It is always difficult to know what is in someone’s heart and mind. This is particularly true of Donald Trump, whose insecurity, narcissism, megalomania, recklessness, impulsiveness, pathological lying, and cruelty is unprecedented among American presidents. Does Donald Trump hate Jews? That’s an impossible question to answer -– and in some ways irrelevant. What’s clear is that Trump has consistently expressed anti-Semitic stereotypes throughout his adult life. When expressed by the President of the United States, they have dangerous consequences, including stoking the upsurge of white supremacist and anti-Semitic hate groups and individuals who engage in violence and terrorism.
Except among Trump’s most fanatical cult followers, it is no longer controversial to describe the president as a racist, but there’s still a reluctance to recognize that he’s also an anti-Semite. Trump’s ugly statements about Jews are as persistent as his well-known biases against African Americans, immigrants, and Muslims, but they are often overlooked when reporters, columnists, politicians, and activists itemize the long laundry list of his bigotry and offensive comments.
Jews have long confronted discrimination, persecution and slaughter, including during the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian pogroms, and the Holocaust. Most Jews came to the United States to escape anti-Semitism, including the largest wave who fled Eastern Europe in the late 1800 and early 1900s. Jews also faced physical violence in America (such as the lynching of Leo Frank outside Atlanta in 1915), but most anti-Semitism took the form of exclusion from jobs in certain industries, colleges, neighborhoods (through the use of restrictive covenants), hotels, and country clubs. These forms of “polite” anti-Semitism – depicted in the 1947 Oscar-winning film “Gentleman’s Agreement” -- began to wane after World War Two. Anti-Jewish stereotypes and social exclusion persisted (the "No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews" sign at the Baltimore Country Club in Maryland didn’t come down until 1970), but the virulent and violent variety was cast into the fringes of American society among American Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and other hate groups. It erupted briefly in the 1960s, when segregationist extremists bombed synagogues and rabbis’ homes in retaliation for Jews’ support for the civil rights movement.
During the past decade, social media has amplified the voices of white supremacists and anti-Semites, but it was Trump who has lent them legitimacy and emboldened them to come out of the shadows, unleashing an upsurge of hate and violence.
“As anti-Semitism has surged from the internet into the streets, President Trump has done too little to rouse the national conscience against it,” the New York Times observed in an April editorial. “Society in recent years has shown healthy signs of increased sensitivity to other forms of bigotry, yet somehow anti-Semitism can often still be dismissed as a disease gnawing only at the fringes of society,” the Times wrote. “That is a dangerous mistake. As recent events have shown, it is a very mainstream problem.”
By describing Trump as a passive spectator, the Times refuses to acknowledge that he’s an active promoter of anti-Semitism. His use of anti-Semitism as a political weapon comes in different shapes and sizes. He verbalizes it, encourages it, enables it, tolerates it, winks at it, and makes excuses for it.
Jews represent only 2% of the American population, but they loom large in Trump’s political calculations. In 2016, only 24% of Jews voted for Trump. In last November’s mid-term elections, only 17% of Jews voted for Republican candidates. Trump is unlikely to peel away many Jewish voters to the Republican column – and even if he did, it wouldn’t make much difference in the Electoral College outcomes in the key battleground states.
Rather, Trump’s obsession with Jews is about two things. First, he is angry that Jews are not grateful to him for his unwavering support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He doesn’t understand that most American Jews don’t embrace Netanyahu, including his Trump-like authoritarianism and the troubling occupation of conquered territories populated by Palestinians. The great irony is that white evangelicals –81% of whom voted for Trump, accounting for 45% of his total vote in 2016 – are more devoted to Netanyahu than most American Jews.
Second, and more important, Trump uses Jews as pawns and symbols to rile up his racist and right-wing base, including many of those white evangelicals. His core followers view Jews – as they view Muslims, immigrants, and African Americans –- as “others,” who pollute what they consider the real America and its culture.
Trump’s Loyalty Oath
To assail Jews for their loyalty to the Democratic Party, and to agitate his cult followers, Trump recently resorted to attacking four newly-elected progressive Democrats -– all women of color -– as symbols of the Democratic Party. He accused Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) –- collectively known as the Squad -– of being anti-Semitic and hating Israel. He accused the Democratic Party of becoming “an anti-Jewish party” and claimed that Democrats “hate Jewish people.”
In mid-August, Trump doubled-down, telling American Jews that “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” invoking an age-old anti-Semitic slur. The next day, he said “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people,” he said, claiming to know what’s good for the Jews. Trump even tweeted out a comment by right-wing extremist and conspiracy theorist Wayne Allyn Root, claiming that Trump was like the “King of Israel” to Jewish people, who allegedly “love him [Trump] like he is the second coming of God..
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish organization that monitors hate groups, condemned Trump for “echoing the racist talking points of white nationalists and cynically using the Jewish people and the state of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks.”
“Employing anti-Semitism as a political weapon is as dangerous as anti-Semitism itself,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minnesota), who is Jewish. Senator Brian (D-Hawaii), who is also Jewish, implored the President to “leave us out of your racist talking points.” Said Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Jewish Democratic Congresswoman from Florida, “He is the worst perpetrator of purveying anti-Semitism. The president continues to use dog whistles and train whistles to perpetuate anti-Semitism.”
This isn’t the first time Trump has challenged Jews’ loyalty. Last December he told the Jews at the White House Hanukkah party that Israel was “your country.” In April, speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister.” Being loyal Trumpsters, the Jewish Republicans didn’t raise a fuss over the president’s remarks. But other Jews noticed.
Spewing Hate and Riling Up Haters
Trump has not only questioned Jews’ loyalty but has also invoked other anti-Semitic stereotypes that have fed the upsurge of hate crimes and mass shootings against Jews –- part of the president’s wider use of white supremacist rhetoric that has fueled domestic terrorism against Muslims, immigrants, African Americans, Latinos, the physically disabled, and other vulnerable groups.
Never before in our country’s history has a president constantly spewed anti-Semitic propaganda. He stokes fear among his followers and stirs up division and hate to rouse his base. Not surprisingly, the overlapping worlds of white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups have taken Trump’s tweets and speeches as a signal of approval at the highest level. For example, in response to Trump’s repeated claim during the campaign that the 2016 election was rigged, the popular white supremacist site The Daily Stormer wrote that “People aren’t going to quietly go home if the Jews steal this election from us.” Anti-Semites send messages to Jewish journalists warning that they “should be gassed,” with imagines of their faces superimposed on those of concentration camp prisoners.
As candidate and president, Trump’s words have given militant hate groups and their followers permission to engage in violence and even murder, none more so than his comment the day after the August 2017 Charlottesville riot, where a neo-Nazi terrorist drove his car into a crowd, injuring 19 people and killing one. Trump declared that the violence was the fault of both the Nazis and the progressive counter-protestors, claiming that there were "some very fine people on both sides," essentially legitimating the white supremacists and anti-Semites.
Trump empowers anti-Semites by echoing their bigotry, looking the other way, or, under pressure, mouthing minor rebukes but then quickly reversing course. He panders to far right white supremacists because he views them as a key part of his political base and does not want to alienate them.
The number of hate groups operating throughout America reached a record high -– 1,020 -– in 2018, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It was the fourth straight year of hate group growth since Trump began campaigning for president in 2015, after three consecutive years of decline at the end of the Obama administration. According to FBI statistics, hate crimes increased by 30 percent in the three-year period ending in 2017 (the most recent data available), following a three-year period in which hate crime incidents fell by about 12 percent.
According to a study by three political scientists, “Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes.” The researchers called this the “Trump effect.”
A recently published nationwide investigation by ABC News identified at least 36 criminal cases where the perpetrators invoked Trump in connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault. In nine cases, they praised Trump in the midst or immediate aftermath of physically attacking innocent victims. In another 10 cases, they cheered or defended Trump while taunting or threatening others. In another 10 cases, they cited Trump’s rhetoric in court for inspiring their violent or threatening behavior. ABC News did not find even one criminal case filed in federal or state court where an act or threat of violence was made by evoking the names of President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush.
Trump has never accepted any responsibility for inciting violence. In fact, he says just the opposite. "I think my rhetoric brings people together," he said four days after a 21-year-old posted an anti-immigrant message online and then traveled to El Paso, where he opened fire at a Walmart and killed 22 people, most of them Latinos.
Similarly, Trump takes umbrage at being called an anti-Semite. “I’m the least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen,” he’s said on several occasions.
Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened Jew-haters. Anti-Semitic comments on social media skyrocketed after Trump announced his campaign for president. An ADL report uncovered more than 2.6 million tweets with anti-Semitic comments and images from August 2015 to July 2016 — a huge upsurge from the previous year. Many of them identified themselves as Trump supporters or Clinton haters, and many of them (including death threats) were directed at Jewish journalists who had been critical of Trump.
During 2017 and 2018, the U.S. saw a peak in anti-Semitic incidents, the highest in nearly 40 years, according to another ADL report. These include a wave of vandalism of hundreds of Jewish gravestones in Pennsylvania and Missouri and an increase in anti-Semitic incidents on university campuses.
The Non-White “Invasion”
Trump doesn’t have to pull the trigger or overturn the gravestones to bear responsibility for the upsurge in hate crimes, including anti-Semitic ones.
For example, Trump frequently rants that immigrants are “invading” America. This ties into the long-standing anti-Semitic slur that Jews have conspired to destroy America by encouraging mass immigration by non-white people, just as segregationists blamed Jews for agitating African Americans against Jim Crow, in effect blaming Jews -– not racism –- for catalyzing the civil rights movement. These racist fears are the origin of the slogan “Jews will not replace us” chanted by the American Nazis and other white supremacists who marched with Nazi flags and torches in Charlottesville in 2017. Last fall, Trump baselessly accused Democrats of encouraging a caravan of refugees to seek entry into the U.S., while his close ally Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida specifically blamed philanthropist George Soros, who is a Jew and a Democrat, of funding the caravan.
The killers who went on rampages at two different synagogues in the past year specifically repeating the canard about Jews plotting to promote non-white immigration to the U.S.
On October 27, 2018, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers, stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh armed with a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and three Glock .357 semi-automatic pistols. He fired all four weapons, killing 11 Jews at worship. Before doing so, he posted a message on the far-right blogsite Gab, attacking HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit group (originally called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) that was helping bring refugees from Syria and Afghanistan to the United States. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he wrote. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”
Six months later, on April 27, 2019, 19-year old John T. Earnest, armed with an AR-15 style rifle, fired shots inside the Chabad synagogue in Poway, near San Diego. One woman was killed and three other people were injured, including the synagogue's rabbi. As he entered the synagogue, the 19-year old killer was yelling anti-Semitic slurs, claiming that Jews were “ruining the world.”
Earlier Earnest had posted an anti-Semitic manifesto on 8Chan, a conspiracy theory message board. He wrote that he was inspired by the Tree of Life synagogue gunman in Pittsburgh and echoed several well-worn anti-Semitic stereotypes.
“I would die a thousand times over to prevent the doomed fate that the Jews have planned for my race,” he wrote. “Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race. They act as a unit, and every Jew plays his part to enslave the other races around him — whether consciously or subconsciously. Their crimes are endless. “
He added: “I hate anyone who seeks the destruction of my race. Spics and niggers are useful puppets for the Jew in terms of replacing Whites. Of course, they aren't intelligent enough to realize that the Jew is using them and they will be enslaved if Europeans are eliminated."
“We have a president who talks about ‘hordes’ and ‘swarms’ and all sorts of other things about immigrants,” explained Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University historian, to a reporter for Vox. “This stuff has been around for a long time ... but now lots of the barriers are down, and now people feel like they can say it and they can do things.”
Trump’s History of Racism
Most journalists are reluctant to call a public figure, especially an elected official, a racist. The typical journalistic device is to describe a politician’s words as “racially insensitive,” “racially charged,” or “controversial,” rather than label the person, himself or herself, a racist. That was the case with Trump. It took two years after Trump took office before some of the nation’s news media felt comfortable calling him a racist, based on his consistent pattern of going out of his way to demean African Americans and other people of color, including elected officials like Congress members Maxine Waters, Elijah Cummings, Frederica Wilson, and the four Congresswomen known as the Squad.
The first time that Trump’s name appeared in the New York Times was in 1973, when Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice sued him and his father for racial discrimination in their New York City apartment buildings. Federal officials discovered that Trump has refused to rent to black tenants and lied to black applicants about whether apartments were available, among other accusations. Trump, in response, falsely claimed that the federal government was trying to force him to rent to welfare recipients.
In 1989, Trump took out full-page ads in four New York City newspapers calling for the death penalty for five black and Latino teens who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Central Park. In 2002, they were exonerated following the discovery of DNA evidence and a confession by another individual to the crime. Their convictions were vacated and New York City paid them $41 million in a settlement. Despite this, during his presidential campaign Trump continued to insist that the Central Park Five were guilty and should have been executed. In 1991, New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission fined Trump $200,000 for pulling black and female dealers from gambling tables to accommodate Robert LiButti, a big-spending gambler who preferred white dealers.
In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2011, Trump claimed that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. He quickly became the most famous advocate of “birtherism,” which helped catapult his national profile and fueled his presidential ambitions. Last year, Trump said that the U.S. should prefer immigrants from Norway in contrast to immigrants from “shithole” nations in Africa.
This July, Trump found at least two opportunities to put his racism on full display. He tweeted that four of his staunchest black and brown critics -- tthe Congresswomen known as the Squad –- are “from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” and that they should “go back” to those countries, even though all four are U.S. citizens and only one was born outside the U.S. Then, angered by an investigation into his wrongdoing led by Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, Trump engaged in a racist attack on his district, which includes a large section of the predominantly black Baltimore. The city, Trump tweeted, was "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess."
One could just as easily catalog Trump’s bigoted comments about immigrants, Latinos, and Muslims. As a result, many reporters and editors are now willing to use the word “racist” in stories and headlines without the usual qualifiers.
But they have not been equally willing to describe Trump as an anti-Semite, despite the fact that before he ran for president, during his campaign, and since he took office, he has steadily trafficked in ugly anti-Semitic stereotypes and images that were once relegated to the lunatic fringe.
Trump’s Bedside Reading: Adolf Hitler
As both a businessman and politician, Trump operates more by instinct than intellect. So it is likely that Trump -– totally lacking in self-awareness -– can’t discern how much of his anti-Semitism and racism is deeply-held belief and how much is political opportunism. We don’t know how the younger Trump felt about Jews while he was growing up, but we do know that in 1927 his father Fred was arrested as part of a Ku Klux Klan march through Queens, New York, home to the German-American Trump family. We can only imagine what the dinner conservation was like in the Trump household.
In fact, Trump’s anti-Semitism has been hiding in plain sight for decades. The earliest indication comes from a 1990 article in Vanity Fair, which reported that Trump’s ex-wife Ivana told her divorce lawyer Michael Kennedy that Trump often read “My New Order,” a collection of Adolf Hitler’s speeches from 1918-1939, which he kept in a cabinet by his bed. Asked if this were true, Trump told Vanity Fair, “Actually, it was my friend Marty Davis from Paramount who gave me a copy of Mein Kampf, and he’s a Jew.” (In fact, Davis is not Jewish. And Trump got the title of the book wrong). But, Trump told the Vanity Fair reporter, “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.”
In his 1991 book “Trumped,” John R. O’Donnell, who had served as the president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, wrote that Trump was upset that O’Donnell had hired African Americans to work in the hotel’s finance department. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day,” Trump told O’Donnell. “Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. No one else.” In an interview with Playboy published in May 1997, Trump acknowledged, “The stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.” This was just one of the times that Trump echoed the anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews are particularly good at dealing with money.
On April 24, 2013, Trump tweeted: “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz - I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated.” On his show, Stewart often referred to himself as Jewish. But only an anti-Semite like Trump would refer to Stewart’s Jewish-sounding real name in this way.
During his presidential campaign, Trump surrounded himself with advisors who were well-known anti-Semites. In July 2016, his top foreign policy advisor, Michael Flynn, tweeted an attack on Hillary Clinton’s alleged "Democratic machine," warning "Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore." That didn’t stop Trump from appointing Flynn as his national security advisor after he took office. One of his foreign policy advisers, Joseph Schmitz, was accused of bragging that he pushed out Jewish employees when he was Defense Department inspector general a decade earlier. He also made comments denying the magnitude of the Holocaust.
Trump’s closest campaign aide, Stephen Bannon, had a well-deserved reputation as a bigot. Before joining Trump’s campaign, Bannon was the chairman of Breitbart News, which he boasted was “the platform for the alt-right,” a movement that promotes white nationalism, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In a sworn statement, Bannon’s ex-wife claimed that on three separate occasions he expressed opposition to sending his daughters to schools with Jewish students. While at Breitbart News, Breitbart hired Sebastian Gorka as a senior editor. Once in office, Trump appointed Bannon as his chief strategist, who in turn brought Gorka into the White House as a senior Trump aide. The ADL discovered that Gorka had “close ties to openly racist and anti-Semitic hate groups and figures while he was active in Hungarian politics.”
Trump’s public anti-Semitic remarks increased once he announced he was running for president and continued after he took office.
In December 2015, in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump said, "I'm a negotiator like you folks, we are negotiators ... Is there anybody that doesn't renegotiate deals in this room? This room negotiates them — perhaps more than any other room I've ever spoken in." Digging himself deeper, Trump added: “And I know why you’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. Isn’t it crazy? You want to control your own politician.”
In February 2016, when CNN’s Jake Tapper asked candidate Trump if he would condemn and reject support from former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, Trump refused, claiming, “I just don't know anything about him,” which fact-checkers quickly discovered was an outright lie. (Later, under pressure, Trump reluctantly disavowed Duke’s endorsement).
In July 2016, while campaigning, Trump tweeted a graphic borrowed from a white supremacist site, 8chan, showing Hillary Clinton against a backdrop of $100 bills. Inside a six-pointed red star (clearly, the Star of David) were the words, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”
Of course, he denied that the image was anti-Semitic.
In a speech, and then a tweet, in October 2016, Trump claimed that “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.”
Trump didn’t need to use the word “Jew.” This imagery of a global banking cabal will be familiar to anyone who has read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic forgery that has fueled anti-Jewish violence for over a century. Trump’s comment about Clinton’s ties to an international banking conspiracy was not an off-hand remark. These are well-known anti-Semitic code words. The speech — typical of Trump’s paranoid conspiracy theories — was designed to fire up Trump’s white nationalist, anti-Semitic base.
Trump’s frequent references at campaign rallies and during the debates to Sidney Blumenthal, George Soros, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz — Jewish supporters of Hillary Clinton — were no accident. This was not random name-dropping. These were dog whistles aimed at his racist and anti-Semitic supporters.
In Trump’s final campaign video, a clear appeal to anti-Semitism, he warned of “those who control the levers of power in Washington,” and of “global special interests” who "partner with these people who don't have your good in mind," while pictures flashed of Hillary Clinton and three Jews: Soros, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
In February 2017, a month after he moved into the White House, Trump issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that mentioned “innocent people” who were murdered by the Nazis but conveniently didn’t mention Jews or anti-Semitism. In response, ADL Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that the "@WhiteHouse statement on #HolocaustMemorialDay, misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just 'innocent people'" and “Puzzling and troubling @WhiteHouse #HolocaustMemorialDay [statement] has no mention of Jews. GOP and Dem. presidents have done so in the past."
Was this omission simply a regrettable example of incompetence by Trump’s staff? It turns out that the State Department had drafted a statement that recognized Jewish victims, but the Trump White House staff rejected it. Clearly the decision to exclude Jews was intentional.
Trump has frequently used Soros as a target of his anti-Semitic comments. He falsely accused the philanthropist of funding protesters who opposed his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (In 2018 a 57-year old Trump supporter named Cesar Sayoc sent pipe bombs to several prominent Trump critics, including Soros).
In July, Trump invited cartoonist Ben Garrison to a White House summit on social media, despite the ADL’s condemnation of the artist for using blatantly anti-Semitic imagery. In the most publicized incident, in 2017 Garrison drew a cartoon that depicted then-U.S. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and retired General David Petraeus being controlled by strings held by George Soros. Soros, in turn, is seen being suspended from strings held by a hand labeled “Rothschilds,” a Jewish banking family who have long been the target of anti-Jewish conspiracy conspiracy theories.
In August, Trump encouraged former Major League pitcher Curt Schilling to run for a Congressional seat in Arizona. Schilling has a long history of spewing racist, sexist, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic hate, for which he was fired from his position as an ESPN sports commentator. Like most racists and anti-Semites, Schilling stokes up fears through conspiracy theories. He has claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting was a hoax. In November 2016, Schilling tweeted an image of a man at a Trump rally with a shirt reading, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Schilling added, “Ok, so much awesome here…” He has made fun of women who claimed they were sexually assaulted and compared the Confederate flag to “the blood of Christ.” He compared Muslims to Nazis and said that Hillary Clinton “should be buried under a jail.”
Schilling is also an anti-Semite. In 2015 he used Facebook to promote his collection of World War II memorabilia that included “numerous Nazi uniforms with swastikas.” Omer Bartov, an expert on the Holocaust at Brown University, noted that Schilling had “some kind of fetish with Nazi uniforms.” On his Breitbart News podcast in 2017, Schilling interviewed white nationalist and anti-Semite Paul Nehlen, who was then running an ultimately unsuccessful primary campaign to unseat then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). During the interview, Schilling promoted Nehlen’s campaign. The same year, Schilling tweeted an article from a right-wing website claiming that George Soros was behind a chemical weapons attack in Syria.
None of Schilling’s views were secret. In fact, Schilling is so toxic that last year the Boston Red Sox did not invite their former All Star pitcher to attend the ceremony at Fenway Park honoring the stars of team’s 2004 World Series victory. (This may have endeared Schilling to Trump, who was angered when nine Red Sox players on last year’s World Series winning team, along with manager Alex Cora, refused to attend a celebration with Trump at the White House). On August 13, Trump tweeted that Schilling is “a great pitcher and patriot,” and said it was “terrific” that he was considering a run for Congress.
Many Americans, unfamiliar with anti-Semitic tropes, may assume that Trump can’t be anti-Semitic because his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married real estate developer Jared Kushner. Indeed, Trump often mentions his Jewish grandchildren to defend himself against accusations that he’s anti-Semitic. But Trump reveals that it is possible to use anti-Semitism as a weapon to bolster his ambition for economic and political power and still have relationships with some Jews. In the 1970s, when Trump was taking over his father’s apartment complexes in New York’s outer boroughs, he envied the prominent Jewish real estate developers in Manhattan. He hired the flamboyant right-wing and mob-connected Jewish attorney Roy Cohn, who introduced Trump to the city’s glamorous social scene and to the politicians and bankers he needed to make his mark in Manhattan real estate. But in 1984, when Cohn became ill and began treatment for AIDS, Trump dropped him as his lawyer and fixer. Even the ruthless Cohn was shocked by Trump’s betrayal. “I can’t believe he’s doing this to me,” Cohn told Trump biographer Wayne Barrett. “Donald pisses ice water.” Trump also discarded his next long-time lawyer-fixer, Michael Cohen, as soon as he believed that Cohen betrayed him. Trump lost confidence in Gary Cohn, the head of his National Economic Council, after he threatened to quit over Trump’s incendiary comments following the Charlottesville riot. In early 2018, Cohn was pushed out after he opposed Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Besides his daughter and son-in-law, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and designated immigrant-basher Steven Miller are now the last Jews standing in Trump’s inner circle.
Jews are currently preparing to celebrate the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in September and October. As rabbis begin drafting their High Holiday sermons, they shouldn’t ignore the harsh reality that the upsurge of hate crimes and mass shootings that has occurred since Trump took office –- including, in just the past year, murders at two synagogues -- is the result of the president’s persistent attacks on Jews as well as on African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, gays and lesbians, the physically disabled, and other vulnerable groups.
What’s concerning is that the rise of organized hate could outlast Trump’s presidency. Once he leaves office, Trump, unwilling to give up the spotlight, could become the leader of a white nationalist and anti-Semitic movement and perhaps even start his own cable TV network that would make Fox News look reasonable. But even in the unlikely scenario that Trump fades away into the shadows, he has inspired and emboldened an alt-right racist and anti-Semite infrastructure that won’t likely retreat into the relative obscurity it inhabited before Trump became president.
Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.