Given the milieu in which he was raised and prospered, it’s almost certain that Donald Trump is not a conscious anti-Semite. His daughter and close adviser, Ivanka, after all, is a convert to Judaism married to an observant man.
But that hasn’t kept candidate Trump from occasionally invoking a crude anti-Semitic stereotype, but that’s probably because his mind is the sort of coarse instrument in which unexamined notions of every type cluster.
His presidential campaign, however, has a serious problem with this most malevolent of ancient antipathies, and the candidate needs to deal with it quickly and decisively.
Last week, Trump was forced to disavow comments by his supporter David Duke the notorious former Klansman and neo-Nazi after the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan A. Greenblatt demanded that the presumptive Republican candidate do so. Duke used his radio program to castigate prominent Jewish Republicans active in the “stop Trump” movement.
“Jewish chutzpah knows no bounds,” Duke said “I think these Jewish extremists have made a terribly crazy miscalculation because all they’re really going to be doing by doing the ‘Never Trump’ movement is exposing their alien, their anti-American-majority position to all the Republicans, and they’re going to push people more into awareness that the neo-cons are the problem, that these Jewish supremacists who control our country are the real problem and the reason why America is not great.”
“David Duke’s latest remarks – smearing Jews and Jewish Republicans specifically – are as unsurprising as they are hateful,” Greenblatt said. “The onus is now on Donald Trump to make unequivocally clear he rejects those sentiments and that there is no room for Duke and anti-Semitism in his campaign and in society.”
It took Trump 24 hours, but he finally issued a perfunctory statement that he “totally disavows” Duke’s comments. “Antisemitism has no place our society, which needs to be united, not divided,” Trump said.
Even that brief response stood in sharp contrast to the failed Casino operator’s refusal to rebuke his “fans” who unleashed a torrent of threats and anti-Semitic abuse against journalist Julia Ioffe over a profile of Trump’s wife, Melania, for Vanity Fair. Some of the more vile reaction included posted images in which Ioffe’s face was superimposed on photos of Holocaust victims along with caricatures of Jews being executed.
Questioned by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the incident, Trump said while he hadn’t read the article, he heard it was “very inaccurate” and “nasty.” Blitzer pressed the issue: “But the anti-Semitic death threats that have followed –”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I don’t know anything about that. You mean fans of mine?” Trump replied.
“Supposed fans posting these very angry – but your message to these fans is?” Blitzer asked.
“I don’t have a message to the fans,” Trump snapped. “A woman wrote an article that’s inaccurate.”
That tepid response won’t do.
Trump is famously combative and thin-skinned, but as a presidential candidate he is now a public man and not a private businessman. Public men and women have public duties and, in this society at least, those include unequivocal condemnation of prejudice wherever it rears its head—and for whatever ostensible cause. One of our politics’ most painfully acquired lessons is that there is no justification for hatred.
Trump has a tin ear when it comes to such obligations, as he demonstrated when he appropriated the label “America First” for his incoherent foreign policy. That name, of course, belonged to the notoriously racist and anti-Semitic isolationist movement that aviator turned pro-fascist demagogue Charles Lindbergh headed up in the 1930’s.
In fact, anti-Semitic sentiment has run wide and deep in the Trump campaign since he launched it with a slanderous rant against Mexican immigrants. His continued promises to wall off our southern border, to deport the estimated 11 million newcomers in this country without papers and to ban, at least temporarily, any Muslim immigrants, even those legally entitled to enter the United States are thrilling to the bigots when spoken from the campaign platform.
Those Americans who lurk on the Anti-Semitic, white supremacist right-wing fringe are drawn to any public declaration of anti-immigrant sentiment like maggots to a dead dog. They have flocked to Trump, including those on the “genteel” edges of our hate culture, those pseudo-intellectuals preoccupied with what they call “the national question.” That’s code for “we want to keep this country white and Christian.”
One of their ilk, James Kirkpatrick, recently pointed out on one of this crowd’s more sinister web sites, “No doubt unconsciously, Trump is creating a new opportunity for the American Right, which either needs to embrace nationalism and identity politics or suffer slow extinction in a Third World America.”
The ADL has identified nearly a dozen other professional haters now publicly supporting Trump Aaong with Duke, they include: Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer. Anglin’s site is filled with virulently racist and anti-Semitic articles; Lee Rogers, who runs the neo-Nazi website Infostormer.
Rogers posts viciously racist and anti-Semitic articles on his site; William Johnson, head of the white supremacist American Freedom Party, who has created the American National Super PAC, which has paid for a series of robo-calls supporting Donald Trump for president. The calls disparage minorities and promote white nationalism; Jared Taylor, who runs the white supremacist site American Renaissance. The American Renaissance site features articles that purport to demonstrate the intellectual and cultural superiority of whites.
His voice also appeared on the American National Super PAC robo-calls in Iowa, where he told voters that “we don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture.” Richard Spencer, head of National Policy Institute, a small white supremacist think tank; Kevin MacDonald, a notorious anti-Semite, and retired professor, has said that electing Donald Trump “may be the last chance for whites to elect a president who represents their interests.”
MacDonald is also a leader in the American Freedom Party; Matthew Heimbach, a racist and anti-Semite who founded the white supremacist Traditionalist Youth Network; Rachel Pendergraft, a spokesperson for the Knights Party, a Klan group based in Arkansas says that her groups uses Trump’s candidacy as a “talking point” in feeling out potential recruits; Don Black, who runs Stormfront, the largest white supremacist Internet forum; Louis Farrakhan, the racist and anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam.
On his web site, Anglin has written, “The Trump Train has left the station and is running non-stop to total victory over the barbarian hordes of Mexico. Because there is one issue which matters beyond all other issues and that is the invasion of White countries by non-whites.”
It won’t do for the Republicans’ presumptive—or actual—nominee for the presidency to play wink and nod people like this, as he has with those among his supporters who’ve resorted to violence in public meetings. He owes the country and the role in it he’s chosen play more than that—far more.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who has his own doubts about Trump, got it right when he said, “If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln.”