In a speech at a Ford Motor plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan on May 21, President Donald Trump departed from his prepared text in a revelatory fashion. The speech was designed to praise the cooperation of General Electric and Ford Motor Company. The two industrial giants teamed up to manufacture respirators and other medical equipment as part of the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
When Trump came upon the name of the Ford company’s founder, a thought burst upon him (a rare occurrence). After reading out Henry Ford’s name, Trump looked up, grinned, and ad-libbed: "Good bloodlines. Good bloodlines. If you believe in that stuff, you’ve got good blood."
The president is not known for his historical literacy, and when he stumbles upon facts familiar to most middle schoolers, he is continually surprised. In 2017, for example, at a fundraiser for House Republicans, he shared a recent discovery: "Lincoln. Most people don’t even know he was a Republican. Right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don’t know that. We have to build that up a little more." Detail: The Republican Party has been known as the Party of Lincoln for 160 years.
Trump was also perplexed about the causes of the U.S. Civil War. "People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?" Detail: An estimated 100,000 books have been written about the Civil War, and understanding its cause is part of every school curriculum.
Since Donald Trump’s brain is not exactly cluttered with historical facts, it’s interesting that the name Henry Ford triggered something. And not just anything. It prompted reflections on bloodlines.
Trump has shared his thoughts on DNA before. He engages in self-soothing by citing the intellectual caliber of his uncle. "My uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT," Trump boasted in 2015. Gesturing at his own temple, he added: "Good genes, very good genes — okay? — very smart." He expressed appreciation for a gathering of British businessmen in similar terms in 2017. "You've all got such good bloodlines in this room. You've all got such amazing DNA."
So perhaps Trump was just expressing admiration for Henry Ford’s presumably high IQ? But why Ford, and not the founder of the other company represented that day, General Electric? GE’s founder, Thomas Edison, was known as the "wizard of Menlo Park" and has come down to us as an archetype of the inventive genius.
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Henry Ford, by contrast, has a more mixed legacy. He originated the assembly line and put automobiles within reach of middle-class workers. But he is also known as the most influential anti-Semite in American history.
His newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, published more than 90 anti-Semitic articles, including excerpts from the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." These tracts were later published as a book, "The International Jew." Adolph Hitler praised Ford in Mein Kampf, and in 1938, Ford accepted a medal, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, from the Nazi regime.
Ford certainly believed in bloodlines, and when the name Ford was on the page, Trump’s mind went to bloodlines. What did Trump mean by "good blood"? Who knows? There is no 'good blood,' but there are blood libels.
Trump is promiscuous about his associations. During the 2016 campaign, he declined repeated invitations to denounce the Ku Klux Klan, only tweeting out under pressure that he “disavowed” their support. He described neo-Nazis who conducted a torchlight parade in Virginia chanting "Jews will not replace us" as "very fine people." His final campaign video was stocked with anti-Semitic imagery, and he has never disavowed the army of anti-Semites who swarmed over Twitter and Facebook in 2016, hounding Jewish journalists (including this one) with gas chamber imagery.
Trump’s supporters within the Jewish community cite his unswerving support for Israel, his Jewish grandchildren, and an executive order regarding anti-Semitism on campuses for the proposition that however crude his words may be, his actions are all that count.
To believe that, you must believe that words are not deeds. But they are. Trampling over norms requiring respect for adversaries, care about historical sensitivities, and playing by the rules invites barbarism.
By his words, Trump has legitimized scapegoating minorities. He has demonized whole classes of human beings — immigrants, Muslims, the press, and liberals — thus opening the door to race and class hatred. That has never worked out well for Jews.
Trump has also elevated tin foil hat conspiracy thinking. He has made the term "globalist" mainstream, despite the undertones of anti-Semitism. Throughout his career, he has championed conspiracy theories (Obama was a secret Muslim, born in Kenya; vaccines cause autism). He hosted purveyors of the QAnon conspiracy at the White House. Recently, he has begun to speak of something called "Obamagate" which involves a cabal of the "deep state," the previous administration, the DNC, the FBI, Ukrainian oligarchs, and assorted others to frame Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.
Ratifying belief in vast conspiracies by shadowy, powerful figures, even if you don’t say "International Jew," is a red carpet invitation to the scapegoating of Jews.
In 2018, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and committed the worst mass attack on Jews in American history, killing 11 and wounding six. The killer believed in a conspiracy theory that the caravan of Central American immigrants Trump had done so much to stoke fear of, was a plot by Jews. He was not a Trump fan. He found Trump too weak. But the conspiracy mindset Trump has normalized is the incubator of such poison.
Mona Charen, a syndicated columnist and author, is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She worked in the Reagan administration’s Public Affairs office and was a regular commentator on CNN’s Capital Gang. She is a main contributor to The Bulwark, and hosts their weekly podcast Beg to Differ. Twitter: @monacharenEPPC