The Venomous Bite of a Racist President (And why we should elect Pete Buttigieg as our next president)
“Have you seen Bubbles?” I asked my mother who was doing dishes in the kitchen when I came home from school.
“No, come to think of it, I haven’t.” Mom replied.
Bubbles was our family cat, and though I had two brothers and a sister, everyone pretty much knew that Bubbles was MY cat. She had been a stray, found 5 years before when she wandered — still very much a kitten — onto our front porch. She hungrily lapped up the milk I placed outside in a bowl for her that day; so it was little wonder that she stayed…forever. She slept outside that first night, but ever after, she was welcomed into our home. I named her “Bubbles” for the clustered bubbles of thick gray, black and white fur that seemed to swirl and dance around her body.
Everyday, when I came home from school, I’d grab a quick snack in the kitchen, call for Bubbles, and go up to my room to do my homework — always with Bubbles purring on my lap. Sometimes, when I’d take a quick nap, Bubbles would snuggle up next to me in bed and knead her paws on my shirt…purring with contentment. (Both of us.)
So when I could not find Bubbles that Thursday afternoon in the house, I went outside to call for her. Though Bubbles was mostly an inside cat, she spent time outside with us as well during the five years we had her…watching the four of us kids play basketball on our back patio, climbing through the garden as dad planted and tended to his flowers, or just taking sunbaths in the grass. She never wandered far, so when she didn’t respond to my calls (which she usually did immediately), I became worried. My mother assured me that she was probably OK, and would return home shortly.
The next morning before school, I called again for her. I walked around the perimeter of the house, checked the window wells, and yelled her name across the tall barren sand dunes that towered over our backyard in Miller Beach — a suburb of Gary, Indiana where I grew up. No Bubbles.
During school, I could not think of anything else other than finding Bubbles. When I returned home that Friday afternoon, I walked the entire neighborhood looking for her, asking neighbors if they’d seen her, calling her name.
The next day, we awoke to find that dozens of eggs had been thrown at our house overnight. Our garage doors, our front windows and the bricks on our home were caked with dried egg. Then, on the street and the sidewalk in front of our house in the cul-de-sac was this scrawled in white chalk: “KAMEN THE JEW DIES.”
We had a pretty good idea who egged our house and scrawled those vile words. My brothers had been in some scrapes with the two boys next door, and one of the boys yelled “Jew boys!” to my brothers several times during the course of the altercation — which was not physical.
We spent the day cleaning the mess left on our house and searching for Bubbles. That night, I had a date for a school dance. I needed to get ready to go, but I was not in the mood for a party. My mom and dad assured me they would continue to look for Bubbles while I was gone.
I went to the dance, but when I returned home, Mom and Dad were waiting for me in the living room. I saw a strange look on their faces, and I knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. Mom spoke first.
“Joyce, we found Bubbles, but it’s not good news,” she began.
She told me that my brothers, David and Daniel, were walking in the woods atop the dunes in our backyard with some friends, and came across Bubbles, who had been hung with a coat hanger from a tree— and had likely been there for several days. There was a note attached to the hanger: “KAMEN THE JEW DIES.”
I was inconsolable. For days. All I wanted was Bubbles. The tears would not stop. But she was gone…murdered by hate, blind anti-semitism and evil.
My Bubbles. My beautiful, loving Bubbles.
This was the incident in my life (by then, I was 16) that fully awakened me to the fact that anti-semitism was real. And it was in my own backyard. I had learned about the Holocaust in Hebrew School, and some of the horrific images I’d seen of what happened to the Jews of Eastern Europe — including public hangings — were seared in my mind. I was so frightened that another Holocaust was coming…this time to America. My mother tried to comfort me, telling me that as awful as Bubbles’ hanging was, America was still the safest place to live because anti-semitism as a government-sanctioned policy could never take hold in a democracy like ours. At least, that’s how it seemed to her in the late 60s.
I know better now.
There have been other incidents of anti-semitism in my life — probably similar to those many other American Jews have experienced. A college professor telling our sociology class that American Jews were “nuns” — then saying, “That’s spelled “N-O-N-E-S”; a caller to my radio show asking, “Did daddy have to buy the station for you to get this job?”; a fellow grad student in our study group who, after I told him I was Jewish, replied. “Oh geez, Joyce! Don’t even joke about a thing like that!”; a woman who asked me if I knew my husband’s family was Jewish before I married him; and a man who asked me why I celebrated Thanksgiving because, after all, “It’s not really your holiday.”
The catastrophe that befell America in November of 2016 reignited my fear that another Hitler could rise — this time in America. Again, in my own backyard. OUR own backyard. I thought again of what happened to Bubbles.
The current occupant of the Oval Office was trafficking in anti-semitic tropes even before the election. It was well known that this aspiring dictator was a racist, anti-semitic snake before he was elected. And while it came as a shock to many that he was actually elected; it should have come as no surprise to anyone that he has bitten our democracy over and over again since — and badly. His bite is poisonous. Our democracy has his venom in its veins. Our sweet land of liberty is now a place where white nationalism is on the rise. So are the number of mass shootings, acts of anti-semitism, inhumane treatment of migrant children and families, marginalization of LatinX, African Americans, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and more.
After the election, I was, like so many other Americans, devastated beyond consolation for days. But during that period of profound grief, my resolve was strengthened. True to that resolve, I have not stayed silent about my utter loathing for the racist, xenophobic anti-semite who took up residence in the White House. I have often repeated the words I heard from over 40 Holocaust survivors whom I interviewed in the mid 1990s — and whose testimonies are rested at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. They said this about the lessons they learned:
“The Holocaust did not start with ghettoes, mass shootings, people packed into cattle cars, and starved and tortured to death in concentration camps,” they told me. “It began with hate. Hate only because we were Jews. So by the time the killing machines were running at peak efficiency, it was too late. The lesson is this: The time to have acted was when the first spark of hate became visible. The time to rise up was then. Tell everyone you know, that they must act and push back against hatred, bigotry and racism at the time when it first arises. Otherwise, society will be doomed.”
There was no time to lose. I made a vow to myself to work as hard as humanly possible to show the Racist-in-Chief the door in 2020. Anyone, just anyone, would be better than him. In March of 2019, as more and more Democrats threw their hats into the ring, I began to really study each one. I soon found that I was being drawn more and more to Mayor Pete, whose calm demeanor, humanitarian world view, sheer brilliance, courage, humility, maturity, intuition, and unassailable honesty gave me a sense of calm, comfort and security when I thought of him being our next president. I bought and read his book. I heard his voice. I listened to his words:
“When you are in public office, you speak to people of every religion and no religion equally — and everyone has the same claim to the blessings of American life, regardless of their faith.”
“When I think about where most of Scripture points me, it is toward defending the poor, and the immigrant, and the stranger, and the prisoner, and the outcast, and those who are left behind by the way society works. And what we have now is this exaltation of wealth and power, almost for its own sake, that in my reading of Scripture couldn’t be more contrary to the message of Christianity.”
“One of the fundamental ideas of the Presidency is to bring people together and to lift people up. And we just don’t have that.”
“We can do this…defeat this President with a defeat so big, it reunites the Republican party with its own conscience…”
There are some Democratic candidates for President that I believe would really do a fine job. But from all I have read, seen and heard, I know that Pete would do a phenomenal job. He is magnificently unique…a lover of humanity, a uniter, a thinker, a man devoted to equality, freedom, justice, and security for all. We still have a long way to go before November, 2020. Plenty of time to really get to know all of the Democratic candidates. Plenty of time to sit down with Pete and read about his life’s journey. Hours ahead to see if you too sense his uncommon ability to flush from our democracy’s veins from the poison now coursing through them. CLICK HERE TO VISIT PETE’S CAMPAIGN.
Though I did not see Bubbles hanging in the woods, I conjure that image in my mind anyway. It comes to me involuntarily. It’s horrific, but it has become a daily reminder why we must, in no uncertain terms, reject the heinous, hateful rhetoric of the current occupant of the Oval Office in the strongest way possible — by voting him out of office by a landslide in 2020.
“Sometimes the dark moment brings out the best in us,” Pete has said. “It helps us find what is good in us. Dare I say, what is great in us.” #20PETE20