By Herbert Chubin
For me, the attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and the racism and anti-Semitism of the rioters, recalled an earlier age when discrimination was an accepted part of life.
While attending the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business MBA program in 1959, I made several appointments for job interviews with recruiters of major companies. As students at one of the top business schools in the country, Wharton’s MBA candidates — mostly white Christian men — were highly sought-after.
But I knew that few companies would hire Jews, even from Wharton. The two interviews I had with companies that did hire Jews resulted in job offers. Yet I signed up for other interviews simply to aggravate the recruiters; this was my way of fighting back against the many companies which still discriminated against Jews. I almost felt sorry for the person who sat opposite me at the table and had to pretend that he was conducting a real 10-minute interview with a Jew.
So, as recently as 1959, anti-Semitism was still very much present in its covert form, although America was well past the years when overt anti-Semitism flourished.
As my father used to tell me, anti-Semitism was both overt and mainstream in the 1920s in America, and continued as such through the 1940s. During those decades, the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi party openly expressed their anti-Semitic views. They held rallies and marches. There were others who showed hatred for Jews on radio stations and in many publications. The United States’ entry into World War II in December 1941 ended most of the overt Jew hating; however, anti-Semitism continued to exist as a major issue for Jews until the 1960s.
Although overt white supremacist displays like the march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 had been rare in recent years, I knew that racism and anti-Semitism remained below the surface.
The election of our first African-American president Barack Obama in 2008 was a wake-up call to white supremacists and other hate groups; they realized that they would soon become one of many minorities and needed to find a means to retain economic and political control. Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign gave oxygen to these racist and anti-Semitic groups and individuals and multiplied their dangers.
Although Trump has now been defeated at the ballot box, the election was not a repudiation of racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy. Over 70 million voters cast their ballot for Trump, either despite or because of his encouragement of hate groups, and some down-ballot Republican candidates who have supported extremist groups, such as QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene, won their races.
President Joe Biden’s victory is a positive step but it is not enough. The racists and anti-Semites have found a home in Trump’s Republican party. In the past two elections, they may have become the nation’s largest group of single-issue voters, and they are using not only the ballot box, but voter intimidation and violence to remain in control. In the minds of the haters, if white supremacy requires the end of our democracy and replacing it with a dictatorship, so be it.
The violent attempt to overthrow our democracy on Jan. 6 was a wake-up call to all true patriots; we must actively protect the Constitution and the institutions that comprise our constitutional republic. The insurrectionists carried Confederate flags and wore shirts with messages of hate, such as “Camp Auschwitz.” Those of us who value equal opportunity for all people, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity, need to support our democratic institutions. In addition, overt prejudice by any group against another group must be unequivocally condemned.
As President Biden and others have pointed out, we are competing for the very soul of our nation. Our democracy is at stake. We cannot allow our country to continue to backslide to the overt displays of hatred my father experienced before World War II or the covert anti-Semitism I experienced in 1959. We must prove to the world and ourselves that despite the events of the last few months and days, we are better than that.
Longtime business executive Herbert Chubin, a Philadelphia native, moved from Yardley to Bethesda, Maryland, eight years ago to be closer to his grandchildren. He is now retired.