Donald Trump just decided to denounce anti-Semitism specifically, and prejudice in general. But his administration has declared open season on tolerance. His policies are set against American ideals of openness and liberty. Simply put, he is not serious. That’s putting it mildly.
Do I think Trump is an anti-Semite? No. Do I think that he, Donald Trump, has deeply-held racial loathing for any group of people? No. This is not because he is enlightened or tolerant. Beyond self-aggrandizement and love of the Trump brand, I don’t think he has any hard beliefs of any kind.
I think he is indifferent, in general, to the sufferings of other people. I think it’s his nature. I think he is willing to look the other way when the outsider is turned around at the gate. I think this callousness has given people who do have prejudices a seat at the table. He is enabling them.
President Trump denounced anti-Semitism Tuesday after coming under pressure to address an uptick in incidents targeting Jewish institutions across the U.S. “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop,” Trump told MSNBC during a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Whatever Trump may think personally, we know he is glad to indulge in prejudiced language. His techniques are not the planned, closely-held tactics of lifelong believer, but the clumsy, glib grabs of an opportunity-seizing loudmouth. We know that Trump made his bones deciding to attack the oppressed. We know that Trump began his political career suggesting that the first African-American President was Not One of Us. We know that Trump’s campaign and now White House is staffed with people who believe that the stranger is not a guest, but a poison in our midst. We know this man mocked a handicapped reporter.
We know that Trump’s White House did not include reference to Jewish suffering in its statement about International Holocaust Remembrance Day, taking a page from far-right nationalist movements in Europe. Per Salon:
Last month the Trump administration came under fire for its statement about International Holocaust Remembrance Day: The reason? It left out any specific mention of the fact that the primary goal of the Holocaust was eradication of the Jewish people. This was a form of what historian Deborah Lipstadt has referred to as “soft-core Holocaust denial,” a deliberate diminution of the fact that — while millions of innocent people were killed by the Nazis who weren’t Jewish — the Holocaust was a specific program of genocide against the Jewish people.
The Anne Frank Center called Trump’s Tuesday statement a “a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”
In the past, when confronted with charges of anti-Semitism, Trump, according to The Hill,
responded to a question about anti-Semitism by citing the size of his Electoral College victory and referencing his Jewish son-in-law, White House aide Jared Kushner, and his daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism when she married Kushner.
This all happened after phone threats have “targeted 54 community centers in 27 states this year alone” and headstones at a historic Jewish cemetery have been defaced. This is not to mention the many other assaults upon the dignity, life, and property of other oppressed groups: of mosques burned, of attacks on persons of color.
Trump’s White House denouncing prejudice is like a man who drinks Monday through Saturday and decides to denounce alcohol on Sunday. This troubling pattern began on the first day of Trump’s campaign, when he declared Mexico was complicit in sending criminals and rapists north.
This sort of below-the-radar sleight-of-hand continued well into his campaign. Back in October, Politico ran a long story about the Trump campaign and American Jews:
... the issue roared back into view in September, when the ex-wife of Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, said that Bannon had kept his daughters out of a school because he there were too many “whiny” Jewish brats there; the candidate’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., retweeted someone described as the neo-Nazis’ “favorite academic”; and a Trump advisor was accused of discriminating against Jewish employees (and denying the Holocaust). Then Don Trump, Jr., with unblinking casualness, stumbled on an odious analogy. “The media has been [Clinton’s] number one surrogate,” Donald, Jr. complained, not unlike a whiny brat, during a radio interview in Philadelphia. “If Republicans were doing that, they’d be warming up the gas chamber.”
Do I think Republicans are prejudiced? No. Most Trump voters are rank and file Republicans who would vote for anyone bearing the R-suffix. They would have elected Romney in, if Willard had been able to plot a return to power.
But a notable bloc of his support in the early days, and the most vocal contingent of the Weird Orange army, are people who loathe anyone who is not like them.
I think he is willing to draw support from bigoted persons to solidify his own power.
And I think he has given the nationalists a place at the right hand of the throne.
I am speaking, of course, of Steve Bannon. As The Guardian reports,
Bannon has rejected claims that he is antisemitic. Breitbart News, which he ran before taking over Trump’s campaign, is strongly pro-Israel. But under Bannon’s stewardship one headline branded the conservative commentator Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew”. Another article called Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum “a Polish, Jewish, American elitist”. In July, Bannon boasted of turning the rightwing site Breitbart News into a “platform for the alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US. Two weeks after the election, a group of self-described “alt-right” leaders met at a conference where they mimicked Nazi language, spoke angrily about Jewish people and said the US belonged to white people.
For the sake of argument alone, let us give them all the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it is not Bannon’s fault that his magazine and his movement are associated with white supremacy. Let us imagine that Trump is sincere when he says that prejudice ought to stop. Even if we grant this, we still face the fact that these words are words, and not action. What does the White House actually want to do?
Let’s forget what was said in the campaign. That is what many of Trump’s followers have done, after all. Perhaps we should focus on what Trump has chosen to do when given power, and the chance to use it.
His record speaks louder than any single statement.
I think three recent examples will suffice. On February 2, Reuters wrote that
The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters. The program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, would be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.
Was Trump serious about fighting prejudice then?
Recently, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) refused to allow Congressional Democrats to meet with them, choosing to confer only with Republicans. Is this a decision they made suddenly, after years of bipartisan discussion? Or might they be emboldened by the new administration?
According to the office of Congressman Luis Gutierrez, from Illinois:
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) issued a statement in response to being excluded from a meeting in the U.S. Capitol with Acting Director Thomas Homan of ICE. Rep. Gutiérrez was asked to leave the meeting by staffers for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the request of Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Speaker Ryan. Several other Members were excluded from the meeting with the ICE official, including Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Norma Torres (D-CA), and Juan Vargas (D-CA). ... A meeting originally scheduled for Tuesday with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other Democrats in the House was cancelled at the last minute by ICE. It was rescheduled to today and turned into a Republican-led meeting run by Chairman Goodlatte and was apparently made invitation-only.
“In 20-plus years, I have never heard of the Republicans controlling what meetings Democrats can have with officials of the Executive Branch and never had a staffer ask me to leave a meeting to which I am entitled to attend. My constituents have questions about who is being targeted by ICE, which DREAMers with DACA they are targeting for deportation, which victims of domestic violence ICE is deporting, which immigrants at church shelters are being targeted. ... Speaker Ryan is not an emperor and does not control who I meet with.”
Finally, consider Homeland Security’s ambitious new project, which seems to promise a brave new world of mass detaining and deportation, surpassing even the unjust removals accomplished under Obama, our previous deporter-in-chief. The Trumpministration has drafted memos which empower the security agencies of this country to go to work in a particular way. Per The Hill:
... the memos appear designed to set the stage for an aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration, with law enforcement officials granted new powers to carry out deportations. Under the memos, immigration agents in the interior of the country will be able to automatically remove any aliens who cannot prove they have been in the country for more than two years. That power was previously restricted to officers near the borders, so they could quickly detain and remove undocumented immigrants as they entered the country.
The extra kick at the end is what makes it uniquely Trumpian:
The DHS guidance also makes parents and other adults who help children enter the U.S. illegally potentially subject to deportation or criminal prosecution. That policy change is meant to discourage Central American children who make the often-dangerous trek into the country. The number has surged over the past three years, with minors fleeing gang violence in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Perhaps you think these are the odd responses of a President who is concerned about the national security. But why, then, the name change? Why deport children? Why exclude Democrats, including persons of color?
Those who supported Trump from his first campaign speech are always quick to point out that Trump was not claiming that all Mexicans were rapists, that he ended the statement by saying: “And some, I assume, are good people.” But when Donald paints with a broad brush, he is making general, unfair claims about a whole swathe of people who have nothing which joins them together, save nationality … which happens to predominantly be of a different skin color. The exception Trump made in his speech for the good people; suggesting they are inherently in the minority.
It is telling that the Trumpministration views children as a threat, since they have not done anything. The only possible connection they have with danger is that they are members of a group which this administration will forever see as a threat.
In truth, tying Trump’s White House to our nation’s unfortunate legacy of bigotry is not difficult. Unless we oppose it, we will reap the bitter harvest of prejudice both now, and in the future.