Wineke: Can’t blame Trump for anti-Semitism, but can’t absolve him either

It really isn’t fair to call President Donald Trump an anti-Semite. To do so, one would have to ignore Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, daughter and grandchildren. To do so one would have to ignore his history as a Manhattan developer with worldwide contacts.

But we shouldn’t let the president off the hook completely either.

One thing history shows us is that when the leaders of a society start to scapegoat any minority group, popular hatred almost inevitably and eventually turns on the Jews.

Trump based a successful campaign on denigrating minority groups, most importantly, Muslims and Mexicans.

Even as president he has flamed flames of fear by banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the United States because they might be harboring terrorist immigrants.

When blocked by a federal appeals court, the president tweeted that Americans should hold the judges responsible should any terrorist attack take place in the future.

And there has been an increase in terrorist attacks on mosques and other Muslim social centers. But there has also been an increase in bomb threats (another form of terrorism) against Jewish social centers and of vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.

There are reasons why responsible political leaders don’t go around poking the embers of hatred; once a fire starts, it is hard to control.

There’s a reason why, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush reached out to Muslims and assured the country that he believes Islam to be a religion of peace.

He knew the country was angry and was looking for villains, and he knew that, once the fires of hatred break out, they are very difficult to extinguish.

Presidents have to be careful with their words – even if their own popularity might suffer by silence.

It is a difficult path to walk.

All politicians are, to some extent, demagogues. In order to get elected, you have to convince people that you are better than your opponent. Some are better than others. Hillary Clinton was enormously unsuccessful in this regard. Trump was enormously successful.

But, if that demagoguery gets out of control the politician may find himself the servant to forces that sweep him along the path to destruction.

This is not a happy country right now. Trump’s fans and Trump’s enemies both feel emboldened to act out their inner demons.

It would be a good time for the president to set a good example.