Pence’s response to anti-Semitism raises a question

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, March 1, 2017

by John Micek

Given the opportunity last week to respond to a rash of anti-Semitic incidents across the country, President Donald Trump gave the kind of thoughtful, considered kind of response we’ve come to expect from him:

“Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had —306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220, you know that, right?” he said during a joint appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “There was no way to 221. But then they said there’s no way to 270.”

And then there’s the response that Vice President Mike Pence gave at a Jewish cemetery in Missouri where some lout (or louts) had toppled 200 gravestones.

“From the heart, there’s no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism,” Pence said, speaking through a bullhorn from the bed of a pickup truck. “I must tell you, the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place, for the Jewish community in Missouri, and I want to thank you for that inspiration, for showing the world what America is really about.”

Whatever else you can say about him — and there’s plenty — the former Indiana governor is a genuine man of faith. And he even lent a hand to help with the clean-up.

The two responses tell you all you need to know about the way Pence and Trump view themselves and the grave responsibilities of their respective offices.

And they’re a reminder that we should finally dispense with the fiction that Trump will ever act presidential.

Pence, formerly a member of Congress, a radio talk show host and chief executive of a large, agricultural state, has a deep reverence and respect for our civic institutions.

If Trump’s legislative agenda (whatever that is — we still haven’t seen it) is going to succeed, it will be because of Pence’s intercessions with the Republican-controlled Congress.

Trump, given an opportunity to address a vile phenomenon partly enabled by his own presidential campaign last year (and cemented by the ongoing presence of West Wing Richelieu Stephen K. Bannon), made it all about himself when a reporter asked him why “even after your victory” anti-Semitism was on the rise.

Yes, he later added that, “We are going to have peace in this country,” he said, according to Vanity Fair. “We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. One of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. Hopefully I’ll be able to do something about that. It’s something that was very important to me.”

A few days later, Trump followed up with as hollow and perfunctory response as one could imagine: “Anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop,” he said Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.

He later amplified: “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible, and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said, according to The New York Times.

It’s going to stop. It has to stop.

How, Mr. President? What will you do to wield the force of your office to make sure it stops?

As The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote this week, Trump has decreed that any number of maladies will stop now that he’s president.

From bad trade deals to crime and drugs to job loss and illegal immigration, the nation’s 45th president appears to think that his mere decree, not the unglamorous work of policy-making and coalition-building is enough to cure what ails us.

A month into his presidency, Americans are now more divided, rather than less, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll that finds the president’s approval rating “sinking like a rock.”

Responding to criticisms of the president’s remarks, White House spokesman Sean Spicer fumed, “No matter how many times he talks about this, it’s never good enough.”

Well, no, not with a tin-eared response like that.

Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that Trump is anti-Semitic or condones — either explicitly or implicitly — the vile acts of hate committed against American Jews these last few weeks.

But what his remarks strongly suggest is the same lack of sophistication that leads him to conclude that all black Americans lead lives of not-so-quiet desperation in “burning” and “crime-infested” inner cities (wherever those are) where they can scarcely walk out the door without being hit by a stray bullet.

That’s a cartoonish and monolithic way of looking at both the nation and the people who live in it.

What it actually takes to change hearts and minds is going to people where they live, talking to them about the problems that confront them every day, and offering the sincere assurance that you will fix it.

Not through magic words, executive fiat or the wave of your hand. But in the kind of shared responsibility and commitment to change that Pence evoked so successfully in University City, Missouri.

In that, Pence succeeded spectacularly. And GOP voters could well ask themselves if they elected the wrong Republican.

JOHN MICEK is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at