Tyler Merbler, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

My dad was a Jew, but I guess I don’t “look Jewish.” This I surmise from the many times people who were not trying to antagonize me have said things that pretty well accomplished that. Some  are unprintable; here’s one that isn’t.

Sometime around 1993 I had wrenched my back and was face-down on a massage table, being worked on by a burly physical therapist. He made conversation while he worked, and when I told him I was attending law school at UConn he said “Oh, JewConn?”

I did not get up off the table and take him on, verbally or otherwise. Instead I went through a quick internal cycle of “What did he just say? Did he just say that? Oh, it’s one of those.”

Although this stuff has happened repeatedly, it has never been an everyday occurrence and it usually takes me by surprise. I mean, what does an anti-Semite look like, anyway? I didn’t say anything at all in response to his quip (I guess that’s what it was); I got out of there and didn’t make another appointment.

I never found out what, if anything, is particularly Semitic about my alma mater. I have noticed that for some people the word ‘Jew’ is inherently funny, somehow. I worked with a drummer at one time (I’m a musician) who would, upon hearing anything said that started with a long u vowel, repeat it converting the long u to a jew sound. So, “It’s unanimous” would be followed by “It’s jewnanimous.” When I finally told him it got on my nerves and why, he said I should have warned him. “So I should have been wearing a star of David?” I asked.

I’ve run into this sort of thing with at least three musicians. In the early 80s I was in a rock band composed of four white guys, one of whom was not satisfied with this level of ethnic purity and began questioning us one day about our national origins. This time  I could smell it coming. I told him that Kuhn is a German name, and he enthused “Yeah! Keep it Aryan, man!” Then I told them it was German-Jewish in my case, and let him squirm.

I didn’t quit the band over it, so I guess I’m not much of a moral crusader, maybe not even much of a mensch. I had high hopes for the band  at the time, and the guy was a really good guitarist.

The third was a client of mine in a little recording studio I had in the late 80s, and it was very much like the previous incident- the guy was appreciating the fact that he and I were Caucasians  and not any other thing, and then he said something about our shared Christianity. I set him straight, and it was an awkward moment in the control room. The last I knew of him, he had been arrested on gun charges. Hey, rock and roll!

I am not claiming to have had a rough time; I haven’t. These were remarks, not arrests or beatings or worse. But I know what it is to encounter and to work with people who say stuff that is just really not okay.

And so does every Democrat on Capitol Hill. Every day they’re in session they encounter and (theoretically) work with election-deniers, people who, hours after the violent attempt to overthrow the government on January 6, voted to do what the rioters had tried to do. This includes a majority of the Republican caucus in the House, and a considerable minority in the Senate.

It is true that there’s a wide streak of anti-Semitism in the whole Trump-MAGA-QAnon constellation, but that’s somewhat beside my point here. It’s like this: If you’re a Jew, or even a half-Jew like me, anti-Semitism that you run into and have to talk to is– how shall I say? — the worst. Similarly, if you’re a legislator in a democracy and you have to deal with people who are committed to ending that democracy, that has to be just about the worst, too. 

I guess our Democrats get used to it, or put up with it, in somewhat the same way I put up with musicians I knew to be anti-Semites. What are they going to do, forcefully denounce every election-denier they ever talk to, day after day for years? You can’t expect people to act that way.

But the two situations I’m comparing here are crucially different. Neither my heritage nor the guitarist’s bigotry was ever going to have any effect on our renditions of Van Halen and Rush. If  I could put up with it, fine. On Capitol Hill, it’s rather different.

To make the situations analogous, instead of wanting everybody in the band to be ethnically pure to his standards, that guitarist would have had to be advocating that we burn our instruments and, Taliban-like, try to eradicate music itself. That way it would be like trying to legislate– to do democracy– with people who don’t want democracy anymore.

That’s what Democrats in the Senate and, especially, the House get to do these days.

They’re adjusting, dealing with it, maintaining decorum.

I wish they wouldn’t.

If Republicans can get elected by being impolite while lying, why can’t Democrats get elected by being impolite while telling the truth?

Eric Kuhn lives in Middletown.