Remember the Shoah, Not Just the Holocaust

At the Women’s March on Washington, actress Ashley Judd made a speech which has since gone viral in liberal internet circles. In the speech, a slam poem written by a 19-year-old in Tennessee, Judd says she is a “nasty woman” — but “not as nasty as a swastika painted on a pride flag.” She “feels Hitler in these streets” and invokes “gas chambers” to describe conversion therapy. Judd ends on an uplifting note, saying that women of all religions are birthing “new generations of nasty women,” Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh alike. But despite invoking Nazism in blatant language, she does not mention Jews.

Do you see the problem here? Does the omission glare at you, too?

Judd is right about echoes existing between Nazi Germany and America’s current political situation. Those similarities are important to point out — and many left-wing individuals are doing so, rightly. But in post after post I’ve seen decrying Trump as a fascist, warning of the rise of actual neo-Nazism disguised as the “alt-right,” almost no one has mentioned Jews. They bemoan the dangers facing other marginalized groups — Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, LGBTQ individuals, the poor, sexual assault survivors, the list goes on and on — but somehow, despite the fact that they’re talking about Nazism, they never consider that maybe Jews are worried, too.

I understand why many people don’t think of Jews as a population in danger. In many ways, they’re right. President Trump has crafted no policy to target Jews, unlike his proposed wall on the Mexican border or his ban of Muslim refugees. Moreover, in the U.S., most Jews — specifically Ashkenazi Jews — are white, with accompanying privilege. That classification is relatively new, having arisen only in the past 70 years, but it is true all the same. In our everyday lives, we are not discriminated against the way Muslims are, the way African-Americans are, the way any person with dark skin is. I benefit from white privilege every time I walk down the street. I’m not afraid of policemen because I’m pale as a lily, and I can trust they won’t care about my faith.

But if you’re making the argument that Nazism is rising in America, you can’t act like that won’t affect Jews.

For all our privilege now, Ashkenazi Jews are also the population most deeply affected by Nazism. Most Jews have many relatives who died in the Holocaust, and that’s not even mentioning the literal millennia of persecution we faced beforehand. I don’t need to tell you Hitler killed six million Jews: you’ve had that number drilled into you already. But I don’t think non-Jews usually know that those six million were half of Europe’s entire Jewish population, and a third of all Jews worldwide. I don’t think most non-Jews understand what it feels like to know someone tried, and nearly succeeded, to exterminate your entire people. And I really, really don’t think non-Jews realize how terrified so many Jews are now that Nazism may be making a comeback, because if you realized that, I’d like to think you’d mention it.

And you’re not. Speeches like Judd’s at the Women’s March exploit the Holocaust for effect without acknowledging its catastrophic outcomes for the Jewish people. Posts condemn the alt-right’s Islamophobia without noting its intrinsic anti-Semitism. Articles discuss the rise in white nationalism without realizing Jews aren’t included in that vision, no matter our skin color. We stand on lines between the categories that fit everybody else: we are white but not to everyone, we are European except that Europe tried to kill us, we have privilege but we are not safe.

Anti-Semitism still exists today, and Ashkenazi Jews still rightly fear it. With a president who was elected with neo-Nazis’ and white nationalists’ support, we confront that bigotry more now than we have in decades. If Nazism is, in fact, rising again, Jews will be among the most endangered.

I’m not asking you to say Jews may be deported. We have no reason to think that’s true. Nor am I asking you to prioritize Jewish lives over the many others that need more protecting. But the next time you connect the Holocaust to America today, don’t just remember how it happened. Remember who it happened to: remember the Jews whom it meant to extinguish.

And if you think my plea doesn’t apply to you, ask yourself this. Between January 9 and 18, more than 40 Jewish Community Centers received bomb threats. I didn’t see a single one of my non-Jewish friends post about it; only one even mentioned it, a week later.

If the buildings threatened had been mosques, would you have cared?

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Donald Trump, Schmuck in Chief

Donald Trump is a piece of drek.

That fact has been clear throughout this entire election cycle, but it became especially obvious yesterday. You know, when Donald Trump tweeted a blatantly anti-Semitic image accusing Hillary Clinton of corruption. The poster had a background of money and a red badge declaring Clinton the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” — shaped like a Star of David.

As Andy Borowitz put it, right as always: “Trump doing an anti-Semitic tweet about someone who isn’t Jewish combines two of his signature qualities, racism and inaccuracy.” So meshuge.

Trump deleted the tweet, which seemed almost like an admission of wrongdoing. But of course it wasn’t! A k’nocker like Trump doesn’t apologize. No, instead Trump waited until today to tweet: “Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff’s Star, or plain star!”

That’s because it was a Star of David, Donald. Sheriff’s stars have circles on their points. Plain stars usually have five tips.

As always, Trump deliberately or genuinely just doesn’t get it. Because of that, I realized: why bother writing a column in English for this am horets? He’s earned the language of my people, the language with the best insults in the world: Yiddish.

And here’s the thing: Yiddish is the most appropriate language to write this rant in anyway. Yiddish became the language of Ashkenazi Jews in the ninth century. No matter where in Eastern or Central Europe these Jews lived, their language united them. My grandmother’s family came from modern-day Lithuania, my grandfather’s family from modern-day Ukraine. Those two countries are more than 1,100 miles apart. Yet both my grandparents spoke Yiddish. Instead of Lithuanian or Ukrainian, Yiddish was their families’ native language.

That’s because being Jewish added a formative layer to their identity. Both an ethnicity and a faith, Judaism has defined its adherents for thousands of years. It’s not the only thing that defines us: I, for example, am also a white, upper-middle-class woman from Suburbia, USA. But it’s an intrinsic part of our identities — a link that Yiddish, for more than a millennium, exemplified.

Donald Trump can’t understand what it means to be part of a persecuted minority, because he’s not part of one. He particularly can’t understand what it means to be Jewish. The poster he tweeted, whose anti-Semitism he later denied, epitomizes an old Yiddish saying, born from centuries of persecution and mistrust: Dos ken nor a goy. “That, only a gentile is capable of doing.” Only a non-Jew with Trump’s chutzpa could parrot such narishkayt.

Here’s the thing: Trump almost certainly doesn’t think of himself as anti-Semitic. His daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism; three of his grandchildren will receive B’nai Mitzvot. They’re related to him, so in theory he cares about them.

But that doesn’t preclude him from being an anti-Semite. In fact, Trump is anti-Semitic. He may not think Jews’ association with money is a bad thing — he’s tried to cultivate that same association for himself — but he does think it exists.

Let’s look at his great seykhl of the Jewish people:

  • “I’m a negotiator like you folks, we are negotiators. . . . Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room? This room negotiates them — perhaps more than any other room I’ve ever spoken in.” — Trump, assuming all Jews are money-obsessed hagglers, at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum in 2015.
  • “Stupidly, you want to give money. . . . You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” — There he goes again with the money stereotype at the RJC!
  • “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated.” — A tweet from The Donald in 2013, with his insinuations about Stewart’s Judaism plain.
  • “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”As told to John R. O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino. Trump probably thought this was a compliment.
  • “I don’t have a message to the fans. . . . A woman wrote an article that’s inaccurate.” — This quote would seem innocuous if Trump wasn’t defending his anti-Semitic supporters, who were sending vile, vulgar death threats to Julia Ioffe, a Jewish reporter who wrote an article about Melania Trump. Wolf Blitzer gave Trump an opportunity to denounce those fans; Trump didn’t take it.

From those five quotes alone, Trump’s record is clear: he believes in the stereotypes about Jews and money, plus a few others. Even worse, he spreads and encourages those stereotypes among his millions of followers. He bears direct blame for the neo-Nazis attacking Jews, journalists or otherwise, online. There’s a reason David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, enthusiastically endorsed him.

Donald Trump is an anti-Semite.

It doesn’t matter that his daughter and grandchildren are Jewish. It doesn’t matter that there are some rich Jews, or Jewish accountants. Trump’s stereotypes about us remain prejudicial khaloshes. They’re garbage, responsible for millions of Jews’ deaths.

And this oyf kapores zhlob wants to be president of the United States.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody. Don’t vote for Donald Schmuck Trump in November.

Civil Disobedience, and Why the Intifada Doesn’t Count

Over the last week, I have read with mingled pride and dismay about my alma mater, Shaker Heights High School.

To honor Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Florida, on the fourth anniversary of his death, Shaker students wanted to wear their hoods up. In doing so, they aimed to recognize Martin’s senseless murder and the injustice in Zimmerman’s acquittal. They wanted to make a statement about how little hoods should mean — that people in this country, especially African-Americans, should be judged by their character, not their skin color or clothing.

On Feb. 26, 2012, Martin died because of America’s endemic racism. Four years and dozens of innocent African-Americans’ deaths later, my former neighbors and schoolmates wanted to honor his memory.

But Shaker Heights High School has a rule against wearing hoods. The administration sees them as a security risk, obscuring people’s faces and thus allowing anyone — potentially dangerous individuals included — to enter the building. On that note, Interim Principal James Reed III gave a PA announcement Feb. 25 against the hoods-up display.

“Students are welcome to wear sweatshirts if they wish, to honor his [Martin’s] sacrifice,” Reed said, “and also to state that by having our hoods down in our halls and classes, that we are all individuals who should be seen and respected, not covered by a hood.”

But students could not wear their hoods up.

They did anyway. Students received in-school suspensions. Students ducked from administrators’ eyes in the hallway. Some students did, in fact, put their hoods down. But some students kept theirs up, showing solidarity with Martin and other victims of police violence, in a stunning end to Shaker’s celebration of Black History Month.

I am so proud of Shaker’s students. I am so proud to hail from such a politically aware school district. Following the debacle through the Shakerite’s coverage, I read with pride, gratitude and admiration about Shaker’s beautiful civil disobedience.

On that same day — Feb. 26 — I learned with horror that an activist group at my new school, Columbia University, defines civil disobedience very differently than I do. To me, civil disobedience does not just comprise a protest against the law. That protest must be civil — nonviolent. Yet under the mantle of “civil disobedience,” Columbia University Apartheid Divest, which promotes the international Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS), includes the First and Second Intifadas.

I have refrained from speaking out against CUAD, largely because I do not disagree with them on every issue, or even most. I agree that Israel denies Palestinians in the occupied territories equal rights. I agree that Palestinians should have their own nation. I agree that the Jewish country I love departs increasingly, as the years progress, from my own Jewish values.

But I disagree that Israel within the green line is an apartheid state. I don’t think BDS will convince or force the Israeli government to free the occupied territories. And I am disgusted that CUAD insists the Intifadas were simply civil disobedience, ignoring the Palestinian role in the violence.

The disagreement stems from Feb. 11, when Barnard/Columbia Socialists promoted CUAD’s “BDS 101” event on Facebook. In their post, which no longer exists on the group’s Facebook page, they concluded their message with four words: “Long Live the Intifada.”

My friend Shoshana, the co-president of J Street CU — a pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, anti-occupation group I joined this semester — condemned the Socialists’ endorsement of the Intifada on Facebook. I did the same.

Perhaps naively, I thought CUAD might agree. I attended the BDS 101 event to learn more about the movement, and I was impressed with the CUAD representatives’ emphasis on nonviolence. They made clear that in promoting BDS, they are promoting a civil, peaceful way towards Palestinian freedom. I admire that goal, even if I disagree with BDS’ tactics and effectiveness.

For two weeks, I waited for CUAD to release a statement about the Socialists’ Intifada endorsement. As days passed and I saw none, disappointment set in. I had overestimated CUAD’s commitment to nonviolence. Still, I refrained from making any judgments or statements until CUAD gave their opinion. I wanted to let CUAD surprise me. I wished, so fervently, that CUAD would keep their nonviolent stance.

They didn’t. Instead, two days ago, CUAD and Barnard/Columbia Socialists posted an article by SocialistWorker.org defending the First and Second Intifadas as “mass rebellions against terrorism” and “the popular struggle of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people acting in civil disobedience against occupation and apartheid.”

To give the article full credit, it’s not entirely wrong. Palestinians did practice civil disobedience. During the First Intifada in particular, which lasted from 1987 until 1993, Palestinians used strikes, graffiti and boycotts of Israeli goods to show their anger — nonviolent tactics which I applaud.

But the First Intifada also included Palestinians who threw stones and Molotov cocktails. That does not justify Israel’s disproportionate, violent response, which killed more than a thousand Palestinians: I continue to deplore Israel’s use of incommensurate violence while responding to the insurrection of an oppressed people. However, the Palestinians’ weapons make it impossible to call the First Intifada a solely nonviolent movement.

And the Second Intifada, which lasted from 2000 until 2005, was considerably worse. This time, the insurrection used almost solely violent means. Shootings; rockets; stabbings; suicide bombings — all these and more lethal actions perpetuated death and injury rather than working towards peace. Thousands of Palestinians and Israelis were murdered by violent Palestinian insurrectionaries and the Israeli Defense Forces; still more thousands were injured.

Yes, Israel used its power disproportionately. Yes, more Palestinians died than Israelis, by indisputable margins. Yes, the Israeli government remains in power and ever more oppressive. But over a thousand people were killed by the Palestinians, most of them innocent. We cannot ignore that fact. The deaths and injuries on both sides only render the conflict more tragic.

Those deaths and injuries preclude the Intifadas from classifying as civil disobedience. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, civil disobedience comprises “refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government.” Philosopher John Rawls defined civil disobedience as “a public, nonviolent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government.” Even Henry David Thoreau, who coined the term “civil disobedience” in his famous 1849 essay, advocated “a peaceable revolution.”

“Nonviolent.” “Nonviolent.” “Peaceable.” The pattern is apparent and unavoidable. If people uprising commit violence, ranging from wounds to murders, they are not engaging in civil disobedience. They are engaging in a violent insurrection.

If Columbia University Apartheid Divest wants to support the Intifada, they should be honest about what they’re supporting. I cannot stop student organizers from declaring their views, and I do not want to. They have every right to release a statement supporting the Intifadas, just as I have every right to write this column expressing my disappointment with that position. But, for the sake of accuracy, they cannot call the Intifadas civil disobedience. In doing so, they distort the term.

Promoting boycotts, divestment and sanctions is civil disobedience. Wearing hoods up to mourn a high school student’s death is civil disobedience. Shootings, stabbings and bombings are not.

Dismay, but No Surprise

I wish I was surprised.

Once, I thought America’s justice system fulfilled its duty. I waited for Officer Darren Wilson’s indictment after killing Michael Brown, younger than I am now, under murky circumstances. I felt sure Daniel Pantaleo would face both charges and conviction for choking Eric Garner to death, ignoring the man’s cries of “I can’t breathe.”

Yet in both cases, grand juries declined to indict the officers. The dead men, it seemed, had been too scary — as if their skin and size held them accountable for their demises.

So, in retrospect, I showed too much faith when police violence against black men came to my city. When Officer Timothy Loehmann killed Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old with a toy gun outside Cleveland’s Cudell Recreation Center, I felt a surge of hope. I had faith in Cleveland, in our government and prosecutors, in the city that raised me and the residents who smile so freely on the sidewalk.

I was wrong. Today, more than 13 months after Tamir died Nov. 22, 2014, county prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty announced the officers responsible will face no charges. Neither Loehmann nor his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, who drove the car, will face jail time or even a trial for killing a child.

I am not surprised, but I am dismayed.

I am a young, middle-class white woman. My skin’s hue is remarkably close to printer paper. I stand at an imposing 5-foot-2. I wear clean, modest clothing, mainly sweaters and jeans. No one has ever presumed me guilty of napping in synagogue, let alone of committing a crime.

It’s taken 19 years for me to understand I am lucky in that respect. Growing up, I thought the presumption of innocence applied to all citizens, not just myself. Indeed, that presumption stands true for many Americans — white people; the elderly; women, sometimes; and police officers. But Michael Brown’s, Eric Garner’s and now Tamir Rice’s deaths prove black men do not fall under that category.

Tamir Rice is not dead because he removed the orange safety tab from his toy gun. He is not even dead because a police officer pulled a trigger. He is dead because he was a 5-foot-7 black boy, and our nation’s justice system fails people with dark skin.

The blame does not all fall on Timothy Loehmann. The Cleveland Police Department hired Loehmann despite his record in Independence, where his emotional instability and “dismal” handgun performance forced him to resign before getting fired in 2012. After receiving a concerned call about a juvenile playing with a toy gun Nov. 22, police dispatcher Beth Mandl inaccurately reported a man threatening people with a real weapon. Garmback drove the police car next to Tamir in the park. He and Loehmann grew up in a culture that makes black men suspect because of their skin.

But Loehmann pulled the trigger, as thousands of people saw in the video of Tamir’s death. In that footage, the events that unfolded were clear. Garmback and Loehmann pulled up next to Tamir, straight onto the grass, stopping abruptly. Tamir stood, wary but curious as children so often are, and approached the vehicle. Loehmann all but leapt out of the car, shooting Tamir less than two seconds after the car had stopped. There was no time for the officers to issue a warning; there was no time for Tamir to respond to one. Tamir’s body crumpled, and Loehmann and Garmback did nothing to attend to the boy dying on the ground next to them.

I admit the video does not show clearly whether, after the police car pulled up, Tamir tried to pull his toy gun out of his pocket. Experts hired by the prosecution and Tamir Rice’s family have filed conflicting reports. However, the mere fact experts disagree based on the footage shows the grand jury should have indicted Loehmann and Garmback. The officers are not innocent beyond doubt. The case should have continued to a trial, where a jury could have assessed their actions’ validity in proper depth.

Perhaps even a trial would have failed Tamir Rice. But charging the officers would have given Tamir’s death the consideration it deserves — and, just as importantly, would have shown care for Tamir’s life. Tamir Rice is not just a corpse. Once, he breathed. He began June 25, 2002, tiny and wrinkled. He grew tall, with a goofy grin, during his 12 years. He would have grown taller. He loved his mother and siblings; he borrowed a toy from his friend. He liked art and basketball.

Like you, like me, he lived.

By refusing to indict Loehmann and Garmback, the grand jury has decided not to acknowledge Tamir’s personhood. They have decided Tamir Rice’s life did not matter. They have decided he is only a death, a footnote on two officers’ resumes.

I wish I was surprised.

I wish my faith in Cleveland’s justice system had lasted longer than a few months.

But even I, a middle-class white woman, caught on. For all the reasons I love Cleveland — the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, our abysmal sports teams, my neighbors’ friendliness — we remain an American city, with the endemic prejudice that entails. From the moment he emerged into this country, Tamir Rice did not stand a chance.

In Colleges and Cleveland, One Lethal Similarity

What do 10 college students and three children in Cleveland have in common?

They’re all dead — murdered by gunshots.

The students died yesterday, massacred at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

The children died over the past month. A drive-by shooting killed five-year-old Ramon Burnett Sept. 4, while he played football at his grandmother’s house. Major Howard, three years old, died when gunfire hit the car in which he sat Sept. 15. A girl was shot yesterday while riding in a car, quickly dying from her injuries.

She was six months old.

For all humanity’s faults — and despite Cleveland’s well-known violence — I never thought I would read that headline: “Baby killed in drive-by shooting on Cleveland’s east side.” Then followed so swiftly by another horror: “10 Dead in Shooting at Oregon College, Sheriff Says.”

Every major news outlet, from The New York Times to The Washington Post, has reported on the Oregon shooting. Social media rallied around the cause as well. #UCCShooting is trending on Twitter. Thousands of Facebook posts, angry and grieving, feature the same hashtag.

Dozens of those posts point out America’s epidemical school shootings. Columbine High School in 1999; Virginia Tech in 2007; and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 are probably the best-known tragedies. Yet they are mere blades of grass in a garden, taller than their fellows but far from alone. Since Sandy Hook — Dec. 14, 2012 — at least 142 school shootings have occurred. That’s about one per week.

Broader gun violence statistics spur still more concerns. During President Obama’s second term, not one calendar week has passed without a mass shooting. (No wonder he’s frustrated.) Terrorism killed 3,521 people between 1970 and 2014; nearly 10,000 people have died from gun violence in 2015 already.

Ramon, Major and the baby girl are among those 10,000 — three children no national news outlet wrote about. I only know their stories because I’m from Cleveland. I follow local news sources, such as WKYC and cleveland.com. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have heard of those children. I would never have known they were dead, or what killed them.

There’s just too much death to report. With so much gun violence, news outlets pick and choose— and in a climate as bleak as ours, even infants’ murders don’t make the cut.

If anything, that makes the Oregon shooting more tragic. The 10 college students aren’t standalone victims of rare circumstance — they’re just the people in headlines. Countless other Americans die every day, unknown, for the same reason: our country’s gun control is incomplete and ineffective. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, a large majority of Americans — including gun owners — have supported stronger gun safety policies. Yet dozens of our congressmen have refused to pass any such measures. Instead, they bow to the National Rifle Association and stand by antiquated constitutional readings. The Second Amendment meant to create a citizens’ militia. America spent $610 billion on defense in 2014 — we don’t need a militia anymore.

Looking at other nations, we see visions of how we could live. Other industrialized countries’ gun homicide rates are at least 12 times lower than ours. Germany’s, for instance, is 50 times lower. In 2008, Japan had just 11 gun homicides, while America — like usual — had thousands. Australians grew nervous in 2012, when their gun homicides reached a five-year high — 44 that year.

Those nations have reasonable gun control laws. They protect their citizens, and in doing so, they put us to shame. While we compare ourselves to other countries in plenty of areas — GDP, test scores, life expectancy — we glide over gun control. The stubborn and self-absorbed who sit in Washington don’t want to hear it.

Every congressman who voted against gun safety reform should ache today. Although they pulled no triggers, they contributed to students’ and children’s deaths. Because of their deafness to America’s wants and needs — because of their absent empathy and common sense — some of the blame lies with them. 

Congress could have increased gun regulations, perhaps saving the 10 students killed in Oregon yesterday. Our legislature could have made lethal weapons harder to acquire, which may have given three children from Cleveland the chance to grow up. Instead, as a nation, we mourn yet again — just as we do every month, week and day. On national and local stages, congressmen are seeing the consequences of their inaction.

Those consequences lie in graveyards, in coffins large and small.

Educating Governor Kasich

“If I were, not president, but if I were king in America, I would abolish all teachers’ lounges, where they sit together and worry about, ‘Woe is us.’”

Ah, Governor Kasich. There you are.

After watching the first Republican presidential debate, I had briefly wondered whether the John Kasich I knew had taken flight. Amid such candidates as Donald Drumpf and Ted Cruz, you came across as sane, articulate, measured and humane. The man who delivered a thoughtful answer about gay marriage was a person my family, Ohio citizens for 15 years, had rarely glimpsed before.

Now, you’re back in full, bullish form, and the earth is continuing its steady orbit.

Gov. Kasich, I am not sure which teachers made you hate their entire profession. Perhaps a tenth grade algebra teacher made math that much more difficult for you; maybe an English teacher gave you B’s despite your fluency in the language. You may just apply your loathing of unions to every possible group, and teachers, who tend to be union-supporting Democrats, would be among those who irk you the most.

But Gov. Kasich, teachers are not your enemy. The organizations that fight for their fair pay and benefits are not your foes. Teachers would love to work with a government that respects their jobs and livelihoods, their importance in children’s lives and the extraordinary effort they put into improving their work.

Teachers are not, and do not want to be, your enemy. However, increasingly, you are becoming theirs.

I write this as a former Ohio public school student and a reporter for that school’s newspaper. I covered Common Core and the PARCC exams and how both affected teachers and students. I observed firsthand how you, as governor, have attacked public education as if it were a witch in 1692 Salem.

My first introduction to your destructive policies was Ohio Senate Bill 5, Issue 2 of 2011. A freshman at the time, I noticed the “Vote NO on SB5” bumper stickers in the parking lot, the T-shirts teachers wore with the same declaration. The measure, known formally as the Ohio Collective Bargaining Limit Repeal, would have restricted collective bargaining for Ohio’s public employees — not just public school teachers, but firefighters and police officers as well. Had Senate Bill 5 passed, Ohio’s 400,000 public workers could not have collectively bargained for healthcare and pensions anymore; would not have been allowed to strike; and would have had to pay more for pensions and health insurance.

On November 8, 2011, Ohio made its opinion of Senate Bill 5 loud and clear. Nearly 62 percent of voters opposed the bill. A majority of voters supported SB 5 in only five of Ohio’s 88 counties. We avoided your union-axing measures in 2011 not barely, but by a landslide. Senate Bill 5 showed how out of touch you are with public education in Ohio. I wish it was an isolated incident; however, your education philosophies and policies overall have exhibited disregard and disdain for public schools throughout your tenure.

Although 90 percent of Ohio’s students attend traditional public schools, you have cut those schools’ funding by half a billion dollars. At the same time, you have become a vocal, unapologetic advocate for charter schools despite their generally poorer ratings, increasing their funding by at least 27 percent as of July 2015. According to the advocacy group Innovation Ohio, charter schools now receive more public funds from the state per student than traditional public schools, despite the low percentage of Ohio children attending them. Your funding cuts have forced local governments to raise millions of dollars for their schools through high levies, despite your general opposition to raising taxes. My hometown, Shaker Heights, passed a 6.9 mill levy in May 2014 — which our teachers’ union considered “conservative” given how much money our schools need. We pay the highest taxes in the state of Ohio because we care so deeply for our public schools — because we must offset your detrimental budget cuts.

Meanwhile, the charter schools you champion — which enroll only seven percent of Ohio’s public school students — do rank first in one category: public sectors misspending tax dollars. According to a recent article in the Akron Beacon Journal, which reviewed 4,263 audits released in 2014 by the state, Ohio’s charter schools seemed to misspend public money “nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency,” totaling $27.3 million improperly spent since 2001.

That monetary misuse has done nothing to help students. Rather, charter schools have earned state ratings so bad that David Hansen, the Ohio Education Department official responsible for school choice and charter schools, had to tamper with them to save the schools from embarrassment. He resigned in July after admitting he omitted ‘F’ grades from online and dropout recovery schools’ state evaluations. According to Steve Dyer, a former Ohio state representative and current education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, the schools Hansen helped are those “run by the state’s largest political donors.” Clearly, your administration cares more about receiving money than giving it. Under your watch, Hansen prioritized partisan donations over holding schools accountable “for failing to teach kids enough material during the school year” — the designation an ‘F’ evaluation gives.

And besides accepting Hansen’s resignation, you have done nothing to fix that issue. Your promise in December 2014 to overhaul the charter sector and require more oversight has produced nothing — even though Hansen is only part of the problem, and even though the Akron Beacon Journal said charter schools’ misspending could exceed the numbers they found.

As governor of Ohio, you have also at least doubled the number of school vouchers available to students. You began that increase to help poor children escape terrible public schools; however, middle class children from good school districts can now receive vouchers — most of which cover religious schools — as well. The amount of public funds Ohio spends on school vouchers has skyrocketed from $99 million in 2010, the year before you became governor, to more than $200 million in the last school year. As Innovation Ohio noted, because voucher money comes from the funding public schools would otherwise receive, that ginormous jump has come from taxpayers — forced to subsidize religious and private schools instead of the public schools their children attend.

Moreover, you have openly opposed the fact that voters elect some members of the state’s Board of Education — in no small part, I’m sure, because at the beginning of August seven elected board members called for an independent investigation into Hansen’s tampering. Following that request, from six Democrats and only one Republican, you called the board “extremely partisan.”

However, William L. Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding and a former assistant state superintendent, told the Columbus Dispatch that an elected board removes politics from the group.

“The reason the people created the state board was to be a buffer between the superintendent and the governor’s office,” Phillis said. He brought up the issue of the state superintendent of public instruction, currently Richard Ross, whom the board — rather than the governor — hires and fires. “Let’s face it, to whom does Dick Ross report? Does he report to the governor or to an independent state board?”

After recent events, that answer isn’t clear. Without informing or involving the Ohio Board of Education, Ross helped lawmakers rewrite Ohio’s law on academic distress commissions and put it into House Bill 70, an education bill introduced to and passed by both Houses of the legislature in just one day. Although no opposition had time to state their cases — or even knew about the bill — you, Gov. Kasich, signed HB 70 into law July 16.

The new provisions are nearly despotic. HB 70 abolishes local control of schools after three years of failing grades, instead giving one state-appointed person the power to enact policies on pay, employment and charter schools — cutting local school boards, administrations and unions out of the equation. The first, and implicit, target of HB 70 is the Youngstown City School District, which the board had planned to aid through the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission.

As the Plain Dealer pointed out, HB 70 reveals the warped attitude towards public schools and school reform Republicans in Ohio’s statehouse hold.

“School reform is difficult. It requires consensus, lots of public debate and no small amount of trust,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. “But the stealthy legislative steamrolling of the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission shamefully proves that’s not how many Republican members of the Ohio General Assembly or the Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross see it.”

You have not spoken out against Ross’ deceit, Gov. Kasich. Rather, by signing HB 70 into law despite its murky origins, you seem to support it.

So, too, do you support the Common Core State Standards. Admittedly, Common Core is not as diabolical as HB 70 — compared to your Republican peers, you seem moderate because you support it. In truth, however, your staunch advocacy of Common Core provides yet another example of your folly regarding education. I detailed my thorough opposition to the Common Core in a column for my school newspaper in 2014; I won’t reiterate all those points again.

I’ll remind you of a few, though. First off, there are not just categories, but also subcategories and sub-subcategories of standards for English Language Arts, not to mention the 10 standards each that schools should meet for “History/Social Studies,” “Science & Technical Subjects” and “Writing.” Those 30 standards must be achieved in English classes, because clearly, English teachers don’t have enough to do already. The math standards, which extend to sub-sub-categories as well, are even ampler. We must hold high standards for our teachers and students; however, Common Core goes too far. By imposing such a ridiculous number of new tasks and requirements upon schools, the standards render learning a check-list. Have I learned to “analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work?” Check! Am I competent in my ability to “interpret expressions that represent a quantity in terms of its context?” Whoops, forgot that one, gotta go back to aisle six!

Common Core’s reading requirements frustrate me in particular. According to the standards, half of all elementary schools’ reading must be nonfiction; by 12th grade, that number must rise to 70 percent. The requirement for elementary schools threatens to end students’ love of reading before it begins. From what I have observed, nonfiction does not grasp children’s attention: it does not transport children to another world on a magic carpet or a spaceship. Fiction does that.  Children learn to love reading through tales of magic and mystery, mortal and immortal alike, from the sagas of feeble Earthlings to those of alien superheroes. Nonfiction is important as well, to be sure, but I believe young students must read it in moderation — less than 50 percent.

As for high schoolers, the Common Core suggests spreading the burden of reading 70 percent nonfiction to math and science classes as well as English and history. That idea shows how out-of-touch Common Core is with reality. The likelihood of math and science classes sacrificing their regular curricula — which are already being complicated by the Common Core’s standards — to read such suggested documents as Euclid’s “Elements” or the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Recommended Levels of Insulation” is slim at best.

Perhaps most concerning about the Common Core State Standards is that they have not been tested. Forty-three states, the District of Columbia and four territories have overhauled their public education systems despite that disturbing fact. Although the Common Core State Standards have found bipartisan support, their effectiveness has only been hypothesized.

Surely, Gov. Kasich, you would decry any doctor who performed a heart surgery with an untested method. That new method could work, sure, but it could also kill the patient. The same is true for the Common Core and Ohio’s public education system. How dare you practice an untested surgery. How dare you act so foolish — so irresponsible.

I give you credit for firing Pearson, showing that you listened to the tens of thousands of Ohioans bemoaning the complicated, ineffective PARCC exams. Thank you. However, our problems will not end until you stop using the Common Core altogether. The new AIR exams will still pull from Common Core questions, just as the PARCC tests did. You saw how well that worked.

Even with PARCC’s conclusion, the state still administers troublesome, harmful tests. The Student Learning Objective exams, unaffectionately known as SLOs, are administered at the beginning and end of each school year at every public school in Ohio, as in other states nationwide. SLOs are part of the value-added system of student growth measurement. The SLO students take in a given class at the beginning and end of each year is the same — same topic, same length, same questions. However, logically, they should perform better on the end-of-year SLO than on the first one because by April, they have learned their class’ material. The amount a student’s score has progressed on the SLO is known as their “value added.”

The value-added metric is flawed, ignoring both students’ and teachers’ realities. Smart students may not test well, making their value-added scores false reflections of what they have learned. Furthermore, students start out at different levels in any given class, and some may start out with significant knowledge of a class’ material. I have some friends who scored A’s on their start-of-year SLOs. As a result, even though they scored higher on their SLOs in April than they did in September, their scores only increased by a few percentage points. Their teachers had taught them all the material, but their SLO scores showed very little value added. On the other hand, some students may start out knowing none of the course material, getting zero questions right on the September SLO. They may get only 50 percent of the answers correct in April, showing they still lack extensive knowledge in that subject, but their value-added scores look impressive.

In addition, different value-added scores may show different levels of progress for different students. For instance, one student’s SLO score jumping 25 percent by the end of the year would look worse than his peer’s score, which rose by 40 percent. However, if the first student’s previous SLO scores showed only 15 percent “value-added,” and the second student always learns about 40 percent of the material, the first student actually made more progress in the classroom. His SLO tests, however, do not give credit to his hard work.

Moreover, the SLOs’ timing causes problems. Most school years do not end until June; however, the SLOs — testing end-of-year knowledge — are administered in April. By their very design, they cannot be an accurate measurement of all students have learned. Administering the SLOs also detracts teaching time, because taking two SLO tests requires two class periods. With public schools in Ohio already losing dozens of teaching hours because of other state tests, not to mention the snow and cold days that tend to plague us, those two SLO days become significant.

Students do not even receive grades for taking SLOs. Instead, their value-added scores — a flawed metric that says little about student progress, and which is even under trial in New York right now — determine 50 percent of their teachers’ state evaluations. Understandably, that encourages teachers to tell students to fail their first SLO so that their value-added progress come April looks more impressive, no matter how inaccurate those scores become. To the faculty’s credit at my alma mater, Shaker Heights High School, none of my teachers ever encouraged their classes to do that. However, if they had, I would not blame them.

You seem to blame them, though. You seem to put teachers at fault for Ohio’s achievement gap — which, according to a new White House report, is bigger than the national average. You seem to hold teachers responsible for Ohio having the ninth-largest reading gap between its highest- and lowest-performing schools, the fourth-largest gap in high school graduation rates and the second-largest gap in math scores in the country.

I have news for you, Gov. Kasich: teachers may be superheroes, but rarely can they work miracles. When children come from impoverished homes — with parents who may not be around often, let alone available to help with schoolwork, and siblings to care for and a job to work for their family’s sake — good teachers can help, but only so much. When children have real-world problems and responsibilities, it’s hard for them to focus on school. Achievement gaps stem from the home, not the classroom, and you would do well to understand that.

At a Koch-organized conference in 2014, you said that at the Pearly Gates, you think God will ask you what you did for the poor. That’s why you expanded Medicaid in Ohio, despite most Republicans’ opposition. You can still do more for the poor, and education is the most necessary place to start.

However, you have yet to do that. Instead, you advocate standards and tests that restrict teacher autonomy and capabilities. You enact punitive, inaccurate evaluation systems that threaten teacher employment — and you wonder what teachers are complaining about.

At an education summit in New Hampshire August 19, you said teachers don’t understand state evaluation systems and exams.

“No, we’re not out to take their job,” you said. “If you need help, we’ll help you. If you’re a terrible teacher, then you should be doing something else because you’re going to find more satisfaction doing something else that you’re good at.”

“I’ll tell you what the unions do, unfortunately too much of the time. There’s a constant negative comment, ‘They’re going to take your benefits, they’re going to take your pay.’ ”

Clearly, the solution to that concern is not meeting with union leaders to hear their complaints or negotiate compromises. The solution is for you to become “king in America,” to shut down teachers’ lounges so they can’t express their grievances towards you. Your ignorant comment from August 19 suggest that teachers don’t even deserve free speech — in direct violation of the Constitution you claim to love.

Because America remains a democracy, you will not become our king. I pray to the high heavens you won’t become our president either. I have learned in the public schools you are defunding and degrading. I have spoken with the teachers you dismiss and disrespect. Until two months ago, I was one of the more than 1,740,000 public school students you have let down, time and time again, as our governor.

God may ask you about more than the poor at His Pearly Gates. If he asks you about education or children, you won’t have much to say for yourself.

The Danger of Donald Trump

Donald Drumpf — that wrinkled scion of wealth, secondhand beneficiary of the American Dream, overgrown frat boy topped with a thin mop of bleached tennis ball fuzz — may be the most dangerous man in America.

Not because he could become our next president: he won’t. His current high polling numbers are misleading, generated by name recognition as high as the Drumpf Tower and disgusted, indignant, constant media coverage. Drumpf enjoys a 57 percent unfavorable rating, according to a July Gallup poll, while only three percent of respondents had never heard of him. That unfavorable rating far exceeds his peers’ in the Republican field, including his two closest competitors for the nomination, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight calculated Drumpf’s odds of attaining the Republican nomination at about two percent, comparing him with such previous early striders as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. All of those candidates enjoyed at least a month of widespread support; none of them ever ran in the general election for President of the United States.

Rather, Donald Drumpf has become important and dangerous in American politics because of his effect on the other candidates. Due to his alarming, if ultimately inconsequential, success early in the Republican primary, his competition is following him farther to the right.

Had the Republican Party begun at a more centrist foundation, a shift to the right might not be so threatening. However, today’s Republican Party had become more extreme even before the 2016 race. Republicans nationwide aim to restrict the right to vote; the Tea Party enjoys a strong and growing voting presence; GOP politicians use strict Biblical interpretations to justify legal discrimination, such as the former ban on same-sex marriages, despite the supposed separation of church and state.

Donald Drumpf is in equal parts a manifestation, an exploiter and a missionary of that extremism. He has adapted the radical elements of the Republican party’s platform to suit his own needs and fit his warped belief system. Nowhere has his toxic, egotistic disrespect of others been more apparent than in his treatment of immigrants. He received backlash from most corners of the country for his comments on Mexican immigrants in his unscripted June 16 presidential candidacy announcement. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best,” he said during the announcement. “They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”

At the time, Drumpf’s opponents spoke out against his remarks — Marco Rubio called Drumpf’s comments “offensive, inaccurate and divisive,” for one — and businesses such as NBC and Univision severed ties with him. However, since June, Drumpf has expanded his ideas about immigration — and throughout the Republican presidential field, those ideas have gained more traction.

In his immigration policy proposal, Drumpf championed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, severely limiting legal immigration and eliminating illegal immigration and illegal immigrants entirely. His specific ideas include deporting all illegal immigrants who have a criminal record; banning illegal immigrants from accessing welfare; and ending birthright citizenship.

Some of Drumpf’s ideas actually have place in current law, such as targeting illegal immigrants who have committed crimes and forbidding illegal immigrants’ use of American welfare. As such, these elements of his immigration proposal are dramatic promises that neither he nor anyone else knows how to keep. However, one of his ideas is not just more extreme than the rest, but also un-American: the end of birthright citizenship.

As the Fourteenth Amendment declares, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” America has followed this policy of birthright citizenship since 1868. Some scholars — by far a minority — interpret part of the amendment, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” to not require birthright citizenship. Edward J. Erler, in an August 9 article for the National Review, argues that like Native Americans, illegal immigrants are subject to the jurisdiction of another government — for instance, the Cherokee Nation or Mexico. However, if taken to its logical conclusion, that argument would mean the United States cannot convict or deport those illegal immigrants. Moreover, in considering the Fourteenth Amendment’s intent, we must consider how our predecessors understood it. For nearly 150 years, the American government has interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to support birthright citizenship, and have acted accordingly. If consistency and precedent play roles in our legal system, the United States Constitution makes America follow birthright citizenship.

We should pride ourselves on that. Today, there are few things on which America can claim superiority. The United States ranked 14th out of 40 countries in a 2015 Pearson education ranking; 19th in national satisfaction, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project’s 2015 study; 44th in health care efficiency, out of 51 countries in a 2014 Bloomberg ranking; 101st out of 162 countries in the 2014 Global Peace Index; and 23rd for gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2013. Only two rankings give the United States definitive victories: those of GDP and countries’ prisoners. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, as of January 31, 2015, America held 2,228,424 prisoners. The next-closest, China, has more than 500,000 fewer prisoners.

Few existing indicators of social welfare or human rights paint the United States as a world leader. As Will McAvoy ranted in the pilot of The Newsroom, America is not the greatest country in the world. Perhaps it was once, but we have lost that distinction. However, one area in which we have surpassed our worldwide peers has been basing citizenship on birth rather than blood.

In 2012, the Law Library of Congress conducted a study that found France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom do not follow birthright citizenship. Rather, to different degrees, they practice “blood citizenship.” With a few exceptions, only children born to parents from their respective nations — for instance, Frenchmen in France, or Italians in Italy — automatically attain citizenship in that country. Otherwise, children have the citizenship of their parents’ birth country, even if they have never set foot on that land and never will.

Adolf Hitler used a particularly radical interpretation of blood citizenship as justification to commit genocide of Jews, Roma and blacks across Europe, as well as to conquer European nations with German-speaking or German-descended citizens. No interpretations of that concept are so extreme or deadly today, yet they still divide nations and hurt certain populations.

In France, children with unknown parents born on French territory automatically become French citizens; however, if one of their parents is found and is not French, those children lose their French citizenship. Tensions between immigrants and Frenchmen in suburbs of big cities such as Paris and Lyon — which often escalate to violence — have existed for decades. They are taken as a natural, if unfortunate part of life in France — as French as the Eiffel Tower, or even a tarte tatin. In recent decades, anti-immigrant attitudes in France have become more intense, as epitomized by the growing success of the National Front party. The right-wing National Front, which has evolved from a blatantly racist, anti-Semitic organization into a tamer nationalist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic one made it to the final round of presidential elections in 2002. Brandishing the slogan “The French Come First,” in May 2014, the party earned 25 percent of the vote in the European Union parliament elections, leading all other parties.

Since the Federal Republic of Germany’s foundation after World War Two, Germany has moved away from strict blood citizenship. Amendments to the nation’s nationality law made since 1949 have made it steadily broader, weakening its emphasis on parents’ nationality over time. According to the most recent nationality law, passed in 1999, children born from January 1, 2000 onwards to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth only if at least one parent has a permanent residence permit and has lived in Germany for at least eight years. Those children must them affirm their German citizenship by age 23 — which involves renouncing all other foreign citizenships, besides those that cannot be lost and those from the European Union — or their citizenship will expire. Experts attribute the difference between citizenship as a main reason Germans of Turkish descent — the largest minority in Germany — face so much strife as a population. Studies show they have integrated poorly into German society, contributing to the 30 percent unemployment rate they suffered as of 2013. In a 2006 ALLBUS poll, 24 percent of respondents stated they would be upset if a Turk married one of their family members; only 4 percent stated the same for an Italian. According to a 2008 Allensbach survey, 76 percent of respondents believed Turkish immigrants “have a totally different culture,” while 73 percent said they “think totally differently than we do about a lot of things.”

Germany’s current nationality law must still cross bridges before it becomes birthright citizenship. However, Germany has spent more than 60 years approaching the policy America models — while Donald Drumpf wants to change that law, taking leaps backward in time. Although not used as radically as Hitler once wielded it, blood citizenship still contributes to hostile attitudes towards immigrants, legal and otherwise, as well as promoting nationalism that may exclude certain races and ethnicities. The United States is not devoid of those issues — some of Donald Drumpf’s supporters are genuine, after all, and although we have an African-American president, discrimination and prejudice towards black Americans and other minorities still roil our country. Yet for more than a century, the United States has enjoyed its reputation as the melting pot of the world. Despite all our problems, we have entertained fewer issues with immigrants than our Western peers because we offer such an open path to American life. We are a nation founded by immigrants, built on immigrants’ backs, watered by immigrants’ sweat. The first colonists in America were illegal immigrants: we did not have Native Americans’ permission to steal and pillage their land and resources. We came here in droves anyway. The America we know is comprised almost entirely of illegal immigrants, if we discount birthright citizenship. In a way, the controversy over illegal immigrants now serves as our comeuppance.

Another reason to maintain birthright citizenship reveals inconsistencies within the beliefs of Republicans who favor changing America’s citizenship laws. On a moral level, we should not punish children for the faults of their parents. Infants cannot help where they are born: they communicate with their parents only through kicks, gurgles and cries. Adults may come to America illegally, but the children born to them in America do not. The only place newborns leave is their womb.

By that logic, any person who opposes abortion should support birthright citizenship. Candidates such as Scott Walker, who declared that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest — reasoning that children should not be punished for how their lives began — should decry Drumpf’s proposal to remove present and future Americans’ citizenship. Yet Walker has echoed Donald Drumpf’s call to end birthright citizenship, and fellow Republican candidates Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham have made statements in agreement as well. John Kasich has not supported that proposal during his presidential campaign so far, but he reiterated his longtime opposition to birthright citizenship during his run for Ohio’s governorship in 2010.

Donald Drumpf may have only a two percent chance of becoming the Republicans’ presidential nominee, and has an even slimmer chance of ever sitting in the Oval Office. However, his misleading surge in the polls thus far has forced his peers to adopt his radicalism. This despite clear evidence that doing so will harm the Republican party: extreme anti-immigrant policies could turn the Latino vote to the Democrats, a key reason Mitt Romney lost in 2012.

More importantly, for several of America’s most prominent politicians to adopt such hard-line, un-American policies speaks poorly of America’s future. If we revoke birthright citizenship, we will lose a quality that the United States should cherish. If we cast millions of Americans out of our ranks, we will prove ourselves as foolish as Donald Drumpf’s toupée. The American Dream rests on the concept that determination, hard work, pluck and loyalty make an American — not, despite what Drumpf seems to think, having the right parents. Drumpf takes for granted the security and wealth his parents gave him — but lucky for us, not every American is Donald Drumpf. In our constitutional acceptance of foreign cultures and peoples, we find one good reason to call America the greatest country in the world.