually "love" him. He rushes to use inflammatory, demeaning language. He is insatiably self-referential, insisting that he is the most knowledgeable, the best, the smartest, and, of course, the richest.

He foments violence against people who disagree with him and is frighteningly casual about civil and constitutional rights. He changes his positions with expediency: His primary principle seems to be the intersection between self-promotion and outrageousness.

His preference for authoritarianism cuts at the foundations of a democratic society.

All of this confounds any affirmative example of leadership I can identify when I scan both history and the current moment of Jewish American political, educational, and general religious models. All of this flies in the face of any moral, political, or religious calculus I can identify. All of this seems patently apparent to me and overwhelming numbers of Americans.

And yet all of this is striking a chord with a significant share of voters identified with the Republican Party, which itself is splintering in the face of this reality. While many of us are appalled, some of us are entranced.

I attended the AIPAC policy conference hoping that the participants would be appalled. As hundreds of rabbis from across the religious spectrum have communicated, Trump violates Jewish values and subverts core American values that we hold dear and that have provided significant protection for Jews in America.

AIPAC emphasized that inviting Trump should not be read as an endorsement, explaining that it regularly extends a speaking invitation to all presidential candidates. However, leaders of the Reconstructionist movement believe that this is not a time for business as usual.

I was one of hundreds of rabbis who thought that an invitation without qualifications granted Trump legitimacy, most especially with no expectation or requirement that he disavow his previous statements against Mexicans and Muslims.

Far too many of the participants at the AIPAC conference were, if not entranced, then at least intrigued and encouraging.

As soon as Trump, in an atypically (for him) disciplined speech, recited certain key lines, a significant percentage of the crowd began to applaud and even get to its feet in support. And in flamboyant disregard of AIPAC's insistence on a bipartisan welcome of every speaker, when Trump attacked both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the crowd overwhelmingly roared its approval. That night, in person, I witnessed another characteristic of a demagogue: the seductiveness of the charismatic entertainer.

AIPAC is a single-issue organization in its support of the American-Israeli alliance. Too many of the participants in the AIPAC conference fell prey to the manipulation of their understanding of their interest by a calculating candidate. But even if they are correct in their understanding of Israel's interests, none of us should ever be single-interest voters. In this election year especially, none of us can be single-issue voters.

What is bad for minority groups in America is bad for American values - and may well turn out to be bad for American Jews.

In our increasingly complex world, Jewish values demand that we embrace the complexity Trump shuns. At all times, we must act against demagoguery.

Rabbi Deborah Waxman is president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.