Television commercials, generally speaking, are not supposed to both inspire you and make you cry. But Amazon’s new ad featuring an imam and a priest has given people hope while moving countless people to tears, including me.
In a typical holiday season I bet many of us would have viewed this commercial as corny or nothing more than a corporation trying to manipulate our emotions. But this is anything but a typical holiday season. It’s our nation’s first where Donald Trump is the President-elect. It’s a time marked with fear and anxiety. A time where good will is in short supply but hate crimes runneth over, carried out by self professed Trump supporters.
A time when people have called my SiriusXM radio show and begun crying at the thought of what their respective minority community may be subject to under a President Trump. One of the most moving calls came from a Jewish mother who explained that that due to the spike in anti-Semitic hate she has seen from Trump supporters, she feared for first time in her life putting a dreidel in her window during Hanukkah. This mother then broke down into tears asking a question that has stuck with me since our conversation last week: “What has America become?”
America has become a nation where our President elect says “Islam hates us” and anti-Semitism by his followers is at bone-chilling levels. An America where Trump calls people like Elizabeth Warren a “racist” and “fraud” but refuses to use such passionate language to denounce the white supremacists supporting him. An America where Trump is welcoming into his White House Steve Bannon, a man who provided a platform for the “alt right” to gin up hatred of minorities and especially of Muslims.
Simply put, this new commercial embraces American values more than the person just elected to be the President of the United States. The ad opens with a Protestant priest opening the door of his house to welcome a Muslim imam. (The men are not actors but actually both religious clerics.)
The two sit down, share coffee and some good conversation. At the end of their chat they stand up and we see these two older gentlemen both have knee pain. A short time later, the two men of the cloth, now apart from each other, go online to order something. Soon we learn that they had unknowingly ordered each other the identical gift: a knee brace. The commercial closes with the two wearing their knee braces and kneeling to pray in their respective houses of worship.
And cue the tears, at least from those who realize that this type of religious tolerance is fading fast in Trump’s America.
Amazon’s ad is truly a profile in courage for two reasons. First, they undoubtedly knew that featuring a Muslim cleric as a kindly older man—as opposed to a terrorist—would anger some on the right. We saw that very thing in 2014 when Coca Cola aired an ad featuring a Muslim woman in a hijab and some conservatives freaked out that a Muslim was being depicted as a normal American. It’s not surprising Amazon disabled the comments section for the ad on YouTube because I could only imagine the hate we would see posted there.
Secondly, Amazon, along with its CEO Jeff Bezos, were publicly threatened by Trump during the campaign that he would punish them both if he won. Why? Bezos also owns The Washington Post, which had been critical of Trump. Consequently in February Trump declared that Amazon, in his view, was an unfair tax shelter and illegal monopoly. Trump then vowed, “Believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems...They're going to have such problems."
Trump’s goal was clearly to intimidate Bezos and bully him into reining in the paper’s criticism. But Bezos would have none of that, instead responding, “We live in an amazing country where we are allowed to criticize and scrutinize our elected leaders. In other countries you may go to jail or, worse, just disappear.”
And this ad is more proof of Bezos’s commitment to American values even though Trump will soon be President. In fact this ad represents everything Trump is not.
As Amazon’s director of advertising Simon Morris told The Guardian, this moving ad “is about selflessness and thinking of other people.” Morris added that Amazon consulted with people of both the Christian and Muslim faiths because “we wanted to do it well and be respectful to the religions who are featured in it.”
All of that is the polar opposite of Trump. He is neither selfless nor has shown that he truly cares about others. And obviously Trump is not respectful of other religions as we have seen with his demonization of Muslims and Islam and muted response to anti-Semitic hate spewed in his name.
In a holiday season that will be challenging for many, this beautiful commercial—already viewed by over a million people in a matter of days—offers us hope. It’s a reminder that despite Trump, many still believe in religious tolerance. And many are willing—even at the risk of personal attacks or financial loss—to stand up for what is right. That is truly something that we should both be inspired by and thankful for this holiday season.