Guest Opinion: Trump and anti-Semitism

The Baltimore Sun
July 6
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White Supremacists and other anti-Semitic groups love Donald J. Trump, and that’s not a new development. Just two months ago, the infamous David Duke gave the New York billionaire a wet kiss of an endorsement, blaming criticism of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee on “Jewish supremacists who control our country.”

Why have such groups been so vocal in their support of his candidacy? We can think of plenty of reasons, beginning with Trump’s vilification of immigrants to his acceptance of manhandling of African-American protesters at his rallies. Such incidents transcend the realm of “political correctness” and occupy the territory of hate-speech and racism. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan observed this tendency last month when Trump claimed a judge’s ethnicity made him unqualified to hear Trump University litigation — a view, as the Wisconsin Republican acknowledged, that fits the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”

Given that history, one might hope there was at least some self-awareness in the Trump campaign regarding anti-Semitism. Yet the candidate posted on Twitter the image of Hillary Clinton with a six-pointed star against a backdrop of $100 bills. The star read, “Most corrupt candidate ever,” but the illustration suggested something much darker — the age-old stereotype linking corruption and big money with Jewish tradition and the Star of David.

People spoke out on social media, and the image was eventually taken down, but Trump was unrepentant, calling it “ridiculous” to imply this was anything but a “basic star, often used by sheriffs who deal with criminals and criminal behavior.” If this had been a first offense, such an explanation might be passable. Yet that’s not the case here. Not only was the candidate unapologetic, but he, once again, did little to distance himself from the racist groups who love him so. That the meme appears to have originated from a Twitter account (since shut down) with a fondness for bigotry and offensive imagery is worth noting as well.

The Anti-Defamation League has called upon Trump to “unequivocally reject the hate-filled extremists orbiting around his campaign and take a stand against anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate.” That doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Yet he’s had that chance plenty of times before and rejected it — calling the criticisms a product of mainstream media bias.

So let’s give the candidate every possible benefit of the doubt. Let’s say it never occurred to him that the Star of David had six points, or that general ignorance of the last century or more of human history could somehow excuse this behavior. Why can’t he say he’s sorry or, better yet, condemn anti-Semitism loudly and forcefully? Why not antagonize the David Dukes of the world for once?

Here’s a possibility — perhaps Trump recognizes that such individuals are a part of his angry, mostly white, mostly male coalition, and he’s not interesting in losing their support. That might explain why Duke can go back on Twitter and praise his favorite candidate while bemoaning the “hidden hand” that caused the Star of David image to be removed. Trump’s silence is a “dog whistle,” a clear message to the desired recipients that the rest of us may not so easily hear.

Anti-Semitism is not something to be taken lightly. Millions have died at its hand. What some see as over-sensitivity in the choice of language is simply not in the same ballpark as virulent antagonism toward Jews, the hatred that fueled the Holocaust.

As one might expect, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has seized on this opportunity to criticize her opponent not only for embracing anti-Semitism but for “peddling lies and blaming others” in his explanation of it. It’s also not the first time that Trump has gotten in trouble for his tweets, which run the gamut from sophomoric and misogynistic (“I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo”) to sophomoric and misogynistic (“If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”). Perhaps this would be a good time to delete his account altogether.