Wednesday, July 6, 2016

It's Our People: A Response to Donald Trump's Son-In-Law Jared Kushner

Dear Mr. Kushner,

I don't know you, obviously. You're the shadow leader of a major campaign for president, and I'm a small-town pastor with a modest blog. By all accounts, you and Ivanka have a delightful family and the two of you come across--at least in almost all the media I see you in--as genuinely well-mannered, considerate, and authentic.

Despite the very existence of your father-in-law's campaign that you are, again by all accounts, having a big hand in running.

I read the column by your employee Dana Schwartz, who writes for the paper you own and that has (obviously) endorsed Trump. It meant a lot to me to have someone whose livelihood you have considerable power over--you could fire or demote her at a moment's notice--actually speak truth to power and ask for an accounting of yourself for your support of your father-in-law even in the face of what was, by all reasonable interpretations, an anti-Semitic tweet directed at his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

To your credit, you did so, penning a thoughtful response in the pages of the same paper Ms.Schwartz used to rightly call you out.

But if you'll kindly permit me, your words deserve a further calling out, and I may be in a position to do so. For you are the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and I am the great-grandson of survivors of a genocide that was, for all intents and purposes, the dress rehearsal to the Holocaust: the Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian Holocaust was executed at profound cost to my family. Among the 1.5 million dead was my great-great grandfather Sarkis, who was murdered in 1915, as was one of my great-grandfather's brothers, Madiros, who was only a couple of years older than I am now. My great-grandfather and his bride, my great-grandmother, fled across Russia all the way to Vladivostok as refugees and smuggled themselves into the United States illegally. We still have their fake passports.

So please trust me when I say that I understand the gravity of your narrative of your grandmother's experience in the Novrogroduk ghetto. Your retelling of that experience is both harrowing and tender at the same time, a reminder to all of us of what can happen when the very worst parts of our sinful human natures are stoked.

And whether you are able to see it or not, that is precisely what your father-in-law is doing--and has been doing--throughout his campaign. As many other observers have noted, the Nazi Holocaust did not begin with the death camps and the gas chambers--they were predated by the Nuremburg Laws, Kristallnacht, the imprisonment of political opponents in concentration camps, and the widespread dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda.

The exact same is true of the Armenian Holocaust. I would refer you to a sermon I preached on April 24 of this year, which is the remembrance day for the Armenian Holocaust, and specifically to this passage:

In December 1914, Enver Pasha, the Ottoman Minister of War, fought the Battle of Sarikamish against the Russian army, which was aided by a number of Armenian volunteers. It was a disaster for the Ottomans—Enver Pasha had failed to both keep an adequate operational reserve force and accurately predict how the Russians would react to being attacked.

But such reality often does not suit men of power and of egos. Enver Pasha blamed the defeat on the Armenian soliders who had fought alongside the Russians, because many of the Armenian soldiers were themselves Russian citizens, but also partly because the Ottoman Empire had initiated a series of pogroms and massacres of its Armenian populations in the 1890s (which had led to more Armenians immigrating elsewhere, including to Russia, to begin with).

This was only a part of the Armenian community, though, and in fact many were still enlisted in the Ottoman armed forces—until Directive 8682 was issued in February 1915, which ejected all ethnic Armenians from the Ottoman military, under the pretense of community-wide disloyalty.

These two actions, along with others, provided the pretext for the execution of 1.5 million Armenians throughout the remaining duration of the First World War.

Accusing the ethnic Armenians within Turkey of disloyalty, of having an impure agenda, was what gave the three Pashas--Enver, Talaat, and Mehmed--the pretext to commit the genocide, but that genocide was, just like the Nazi Holocaust, preceded by build-up efforts to isolate and alienate the Armenians just as German and Polish Jews were isolated and alienated twenty-some years later.

Your inclusion of your grandmother's narrative is incredibly poignant. But it doesn't tell the story of how she and millions like her came to be so demonized in a country that once was home.

And how they came to be demonized--and how my family came to be demonized--is through tactics disturbingly similar to what your father-in-law is employing.

No objective observer could really believe that the tweet about Clinton had a sheriff's star, because who is associated with the hateful, bigoted stereotype about money and corruption--sheriffs, or Jews?

No objective observer could really believe that Trump's tweet about black-on-white homicide was anything other than race-baiting, because who is associated with the hateful, bigoted stereotype about being superhuman, violent thugs--African-American men, or white men?

No objective observer could really believe that Trump's tweet tying together the Nazi swastika with blatantly anti-Hispanic imagery was anything other than a racist slap in the face to non-whites, and Latino/a's in particular, because who is the swastika associated with, white pride, or Latino/a pride?

These are not your father-in-law's racist, anti-Semitic supporters, either--though you do try to pass the buck onto them. None of them, so far as anyone can tell, hijacked or hacked Trump's twitter account. Your father-in-law, and he alone, is responsible for what he says. You compare it to Bernie Sanders's supporters desecrating the American flag, but Sanders never instructed his supporters to desecrate such a venerable, revered symbol of our country. Your father-in-law, on the other hand, told his supporters he'd pay their legal fees if they beat up protesters at his rallies.

So, why are you absolving him of it by foisting it off on his followers? And, more to the point, why does it not disturb you more that your father-in-law has so many bigoted followers?

You're once again ignoring a larger pattern at work here. This isn't just about a solitary tweet from your father-in-law, it's about multiple tweets, multiple statements, and multiple incitements to violence from your father-in-law in addition to the numerous hateful tweets, statements, and acts of violence from his followers.

It's our people who are being targeted here, and by "our," I don't mean strictly Jews or strictly Armenians. It's "our" people in the sense of any people who have been marginalized, cast out, demonized, and persecuted simply for who they are. People of color. Women. GLBTQ persons. Muslims. The differently abled. All of whom your father-in-law has maligned, but all of whom have something great and glorious to offer to us, if only we were to cede them the safe space with which to do so.

I know that we're of different faith traditions, Mr. Kushner, but I believe that we worship the same God, and I genuinely hope that you will find some time soon to do some very real soul searching. Your father-in-law is saying many of the same things--and using many of the same tactics--that the people who tried to kill both our ancestors used in their evil machinations.

Please ask yourself just how much more, and for how much longer, you wish to be a part of such an inhumane effort.

Thanks for reading.

Rev. Eric Atcheson


  1. WOW! A powerful post, Eric. Thanks for sharing your family's story and the strong and important words to Mr. Kushner and the world.