At a recent rally, President Donald Trump told attendees in Minnesota that they had “good genes.” He said it several times, wink wink, nod nod, and the crowd roared. It reminded me of a story from my childhood.
Some of the best days in my life were spent at bungalow colonies in the Catskill Mountains of New York, also known as “The Borscht Circuit.” For years my parents would take us to a place called “The Bard.” My grandparents also spent time each summer in “the country” and let me extend my vacation there by staying with them after my parents went home. For a city boy growing up in the housing projects of New York City, the country was heaven. I’d always make three or four fast friends and we’d spend idyllic days swimming, playing, enjoying nature, reading comic books, listening to music on the radio, and eating great food. One year when money was tight my grandparents went to a different colony than usual and invited me to spend a week with them. On my first day there I met another boy from a few bungalows down and spent a great day hanging out with him. As evening approached, my grandparents called me home for dinner, followed by a few hours of reading, and bed.
The next morning I woke up excited about having a new friend and looking forward to that day’s adventures. I ran outside after breakfast and found him at the pool. “Hey! What do you want to do today?” I asked. “Go fly a KITE!” he yelled at me. I said, “What, you want to fly a kite?” “NO,” he said. “YOU go fly a KITE!” He put a lot of emphasis on that last word. “I don’t understand,” I told him. “Go AWAY, go fly a KITE, I don’t want to play with you!” At that, he ran away.
I walked back to my grandparent’s bungalow in tears while wondering what had happened. My grandmother was sitting outside the bungalow and I told her what he said. She looked really stricken but all she could say was “Go find your grandfather, he’s painting somewhere down that path, and tell him.” Grandpa was a great painter and he would spend hours every day standing in some spot painting the scene in front of him or, copying a painting someone else had done. Quite the curmudgeon about most things, Grandpa was happiest when he had a brush in his hand.
I caught up with him and told him what had happened. He listened, the smile fading from his face, and he put his brush down near his easel and knelt down to be face to face with me. “He was calling you a kike, Craig.” I had heard the word before, thrown at Jewish people. I understood. We weren’t at our usual, mostly Jewish bungalow colony. Between the time we had played the day before and this morning someone, somehow, had gotten to him. They let him know that I was an undesirable, a Jew, a kike. And it was probably his parents.
I stood there and cried. What was I going to do for the next week? I wanted to go home but knew that my father wouldn’t be coming back to get me for another six days. I stayed with Grandpa for a few hours as he painted, helping squeeze paint out of the tubes and painting a few strokes myself. Then Grandpa took me back to the bungalow for lunch.
After lunch Grandma told me I should put on my swimsuit and just go down to the pool. I did, but I was reluctant. I loved swimming and figured that even if I was alone I could have a little fun. When I got there, the other boy was there with his parents. He looked at me and then glanced back at his parents. His father nodded at him and motioned towards me. The boy turned back towards me and said, “I told you to get out of here and go fly a kite!” I looked back at him and yelled, “You’re so stupid. You’re even too stupid to be a racist! The word is KIKE, KIKE, KIKE!” I ran back to my grandparent’s bungalow and cried.
The next day, Grandma and Grandpa packed up and took us to the bungalow colony they had been to before, one with a lot more Jewish people. I met a few kids there right away and we had a great time for the next few days. The memory of that other boy, though, remained firmly painted in my mind.
That memory resurfaced the other day when President Donald Trump held a rally in Minnesota and told the crowd of overwhelmingly white supporters, “You have good genes, you know that, right?” He added: “A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it, don’t you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.” The crowd roared.
In response, Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, characterized Trump’s remarks as “eugenics” — basing a human being’s worth on genes. “It was used by Nazis to justify genocide,” she tweeted. “Today, it’s used by white nationalists — & apparently the @POTUS — to justify hate.”
There is no doubt that President Trump was telling his mostly white audience that they were better than people of color he vilifies so frequently. But here’s the deal — genes have nothing to do with race.
So here’s my question, especially to my Jewish brothers and sisters: How can you vote for a man who spouts Nazi rhetoric about genetic superiority? There’s no dog whistle or wink wink, nod nod; it is racism, it’s anti-Semitism, it’s white supremacy — pure and simple. Whoever you are, how can can you read that President Trump was using such hate to get applause from his audience and do nothing about it? The little boy inside me is screaming out at you the same way I screamed at that boy by the pool, who was egged on by his father to call me a kike. I don’t think any of you are stupid. You’re better than this. We’re better than this.
Please, don’t let that crying little boy down. Do the right thing and vote him out.
Painting from the late Samuel Weintraub, Wiesner’s grandfather.
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