American Jews might be excused for finding the circus more formally known as the current presidential campaign unthreatening, even amusing. Unthreatening, because the leading Republican candidate has a Jewish daughter; the leading Democratic candidate, a Jewish son-in-law; and her rival is a bona fide member of the tribe himself. All the candidates, moreover, have expressed support for Israel.
And amusing? Well, no need to go into detail on that one. We need a dictionary with more expressive words than “grandstanding” and “mudslinging.”
Some Jews, though, are worried by the Republican front-runner, despite his Jewish connection. After all, Mr. Trump at one point indicated that, if elected, he would approach the Israel-Palestinian impasse as “a sort of neutral guy.” But he later explained that he simply meant that he didn’t see how he could promote negotiations if he openly took sides. “With that being said,” the candidate added unequivocally, “I am totally pro-Israel.”
More troubling to many Jews, and understandably so, is Mr. Trump’s dog whistling (actually, often, out-loud shouting “Fido!!!”) to American bigots and general lowlifes.
Trump was the poster boy for the “birther” movement challenging President Obama’s standing as a natural-born American; he has disparaged Mexicans, said things about and to women that would rightly get any frat boy thrown off campus; he has insulted Latino journalists, mocked Asians, made fun of a disabled reporter, leveled false accusations about American Muslims and rejoiced in the roughing up of a black demonstrator at one of his rallies.
The targets of Trump’s opprobrium have thus far not included Jews. (The former president of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino’s claim that Trump told him, “The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day” doesn’t count.) But Jews nevertheless have good reason to wonder about the candidate.
Not because of some Niemöllerian “First he came for the Mexicans...” fear. But because even if, as is likely, he never ends up coming for us, the fact that he has gone after others is, or should be, offensive enough.
Truth be told, I’m not terribly exercised by the man. Should he actually come to occupy the Oval Office, he will likely metamorphose; presidents often turn out very different from their campaign personae. The current White House resident, for instance, perceived nine years ago as a hopeless pacifist and pacifier, ended up cyberattacking and sanctioning Iran, relentlessly (and, to some, illegally) sending drones after Islamists, decimating Al-Qaida’s leadership and seeing to it that Osama bin Laden was sent to sleep with the fishes.
More worrisome than Mr. Trump himself, however, are the dogs his whistling has awoken, the purveyors of bigotry and hatred to whom he has gleefully played and whom he, intentionally or not, has encouraged.
There are the boldface names, like France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, who tweeted in French that, were he American, “I would vote Donald TRUMP... May God protect him!” Or homegrown weed Louis Farrakhan, who praised Trump for telling a Jewish audience that he didn’t want their money. The mad minister exulted over “a man [who] can say to those who control the politics of America, ‘I don’t want your money’.” Mindful, perhaps, of the fact that Mr. Trump didn’t ever (as did Bernie Sanders) get arrested during a civil rights protest, Farrakhan added, “Not that I’m for Mr. Trump, but I like what I’m looking at.” Anyone, in other words, who (even in Farrakhan’s diseased imagination) scorns Jews can’t be all bad.
And then there was the David Duke endorsement. Although Mr. Trump eventually disowned the famous fascist, the presidential hopeful first sought to win some unrepentant-Nazi points by pretending to not know who the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard (apologies, dear Harry), felon, racist and anti-Semite was. That, despite his having made explicit references to Duke in the past.
Less well known to those of us blessedly untutored in the rogue’s gallery of racial supremacists are people like self-described “white nationalist” William Daniel Johnson. Or Jared Taylor, whose writings were cited as inspiration by Dylann Roof, the man who murdered nine black worshippers in a Charleston church last year. Johnson and Taylor are vociferously encouraging their followers to vote for Trump.
Social media have lately, in the context of support for Mr. Trump, become infested with rants against blacks and foreigners and Jews. One needn’t subscribe to the idea that the candidate himself really holds such views to be distressed by the fact that he has successfully egged on all too many who do embrace them.
Whatever is in store for us Americans in coming months, it’s painfully clear that nativist campaign rhetoric has proven an effective strategy. And that it has brought forth, from beneath the verdant surface of our fruited plain, some truly foul and slimy things.
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