On November 20, Phil Murphy, the likely Democratic nominee to be the next governor of New Jersey, gave a shocking speech to a group of 400 progressives in which he compared Donald Trump’s rise to power to the ascension of Adolf Hitler in Germany.
Even in the current toxic political environment, his statement crossed the line from political rhetoric to obscenity.
It is hard to imagine that I need to say this, but any statement that associates a democratically elected president, however objectionable he may be to his opponents, to a genocidal maniac is beyond the pale. You can love Trump. You can hate Trump. But comparing him to Hitler is grotesque and an abasement of our politics.
I feel stupid even having to say this. But Hitler ran gas chambers and crematoria that murdered on average 10,000 Jews a day for three years. Comparing anyone to him, especially the President of the United States, is an affront to decency and every moral tenet.
I do not know Murphy. I assume he’s a good man with good intentions. However, he has trivialized the Holocaust and degraded the political discourse below the nadir I thought we had reached. It is unacceptable that a man with aspirations to lead the great state of New Jersey would invoke the memory of Hitler to score political points. Murphy should apologize and retract his words.
Equally disappointing was the reception of his audience whose silence in response to his comments. People who call themselves progressives should exhibit true progressive values, which reject genocide, intolerance, antisemitism and demagoguery.
At a time when bomb threats are being called into Jewish day schools and community centers every week, and Jewish cemeteries are being desecrated, what we need are leaders who will use their bully pulpits to denounce antisemitism and declare a commitment to fight this scourge every moment of every day in every place where it pollutes our great nation.
We have seen such leaders in recent days — not only President Trump himself, but also leaders such as Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, who rolled up their sleeves and worked with other volunteers to clean up the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. Phil Murphy would do well to emulate their example if he cares about the victims of Hitler, which I’m sure he does.
And it’s ironic that Murphy, as a New Jersey Democrat, should miss that point given that Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey’s senior Democrat U.S. Senator, is one of the greatest friends Israel has ever had in the Senate and is universally lauded as an incomparable friend of the Jewish community. My organization, The World Values Network, awarded Senator Menendez our highest honor two years ago as a great champion and defender of Israel.
But Murphy makes the mistake of being a different kind of Democrat, one who has been unable to accept the outcome of the election, even if it is not to his taste. They denounce President Trump’s rhetoric while employing even worse language to describe Trump and his supporters.
The country is divided. Many people are angry. I get that, even as I lament the deep divisions in our beautiful nation. All of us, myself included, must contribute to the healing of America. Still, it is outrageous for Trump to be linked in any way, shape or form to the man responsible for the murder of six million Jews and millions of non-Jews.
I have, over the last eight years, many times condemned those who falsely accused Barack Obama of antisemitism. While I disagreed vehemently with Obama on many of his policies relating to Israel, especially the catastrophic Iran nuclear agreement, calling him a Jew-hater was despicable. That’s even more true of politicians like Murphy who compare Trump to Hitler.
It is especially disconcerting that Murphy would devalue the opinions and democratic rights of the more than 60 million people who voted for Trump. The implication of Murphy’s comment is that he believes that millions of Americans, including roughly 1.6 million New Jerseyans, supported a modern-day Nazi.
The time has come to lower the temperature of our political debates. We need a return to civility and a rejection of vitriol. This is a nonpartisan problem. There are too many Republicans who are also demonizing their opponents and, I fear, opening the door to extremists who do not share the values of the Republican Party.
President Trump is a strong supporter of Israel and a great friend of the Jewish people. He is the first President in American history to have Jewish children and grandchildren. In his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, President Trump said: Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a Nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”
Murphy’s offensive remarks do nothing to calm the situation and his failure to apologize unnecessarily undermines his suitability for political office. It’s not a big deal. Just say you’re sorry, for goodness sake, and move on. Suggesting we are living under a Nazi-like regime will only further enflame the situation and embolden the anti-Semites anxious to prove him right.
Contrast Murphy’s pandering comments with the man who could easily beat him in a race for governor – Bruce Springsteen. The Boss was an outspoken supporter of Hilary Clinton and a considerable critic of Trump. He has not backed away from his contempt for Trump and continues to express his fears about the next four years. Still, he has never resorted to the hateful and inappropriate rhetoric used by Murphy. In an interview, Springsteen acknowledged that “plenty of good, solid folks” voted for Trump because his message about job loss and protecting the homeland appealed to many of the people who are fans of his music. His message, is a healthy one for opponents of the president. “America is still America,” he said. “I still believe in its ideals, and I’m going to do my best to play my very, very small part in maintaining those things.”
We all have a part to play in fighting to uphold American values. To do this, however, we must work together – Republican, Independents and Democrats, conservatives, moderates and liberals. Given the stakes, and the deep divisions on so many issues, our conversations may get loud and contentious. The quality of an argument, however, is never measured by the volume at which it is expressed. If this country is going to heal – and it must – then we need to start by acknowledging our differences and agreeing to debate them with respect, decency, and civility.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books including his most recent The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.