I was wrong.
I’ve spent most of my career arguing that anti-Semitism in the United States is almost entirely a product of the political Left. I’ve traveled across the country from Iowa to Texas; I’ve rarely seen an iota of true anti-Semitism. I’ve sensed far more anti-Jewish animus from leftist college students at the University of California, Los Angeles, than from churches in Valencia. As an observer of President Obama’s thoroughgoing anti-Israel administration, I could easily link the anti-Semitism of the Left to its disdain for both Biblical morality and Israeli success over its primary Islamist adversaries. The anti-Semitism I’d heard about from my grandparents — the country-club anti-Semitism, the alleged white-supremacist leanings of rednecks from the backwoods — was a figment of the imagination, I figured.
I figured wrong.
Donald Trump’s nomination has drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork.
I’ve experienced more pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism since coming out against Trump’s candidacy than at any other time in my political career. Trump supporters have threatened me and other Jews who hold my viewpoint. They’ve blown up my e-mail inbox with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They greeted the birth of my second child by calling for me, my wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber.
This isn’t a majority of Trump supporters, obviously. It’s not even a large minority. But there is a significant core of Trump support that not only traffics in anti-Semitism but celebrates it — and god-worships Trump as the leader of an anti-Jewish movement.
Why has Trump triggered erogenous feelings from the pathetic Hitler devotees at Stormfront? Why do “anudda shoah!” meme-makers turn their lonely eyes to the clownish reality-television star? Why are the droogs of the alt-right desperate for sexual congress with The Combover?
Modern American anti-Semitism springs from conspiratorial soil. Those who believe that politics and economics is a zero-sum game are more apt to believe that they are being screwed by “the system.” This is true both on the left, where Bernie Sanders complains about income inequality as though Bill Gates got rich by robbing homeless people, and on the right, where Donald Trump attributes manufacturing towns’ going bankrupt in Ohio to foreigners stealing their jobs (China is “raping” us and Mexico is “killing” us). And both Sanders and Trump target the banking industry for particular ire, stating that Wall Street prospers as Main Street suffers because of nefarious insider connections. Those nefarious insider connections — not corrupt government involvement in the financial system, which both Sanders and Trump want to expand — are to blame for suffering in the heartland. Zero-sum politics generates rage against those who are successful — and particularly at those big-city financial wizards and their fancy financial tools.
Trump, like both Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, says routinely that we must embrace foreign-policy isolationism, and avers that we must stop our adventurism abroad in order to build at home. When Trump says that he wants an “America first” foreign policy, he means that foreign policy up until now has consisted of warmongers using the American military to achieve ends on behalf of foreign powers. “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism,” said Trump last month. Connect this with his refusal to take moral sides between Israel and the Palestinians, and it’s rather clear where Trump stands.
#share#Finally, Trump speaks the language of nationalism without any attendant constitutional philosophy. When connected with constitutional philosophy, “America first” means something very different from what it means with reference only to the borders and natives of the nation, as Charles Lindbergh could attest. If you want America to succeed because America is based on a matchless idea of human freedom and the governmental checks and balances that maintain it, that’s one thing; if you want America to succeed because you believe there is some superiority that attaches to those born within our borders, that’s something else entirely. And when you attach Constitution-less “America first” philosophy to zero-sum, conspiratorial economics and politics, all that’s left is to identify an enemy to blame.
Trump’s anti-Semitic supporters believe they’ve identified that enemy, even if Trump won’t say it out loud. The anti-Semites believe that Trump’s zero-sum critique of free markets and foreign policy hawkishness, combined with his “America first” posturing, amounts to a rejection of the supposedly Jewish financial lobby on the one hand and the supposedly all-powerful Israel lobby on the other; they believe that Trump’s nationalism without philosophy amounts to an embrace of the blood-and-soil white supremacism they celebrate.
The end of Pat Buchanan’s publicity remission and his metastasis to mainstream news outlets represents a return to power of the old paleoconservative movement, with all of its attendant anti-Semitism. The old-school Buchananites are joined by alt-right blonde-coiffed intellectual skinheads like Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, who grin at anti-Semitism because they see it as a rejection of political correctness rather than an evil to be fought. And both of those groups have been joined by the outright anti-Semites, including David Duke, who couldn’t be more excited about Trump’s rise.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Trump is an anti-Semite. No politician is responsible for all those who follow him.
#related#But politicians become responsible for movements when they pat those movements on the head. Trump has done that repeatedly. When Trump refused to condemn David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan days before the Louisiana primary, then blamed it on his earpiece, that was a signal to his anti-Semitic base. When Trump retweets accounts heavily connected to white supremacism, his anti-Semitic base celebrates. When he appears on national television and refuses to condemn his supporters’ anti-Semitic death threats against a reporter (“I don’t know anything about that . . . I don’t have a message to the fans”), his anti-Semitic base takes note. When his wife, Melania, states in an interview that that same reporter “provoked” anti-Semitic death threats, Trump’s anti-Semitic base nods.
Trumpism breeds conspiracism; conspiracism breeds anti-Semitism. Trump is happy to channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.
The anti-Semitism on the right may slink back beneath its rock when Trump is defeated. Or perhaps it will continue to bubble up, fed by the demagoguery of bad men willing to channel ignorant rage toward their own glorification.