President of the whole nation

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“I will personally do everything I can – as will my entire government – to ensure that anti-Semitism doesn’t have a chance in our country,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in response to an upsurge in German anti-Semitism and to anti-Semitic remarks voiced during recent political rallies in Germany against Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, it is “every German’s duty,” Merkel explained, to take a stand against hatred, and against those who would use “the legitimate criticism of a government” as “a cloak of one’s hatred” toward others. Such people, Merkel stated unequivocally, “misuse our basic rights of freedom of opinion and assembly.”

This is how the leader of “the whole nation” responds to the hateful targeting of its minority citizens.

She or he doesn’t avoid naming the hatred at play. If it’s anti-Semitism, she calls it anti-Semitism. If it’s racism…well, she says it’s racism.

She doesn’t characterize that minority’s experience of hate and violence as merely an issue of their “feeling marginalized and distrustful” or of their belief that “bias is taking place” or of their lack of “confidence” that they are “being treated fairly” (as President Obama said in response to Ferguson, and then to the grand jury decision regarding Eric Garner’s death). Instead, she affirms that their experience is real, that they are truly targets of hate — the fact of which then unquestionably requires a powerful and unambiguous national response.

She doesn’t let her nation off the hook by simply saying that it has a “problem.” No, every citizen, she asserts, actually has an obligation, “a duty” to take a stand against hate and to affirm that the lives of all of the nation’s citizens matter.

She doesn’t leave untroubled the idea that the constitutional commitment to freedom of speech is more sacrosanct than the constitutional commitment to anti-racism — especially given the history that made the latter necessary in the first instance.

And she doesn’t…my goodness. She doesn’t frame her government’s response to hate in narrow terms. No, she asserts that she “will personally” do “everything” that she can, as will the “entire government,” to ensure that the hatred directed at the assailed minority “doesn’t have a chance” in her country.

That is how a President of the whole nation responds.

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