(USA Today) President Trump, while speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Thursday, asked America to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger and his sagging ratings since taking over The Celebrity Apprentice. It was a joke. A bad joke.
Trump had been introduced by Mark Burnett, who produced and created the original The Apprentice and the celebrity spinoff. The president’s remark was a small part of his speech. It should be taken in context — not just how it fit into a bipartisan gathering of political leaders that should have been more reflective, as in soul-searching rather than mirror-preening, but how it follows the president’s statement on National Holocaust Remembrance Day last week. That was the same day Trump signed an executive order banning all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days.
Trump did not specifically mention Jews in his Holocaust statement. Apologies are not his style. So on Saturday, White House spokesperson Hope Hicks, responding to criticism of the statement, was on CNN saying: “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.”
Not good enough.
The Nazis killed millions of people, including gypsies and homosexuals, but the Holocaust was a Jewish tragedy. The “final solution” was designed to exterminate Jews — young and old, regardless of politics or wealth or anything save the fact that they were Jews. Six million Jews were killed.
And while Jews were being rounded up into cattle cars, then sent to work camps and gas chambers, the United States did little to save them.
The absence of Jews in the Holocaust statement, perhaps, was a sign of the lack of people with wisdom around the president. Some reports suggest that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, had a hand in the writing of the statement. I do not question Kushner’s faith. I do question whether any 30-something person has the first-generation connection needed to understand why the absence of “Jew” in the statement was so significant.
Holocaust survivors are dying out. The young men and women who witnessed the rise of the Nazis and fled for their lives are mostly upwards of 90. The children of the early 1940s are also old men and women today. These survivors must be respected. Their loss was personal, not inclusive.
And there was no grasp by the Trump administration that banning refugees on the same day the world paid homage to the dead of the Holocaust was also a statement that the Holocaust could happen again — that civilized societies were still capable of turning their back on people fleeing oppression and certain death because self-interest still trumps all other considerations.
So I looked for healing from the president in Thursday’s prayer breakfast speech. It was not there. The Schwarzenegger joke should not be the only takeaway. It is most significant in that it shows how everything that happens in the world is, in Trump’s eyes, all about him. Further into his speech, Trump said he heard five words while campaigning that meant the most to him: “I am praying for you.”
Not “I pray for a better world” or even “I pray,” but “I am praying for you.”
Trump was the center of his speech about prayer. Rather than talk about the deep fear American Muslims must have today after the travel ban and after a young white man shot worshippers in a mosque in Canada on Sunday, Trump singled out the elimination of the so-called Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt churches from advocating for a political candidate, as a top priority.
Freedom to worship without government intervention is a First Amendment right. No one should fear that praying in a church, temple or mosque will get them on a government watch list. Freedom to campaign for a political candidate, while also being exempt from paying taxes, is not the same thing.
Trump also cited the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance as a sign that we are a nation that values God.
God isn’t a word. Putting God in the pledge in 1954 didn’t put God in anyone’s heart or soul. It was a gesture to a Communist-fearing America. And putting God into political speeches today is symbolic, nothing more.
Trump is not shy about naming Islam every chance he gets when he talks about terrorism and barbarism. He did nothing Thursday to tell Americans they should not fear or hate Muslims. Just as he did nothing last week in his Holocaust statement to remind the world that the Holocaust was about Jewish genocide.
Putting God into speeches is easy. Putting God into actions is not.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings should be the last thing on Trump’s mind.