A quick quiz on anti-Semitic dog-whistling in American politics: Which president implied that Jewish money and media power were trying to block his policies, overrule the democratic will of the American people, and harm the national interest?
(a) Donald Trump
(b) Barack Obama
(c) Jefferson Davis
The answer is (b) Barack Obama. In 2015, when the Obama administration was trying to push through the JCPOA (the ‘Iran Deal’) without Congressional approval, the major Jewish American organizations opposed the deal. Obama alleged that senators were under pressure from ‘donors and others’, and that their ‘lobbying’ was against ‘the national interest of the United States’.
‘If people are engaged, eventually the system responds,’ Obama told Jon Stewart, in the equivalent of one of FDR’s fireside chats. ‘Despite the money, despite the lobbyists.’
Who were these shady, rich manipulators of the American system? It wasn’t as if AARP was expressing reservations about the inspections regime at Arak and Bushehr. The National Association of Realtors, whose lobbying expenditure is second only to that of the Chamber of Commerce, wasn’t working the phones on the Iran Deal either. Obama’s statements were a calculated mainstreaming of the old and pernicious libels that Jews are uniquely untrustworthy because they possess a uniquely dangerous ‘dual loyalty’, and that they conspire to manipulate the political process through their money and connections.
So, bearing in mind that anti-Semitism is a civilizational rather than partisan condition, and that even the most gentlemanly of politicians will dog-whistle from the gutter when needs must, is Donald Trump an anti-Semite?
The anti-Trumpers tell us that we should judge Trump by his actions, not his words. This is the usual procedure for assessing realtors, celebrities and politicians, and the hybridizations of these categories that have inhabited the White House since 2008. We were told, for instance, that Obama ‘got’ Israel and the Jews in his kishkes, his guts, and that Obama was ‘the first Jewish president’ in the way that Bill Clinton was ‘the first black president’. Nice words, if you like to be patronized. Obama’s empowerment of Iran, however, amounted to a deliberate kick to the kishkes to Israel and Jewish Americans, as well as the kishkes of America’s Sunni Arab allies.
Now look at Donald Trump’s actions. He is so accepting of Jews that not only did he not oppose Ivanka’s conversion, he accepted her marriage to Jared Kushner, and even gave the idiot boy a job in the family business. Trump dotes on his Orthodox Jewish grandchildren. He engaged Gary Cohn as his chief economic adviser, and has Steven Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury. He says he loves Israel, which is easy to say, but he is also the president who moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since then, his administration has reduced payments to the Palestinians because the money is being used to subsidize terrorism.
Donald Trump clearly dislikes women, blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, but he is not an anti-Semite. He is the most philo-Semitic president since Harry S. Truman, the modern Cyrus who recognized the State of Israel over the objections of his State Department.
Yet some of the things Trump says do harmonize with anti-Semitic rhetoric, and in dangerous ways. As Robert Bowers’ online conversations show, Trump’s statements on the campaign trail in 2016 gave hope to white nationalists and enthusiasts of genocide. This is not just because political ideas exist in a continuum, and that if you hear like a dog, you can hear a dog whistle all the way from the center to the fringe. It is because Trump’s ideas share historical roots with the ideas of white nationalists, alt-righters and neo-Nazis, whether he admits it or not.
Trump says that ‘globalists’ and George Soros are trying to manipulate the American system. The racists say that ‘Soros the Jew’ and the ‘Zionist-controlled globalists’ are trying to manipulate the American system. These statements might make us ask how Donald Trump formed this impression, and what foul corners of the Internet he might be frequenting. But these statements are not identical.
This leads us to two hypotheses: Is Donald Trump a Manchurian candidate of Jew-hatred, living a lie of Judeo-Christian tolerance in Trump Tower while rhetorically inciting a race war against the Zionist occupation of Washington DC? Or is Donald Trump a selfish, self-aggrandizing oaf who, having spent his entire life in a bubble of privilege, is wilfully ignorant of the rest of the world, as well as the direct resonances and indirect consequences of irresponsible speech?
Call me an optimist, but I incline towards the latter hypothesis. The president of the United States lives in a bubble smaller than that of the saddest alt-righter. He is not anti-Semitic, but happily deaf to the resonance of language. He is unwilling to moderate himself because to admit that his words are music to the ears of racists of various specialities, Jew-haters among them, would be to convict himself of a moral crime. Temperamentally unfit for the office, he responds to charges of irresponsibility by being even more irresponsible, as in his fumbled responses to Charlottesville in 2017 and the Pittsburgh killings last Saturday.
Trump is a co-symptom of the decay of truth and language in the modern West. His effect is to exacerbate the condition. As David Frum said when Obama implied that the Jews were enemies of America in 2015, ‘The president’s dog whistles are heard by the president’s dogs.’
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.