Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Jewish "Disloyalty," according to President Trump

It is an unbelievable moment, requiring response despite its stupidity.  So here it goes.

Today President Trump clearly elaborated that he believes that any Jew who votes for the Democratic party is "Disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish People." Those were his words, after a lengthy explanation.

He is either 1) AntiSemitic, 2) Ignorant/Stupid, 3) Machiavellian, or 4) a Jackass.  Here is why.

The AntiSemitism of Disloyalty:

Jewish "loyalty" and "disloyalty" is a known antisemitic attack.  The idea, going back to the Middle Ages and finding its logical extreme in Nazi Germany, is that a Jew can not be loyal to a secular country in which he or she lives.  The accusation is that a Jew's loyalty is to an external power, the Jewish People, and in our day the State of Israel  over and against their professed (but dishonest) loyalty to their home nation.  This is core White Nationalist and Nazi philosophy, headlined in all their writings and pursued without regard to fact.  From the Dreyfuss trial in France to Louis Brandeis' confirmation hearings to the US Supreme Court, accusations of dual loyalty are the rallying cry of the AntiSemite.  ONLY loyalty to the supreme leader can be accepted and all other identity is intolerable.  The Jew is, in this vision, is not only disloyal, but insipid and treasonous.  I do not believe that the President is AntiSemitic, but his callous use of personal loyalty in the context of "The Jews" is a horrific gaff of some kind.  So what kind?

Ignorance or Stupidity:

One apology for the President's comments is that he didn't know that such a trope, "disloyal," screams of AntiSemitism.  This was the claim of Rep. Tlaib when she said that AIPAC was "all about the Benjamins baby ($100 bills)."  Just as I didn't give her a pass for using an AntiSemitic trope, neither do I give the President a pass.  If he didn't know, he had better address it.  On the other hand, he might be incapable of understanding the subtle nature of trope, making him intellectually deficient.  I won't conclude that he is stupid.  I do believe that he may be ignorant of the trope.  He must recognize what that is in some way if we are to believe it to be an accident of any kind.

The Machiavellian/Bannon Interpretation.

If you hold that the president is brilliant, then this was a calculated move for a purpose.  Possible purposes could include: 1) Distraction from the fiasco of back-peddling on universal background checks after the El Paso Shootings, or 2) distraction from the ridiculous diplomatic gaff of wanting to buy Greenland from Denmark even though Greenland has independent home rule (I believe this to be the distraction move, not the disloyalty comment), or 3) creating a wedge issue out of Israel loyalty to divide the democratic party.  This final interpretation is what the President said on the White House lawn, explaining at length that this is about the anti-Israel members of the progressive wing of the Democratic party: that they are the new face of the Democrats and that voting for the Democrats is therefore supporting AntiSemites.  This implication is the basis for his saying that Jews are being "disloyal" to Israel and the Jewish people.  In other words, he is using the AntiSemitic trope to rile up the Jewish electorate against AntiSemitism, and challenging them to prove that they are against AntiSemitism by only voting for the Republican party and himself.  This is sharp, deliberate, intelligent and - quite frankly - morally repugnant.  To deny the loyalty of the 67% of American Jews who voted for Clinton for either the State of Israel or the Jewish People is identity politics at its worst.

Option Four:  He is just a Jackass.

In fact, I do believe this is the only real takeaway.  I believe that President Trump is largely ignorant of political history, and entirely ignorant of social history.  I believe that he instinctively understands that calling Jews disloyal is a manipulation of identity politics that was sure to trip up news narratives on other topics, while continuing to paint the progressives as anti-American and anti-Israel.

His comments however, are extremely in line with the worst Nazi and White Nationalist hate groups' views of Jews.  Was it good politics?  Was it expedient?  Will it help him in the election?  Almost certainly yes.  But it is, once again, incredibly empowering of the hatred on the extreme right which we are facing in this country at this time.  He knows enough to know it this is a bigger topic than he pretends. He did it not just yesterday but again today, and at length.  What do you call a person who uses insulting and divisive language with no regard for the harm it may do directly or indirectly to other people?  Quite simply, a jackass.


President Trump has once again given a gift to the extreme right, demonized the far left, and this time thrown the loyalty of the Jew into the public square for mob trial.  Well done, Mr. President, if that is your intent.  Walk it back immediately if it was not.