The former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, and neo-Nazi propagandist Andrew Anglin, endorsed Donald Trump for President of the United States in 2016. I described their reasoning for doing so in an essay I wrote to my unborn son exactly two years ago. Sadly, on the eve of another general election, it is clear that Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies, as President of the United States, have emboldened his most hateful constituents and are a contributing factor for the recent surge in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States.
Donald Trump’s words are like tinder in the twisted, fiery mind of a hateful racist. He regularly stereotypes Mexican migrants, calling them “rapists and drug dealers and criminals.” His false allegation that Middle Easterners are among those trying to get across the Southern border implies that there is something inherently bad about people from the Middle East. His blanket travel ban on majority Muslim countries backed up the statements he made as a candidate advocating for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the United States.
When neo-Nazis marched with their tiki torches and swastika flags in Charlottesville last year, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” our President did not miss a beat, declaring that there were “fine people” among that crowd. Even after one of the neo-Nazis rammed his car into the crowd, murdering Heather Heyer, and injuring many more peaceful protestors, the President refused to condemn the group. While he was right to call out the initial violence on both sides, he was wrong to suggest the possibility of a “fine” neo-Nazi. The deafening silence we heard from the Oval Office in the wake of Heather’s murder provided the racists what they so desperately crave, legitimacy. Silence from moral leaders in the face of such an atrocity acts like oxygen in a brushfire, fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.
What Trump is clearly communicating to the world is actually quite simple. In Trump’s America, neo-Nazis are more welcome than brown people or Muslims. And Trump will literally do anything it takes to win.
Jab, jab, hook, uppercut was the combo that worked for Mike Tyson to knock out his opponents.
Fear, fear, hoax, hate, is the combo Donald Trump uses to defeat his.
When Donald Trump needs to win an election, he doubles down on his 1–2 punch. The most interesting part of this playbook for me is the “hoax” part, which requires Donald Trump to use anti-Semitic code and visual cues that communicate a message to racists that goes right over the heads of a normal viewer. This code comes in the form of linguistic and narrative elements that reinforce the most twisted of world views.
Take a look at this video. It was the last campaign ad Trump ran before the 2016 election. To a normal viewer, there is no sign of overt racism at all. But if a conspiracy theorist watches it, it clearly conjures up the most dominant anti-Semitic trope today. It is the today’s version of the old blood libel conspiracy of Medieval Europe.
The anti-Semitic conspiracy, of course, suggests that Jews run the world economy and are responsible for illegal immigration. The Jews built the global financial system designed only to make them rich. They ruined every country they enter and now they are ruining the United States. They are the reason the country is being overrun by brown skinned immigrants who take white peoples’ jobs .
This is the distorted narrative playing out in the minds of poor, lonely, White, and uneducated males desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their misery. Our President, by showing strong visuals of prominent Jewish figures in the financial world, with a voice-over blaming all the troubles of the United States squarely on them and their minions, creates a film that would have impressed the infamous Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl herself.
The video features three prominent Jews, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Former Chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellin, and billionaire investor George Soros, who are depicted as the archetypes of globalist (read: Jewish) greed and dominance. The narration goes, “For those who control the levers of power in Washington (cut to Soros), and for the global special interests (cut to Yellin), they partner with these people (cut to financial leaders, quick cut to Hillary Clinton) that don’t have your good in mind.” The pronoun “They” of course, in the twisted mind of an anti-Semite refers directly to “Jews.”
This is the classic anti-Semitic double-speak. To a sane mind, it appears innocuous, but to an anti-Semite, it is loaded language that speaks directly to their cause. It is validation not only that they are right, but that they are also becoming mainstream. Before this video came out, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories spread only in the darkest corners of the web and at KKK rallies. In 2016, it was the closing argument of the man who would become the 45th president of the United States. And for Donald Trump, why not stoop this low? His first racist hoax about the Central Park 5 got him plenty of national attention in 1989. His Obama’s birth certificate hoax is what catapulted him to front runner on the Republican ticket. The playbook, sadly, works.
Cut to October, 2018. Another election. Trump seizes upon the so-called “caravan” story to stoke fears about the mob of immigrants taking over our country (even though by the time they reach the border they will be less than .5% the annual total of migrants).
Now comes the hoax.
Trump knows exactly how to provide the right context for his most hateful supporters. “People are saying George Soros is funding the migrant caravan,” Trump said. This turn of phrase is how Fox News has been spreading conspiracy theories for years. When you start a sentence with “People are saying…” what typically follows is at best an unsubstantiated fact, but 99 times out of 100, it is a lie. In this case, it is a lie designed to corroborate a false narrative held largely by anti-Semites. What Trump is doing here is communicating directly to his neo-Nazi constituents, legitimizing their upside-down belief system, and validating their greatest fears. There go the Jews running the world again. The genius of course, is that to a normal person, none of this is detectable.
One day last week, a crazy white guy from my hometown in Florida sent pipe bombs to every individual Trump has castigated as the “enemy of the people,” including George Soros. The next day, another crazy white guy savagely murdered 11 Jews with an AR-15 in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in the worst anti-semitic attack in the US history. The first guy, Cesar Sayoc, loved Trump and was deranged enough to take Trump’s rhetoric as marching orders, attacking many of those Trump labeled “enemies of the people.” The despicable murderer, Robert Bowers, was a hardcore neo-Nazi who seemed to most detest the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish nonprofit that aids refugees, writing on Saturday before the murder that the group was bringing “invaders in that kill our people.” He actually didn’t love Trump (perhaps because of his Jewish daughter and son-in-law or his Goldman Sachs-filled cabinet) but that doesn’t mean that Trump’s propaganda did not motivate him to murder. By miscategorizing migrants as “criminals and rapists” coming across the border, by depicting hordes of illegal immigrants flooding U.S. streets in 0:38 in his campaign video, it is highly likely that Trump did sow fear in this warped, psychopathic mind. Is it what pushed him over the edge? We’ll probably never know.
What we do know is that Anti-semitic incidents have already surged 57% since Trump took office in 2017.
Make no mistake. Donald Trump did not invent hate crime or anti-semitism. It has existed as long as there have been Jews and Muslims. Also, I doubt he is actually anti-Jewish. He has a Jewish daughter, grandchildren, friends, and colleagues. But I do strongly believe that he is the most morally vapid human being ever to occupy the White House. He is willing to do anything it takes to win, including welcoming a vocal, exceedingly dangerous, minority of neo-Nazis into the Republican tent.
The byproduct of this shrewd calculus is that anti-semitism grows and America loses.
Fear, fear, hoax, hate.
Trump’s conspiracy-coded rhetorical bullets have already reached the fearful hearts of his target audience. If he continues fear mongering, race baiting, and doesn’t permanently remove the words “George Soros” from his vocabulary, unless it’s in the context of a speech about Hungarian holocaust survivors, things will get much worse here.
He is energizing a dangerous crowd that really needs no more encouragement. White supremacists and right wing terrorists have killed more people than any other category of domestic extremist, since September 11, 2001, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. With Trump now sounding the national alarm on a couple thousand poverty stricken, Hispanic refugees walking hundreds of miles for the chance at a better life, I worry that the domestic terrorists living among us are getting a free pass. Our security focus needs to be as sharp on places like Squirrel Hill as it is on our southern border. We need to monitor Gab posts from lone wolf anti-semites as closely as Trump’s twitter account. We need a President as tough on neo-Nazis as he is on poor migrants.
Sadly, it is too late for those who lost their lives and loved ones at the Tree of Life Synagogue, which, as a result of the attack, was the only Jewish congregation around the world that did not get to recite their weekly Torah reading last Shabbat.
I honestly have not read the Torah in a very long time, but in honor of them I decided to study the parsha myself this week.
The parsha on that fateful Shabbat was “Vayera” from the Book of Genesis, where Abraham interrupts God himself to greet a a few nomadic strangers who suddenly appear before him. According to the Talmud, Abraham was right to ignore God for a moment since those strangers turned out to be angels. The takeaway from this story is that all of humanity are children of God, and that even strangers, regardless of national origin or skin color, should be treated as if you are talking to God himself. This humanistic principle lies at the core of both Jewish AND American values. It is linked to the U.S. motto, E Pluribus Unim, Out of Many, One, which is the core tenet of a pluralist democracy.
This is the value that, as a Jewish American, I hold sacred. This is the value that, when upheld, makes America great. This is the value that Donald Trump couldn’t find the words to defend after the murder at Charlottesville.
It is this value the neo-Nazis most deplore, and in their fantasy world, believe they can extinguish through mass murder. This is what gets in the way of their white, Christian ethnostate.
This is why, to me, this election is not about conservatism versus liberalism. It is not even about policy. We’ve regressed too much, too quickly. This election is a referendum on right versus wrong.
I recognize that the vast majority of registered Republican voters are not racists themselves and are good people. Some of my closest friends and relatives vote Republican. I imagine that if they vote Republican on Tuesday, they will do so not because of Trump’s dangerous words, but despite them.
But I believe this is a huge mistake.
The Republicans, in supporting Trump and his racist rhetoric, are tacitly welcoming into their fold the most vile of Americans, neo-Nazis. So will Republican voters stand behind a President and party that has stooped so low ? This is the key question all Republicans should be asking themselves today.
Does my reason(s) for supporting Trump and the Republicans outweigh the consequences of emboldening anti-Semites and spawning bigotry in this country ?
Please ask yourself this honestly.
If the answer is yes, you better have a damn good reason. For me, personally, nothing is worth that price.
If we’ve learned anything in history, when politicians and anti-Semites become bedfellows, typically the story doesn’t end well for the Jews and other minority groups. Which is why this election, I urge my friends, family, and readers to vote based on one simple Judeo-Christian value, tolerance of others.
This is the value that Bowers most wanted to destroy last Shabbat in Pittsburgh.
For all the fine people voting tomorrow, let this value be your guiding light.