July 25, 2024
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July 25, 2024
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Republican Silence on Kanye Speaks Volumes

I’m a lifelong Republican, and I imagine I share, to some degree, similar conservative values as many, if not most, of the members of our community, even those on the other side of the aisle. Obama’s Iran deal? Big mistake. Cash bail reform? Terrible idea. Equity over equality? Backwards. I’m for equal opportunities, not forced equal outcomes. And don’t get me started on open borders, intersectionality, CRT and other forms of indoctrination imposed upon our school children.

But with all that said, I’ve seen some troubling changes over the last several years within the current Republican party, and I feel compelled to share my observations, because I think the stakes are particularly high for everyone in our community.

In the wake of Kanye West’s vile antisemitic comments, it was an absolute gut punch and watershed moment for me that almost no conservative pundits or politicians spoke out to condemn him. I’ve developed a strong connection with the cadre of conservative podcasters I’ve been listening to on a daily basis for many years, and their silence was deafening. Why have no conservative leaders stepped up to the plate and issued strong condemnations?

The Biden administration and many Democrats around the country, with whom I disagree on almost all policy issues, rightly spoke out immediately. West is a hugely popular and influential cultural icon with over 100 million followers, and the tropes he was spreading are the same ones that were used to demonize and dehumanize Jews throughout history. Why the silence? Is it because leaders on the right hate cancel culture? I’m no fan of cancel culture myself, but the dangers of the celebrity’s unchecked rhetoric were quickly apparent as antisemitic posts promptly started flooding social media. His sponsors were right to part ways with him rather than lend tacit support to his message.

Maybe conservative leaders are hesitant to distance themselves from West because they still see him as a useful instrument, a tool for outreach to his millions of young, impressionable fans and followers should he remain publicly supportive of the party’s broader interests. Maybe this is why the hugely popular right-wing commentator Candace Owens went as far as to defend him. But to me, that’s an end that could never justify the means. To me, this is a wakeup call, as I worry this instance of conservative leaders completely and utterly failing loyal Jewish Republicans may not be an aberration but rather a symptom of a larger shift.

As of this writing, the leading prospective challenger to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has refused to condemn West. He remained silent even as a message endorsing Kanye’s antisemitism was projected onto TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville at the end of this weekend’s sold-out Georgia vs. Florida college football game. DeSantis was in attendance. Many believed he could be a more moderate, mainstream Republican alternative to Trump, but now it seems DeSantis fears he will alienate a large portion of his base if he condemns antisemitism. I worry the Republican party’s long-standing unconditional support for Jews is truly at risk.

Beyond the West incident, all you have to do is look at Russia and Ukraine. Just as the Republican Party has always supported the Jews and Israel, so too has it been an unconditional bulwark against Russian aggression. While the Democrats were always caricatured as tree-hugging doves, Republicans were always seen as reliably ready to stand and fight for freedom and justice in the world. Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson and his ilk ask why we would spend money to defend the Ukrainian people. Why would we care about what happens in their country? Today, pundits like Carlson sound like an arm of the Russian propaganda machine.

To me, this is sad, but even sadder is that it’s emblematic of today’s prevailing right-wing posturing. These cheap isolationist talking points may appeal to those who vaguely resent defense spending that offers them no clear, tangible sense of domestic benefit, but the U.S. has always had a strong interest in defending sovereign democracies from imperialism, and we Jews, of all people, must hold dear the ideal that America will protect and defend righteous people who face brutality from autocrats, lest we stand by as our party’s support for Israel goes the way of its support for Ukraine.

Most of today’s changes in the Republican Party have to do with Donald Trump. I don’t mean to relitigate the merits of his presidency, but I ask you to consider why admirable, lifelong conservatives like Mike Pence, Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney and others are now seen as RINOs (Republicans in name only), if not practically traitors. Take a look at their solid conservative voting records throughout their careers. Their values never changed one bit.

What changed, I fear, is the values of the Republican Party at large. Recent polls show that six out of 10 Republicans believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. In many congressional districts, Republican candidates have little chance of surviving primary challenges from the far right unless they “kiss the MAGA ring” by downplaying the events of January 6, 2021 and echoing the lie about the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, so many in our own community are mesmerized by Trump. I understand it. From a policy standpoint, there was a lot to like about his administration’s accomplishments. However, it is time for the party to move on from Trump. His rhetoric is dangerous and divisive. His own administration officials have debunked his election fraud claims. Those who pander to far-right extremists by continuing to make these and other false claims threaten the very fabric of our democracy and disgrace the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

Why have we become the party of the insane QAnon conspiracy theories? Of Jewish space laser accusations? Why are we the party of Alex Jones, who convinced his supporters that families who lost children in a devastating school shooting were all lying crisis actors worthy of harassment and hate? Why are we the party turning a blind eye to, if not outright excusing, an attack on the United States Capitol by armed domestic insurrectionists? Folks, this is not a fringe of the Republican party, this is fast becoming the Republican party.

The Republican party I’ve always known and loved stands for small government, responsible spending, low taxes, free markets, industrial ingenuity, and faith and family values. Not to mention free and fair elections, after which the loser graciously admits defeat. Today I fear the Republican party is consumed primarily by an “us vs. them” tribal mentality of anger, resentment, and grievance.

I would never abandon my conservative values and I’m sure most of you feel the same. But we need to keep our eyes wide open. We need to be more open to the idea of moderate Democratic leaders. Many of them share our core values. If they had more support from center-right moderates, they could speak out more freely and forcefully for the moderate majority with less concern about the political impact of recriminations from the far left.

We need to call on our Republican leaders to speak out against antisemitism and right-wing extremism and be clear that our community does not support far-right rhetoric and candidates. We need to do this because Jews make up a mere 1% of the global population, and we have been persecuted throughout history, so when Republican leaders embrace far-right extremism and spread divisive “us vs. them” rhetoric, the risk is very real that we Jews could eventually find ourselves on the outside looking in, abandoned by the Republican party to the category of “them.”

Jeff Kimmel is an attorney with a Collections and Commercial Litigation practice in New York and New Jersey. He can be reached at [email protected]

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