The strangest thing about Donald Trump’s latest racist tantrum is how many people are surprised, outraged or think this is now the definitive proof of Trump’s racism. Trump has been a deeply racist individual and also the product of a deeply racist system since before Twitter was invented. To not recognize that is both a deliberate attempt to live in a fantasy world and also to fundamentally not understand America. Trump was a racist of the most venal and hateful kind long before he became a presidential candidate, yet because of America’s deep unwillingness to wrestle with, or even acknowledge, our racist history, well into 2018 you could turn on CNN or some similar media outlet and hear an earnest discussion of whether or not Trump is a racist.
This week the is Trump a racist storyline took another bizarre turn when George Conway, a conservative attorney married to noted anti-Semite Kellyanne Conway (more on that later), wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post stating that Trump is a racist, actually Conway’s supposed portrait in courage eschewed that word in favor of the less charged phrase “racial bigot.” Conway’s opinion piece seemed to carry more weight in many quarters because he is a straight white man, and a conservative one at that. That tells you much of what you need to know about racism in America. When people of color who have lived with racism their entire lives call Trump a racist, white America dismisses it, because, according to the twisted logic of implicit bias, what does somebody whose family has experienced racism for generations know about racism?
Back to Kellyanne Conway’s anti-Semitism for a moment-this is important because the anti-Semitism of both Trump and the movement he has created is often not mentioned because people on the right think that as long as they support Bibi Netanyahu they are exempt from charges of anti-Semitism regardless of how many ancient anti-Jewish tropes are embraced by this administration and the movement it has engendered and nurtured. Meanwhile, those on the left frequently don’t like to draw attention to Trump’s anti-Semitism because it is a bigotry that still is too common in their movement as well.
Nonetheless, asking Andrew Feinberg a Jewish reporter “what is your ethnicity?” in response to a question about Trump’s use of phrase “go back to where they came from,” as Kellyanne Conway did on Tuesday is unmistakably anti-Semitic. American Jews, like people of color and other non-Christian are asked these questions frequently. These questions overtly question our loyalty to the US and suggest that we are not fully American. We are asked this when the subject of Israel comes up, but also from time to time, when we push back against the white supremacist narrative that has long been part of the American story. Conway clearly meant to telegraph to Trump’s base that Feinberg was Jewish and therefore not fully American. That is anti-Semitism plain and simple and silence in the face of this in complicity in bigotry no matter how much you like the Likud Party or Israel. The fact that Conway still has a job in the Trump administration when the sun set on Tuesday is further evidence of what Trump thinks of Jews, regardless of who in his family may or may not be Jewish.
Significantly, a few months ago when Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, one of the targets of Donald Trump’s deeply racists Tweet, made hurtful and nasty anti-Semitic Tweets, she was rebuked by the leader of the Democratic Party. Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently believes that speaking out against bigotry, including anti-Semitism, is more important than party loyalty. The same cannot be said of the cowardly bigots on the other side of the aisle who, in part because they are too afraid to cross Donald Trump, have never spoken out against the unambiguous anti-Semitism that has long surrounded the Trump presidency. As a reminder, Trump’s final campaign commercial in 2016 railed against powerful forces who allegedly control the economy while showing the faces of Jewish financiers on the screen. Additionally, among the earliest appointments in his administration were prominent anti-Semites Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.
When Trump was first elected, earnest wags from both parties told us that not all of his voters were racist, in most cases because these overwhelmingly white pundits, yet again, wanted to avoid confronting just how deep and widespread racism is in the US. Today, that claim seems absurd. Anybody, whether a member of Congress or an ordinary American, who saw those Tweets and saw Conway’s comments and did not speak out against them or did not vow never to vote for Donald Trump again is a racist. Moreover, many of those people voted for Trump precisely because of his racism. The message from the Trump administration this week, that people of color and Muslims should go back to where they came from, and that Jewish Americans are not fully American and are suspect because of who we are, has long been the core of Trump’s appeal. The silence by so many in Trump’s party is both a testament to fear and cowardice, but also a reminder of just how deeply those messages of hate and intolerance are at the core of the modern Republican Party.
Photo: cc/Marvin Moose