I have watched with a creeping sense of horror as the Republican Party's nominee has inflamed anti-Semitism. I find myself having conversations with my family that no presidential election has caused us to have before.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been, since its beginning, embedded with explicit appeals to white voters, and there is no subset of white voters to whom he appeals more than the white supremacist movement, because of his alarming ability to mainstream and empower their hatred.
David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan who is running for Senate in Louisiana, told Lisa Mascaro of the L.A. Times that Trump’s success in this campaign proves that Duke and his fellow white nationalists are, in a word, “winning.”
“I love it,” said Duke, 66, tearing into a chicken garlic pizza at a nearby restaurant later. “The fact that Donald Trump’s doing so well, it proves that I’m winning. I am winning.”
Trump’s surprise rise to become the GOP presidential nominee, built largely on a willingness to openly criticize minority groups and tap into long-simmering racial divisions, has reenergized white supremacist groups and drawn them into mainstream American politics like nothing seen in decades.
Duke is not alone in feeling celebratory: White nationalist think tanks, newspapers, and websites like Stormfront are all seeing this campaign as their moment to come out of the shadows and onto the national stage. For them, this is a reckoning. They have been empowered and emboldened by a candidate who goes beyond the usual GOP dog whistles of racism and xenophobia, who is as direct as he can be, without stating it overtly, that he wants to “make America great again” by returning to a time of institutionalized racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and hatred of the Other.
This appeal to white nationalism has been roiling within the party for a long time, and the Trump campaign has increasingly exploited it via racial animus and Islamophobia. There has also been a growing reliance on anti-Semitic prejudice and stereotypes, to varying degrees of explicitness.
There are the numerous examples on Twitter, like using a Star of David in a tweet accusing Clinton of corruption or using coded words like “neurotic” to refer to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Jewish Congressperson and former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Trump has also retweeted neo-Nazis on several occasions.
The Washington Post’s Editorial Board describes a troubling attack on one of their columnists:
A telling example appeared this week in the form of a personal attack on the website Breitbart, whose executive chairman is Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman. Its subject was Anne Applebaum, who is one of The Post’s most distinguished opinion columnists, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and — as the item repeatedly and gratuitously pointed out — a woman of Jewish origin.
“Hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned,” proclaimed the Breitbart article. Anyone who doubts the intention of the Polish foreign ministry’s chosen propagandist in using those terms need only read the comments beneath the article, which — uncensored by Breitbart staff — reek with anti-Semitic slurs.
Trump is playing with fire: There has been a spike in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States over the past year, including vandalism and physical assaults, as well as ever-increasing numbers of attacks online. Journalists who have written about Trump have been on the receiving end of vile anti-Semitic bigotry.
Julia Ioffe received numerous threatening messages after writing a profile of Trump’s wife, Melania, and eventually had to file a police report. Kurt Eichenwald has tweeted about the anti-Semitic hate he has gotten for writing exposes about Trump’s foundation and business dealings (despite the fact that he’s not Jewish). Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times, Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, and Kira Lerner, Alice Ollstein, and Bryce Covert of Think Progress have all experienced onslaughts of anti-Semitic slurs, threats, and violent images.
During this election, I’ve had conversations with my mother that are entirely new for us. In my 36 years and her 69 years, neither of us have experienced before the level of alarm and fear about our own safety, our very lives as Jews and Americans, that is now a near-constant presence in our minds. For many Jews in this country, and around the world, it is frightening to see, on an almost daily basis, the clear evidence that anti-Semitism still runs deep and often close to home—and that a U.S. presidential candidate it willing to stoke it for his own gain.
Those who harbor these beliefs have become far less shy about voicing them loudly, and they have no hesitation in crediting Trump, and the fact that he has been chosen by a major political party as their candidate for the nation’s highest office, with their new sense of empowerment.
Moreover, when other elected Republican officials show obvious reluctance in admonishing them, there is little reason for white supremacists to remain in the shadows.
Especially as the corporate media cover the topic of white nationalism and attendant anti-Semitism among Trump’s supporters as a question to debate; as a classic “here is one side of the issue, and here is the other” story, as though each viewpoint deserves equal treatment and respect.
But one side is in fact extremely dangerous.
Jewish citizens are now left to wonder if a stranger muttering a slur will escalate; if it’s safe to identify as Jewish online or in other public spaces; if society is preparing to move backward rather than forward on this aspect of social justice.
This election has brought with it for many an experience of sharp emotional dissonance. On the one hand, there is the excitement of watching Hillary Clinton become the first female presidential nominee of a major political party and witnessing history in the making. On the other hand, there is fear, far surpassing that of past elections, with the typical worries of how the other party’s candidate would govern compounded by the consistent incidents of violent behavior, verbal assaults, and an ascending ideology based in eliminationist white nationalism.
This is no ordinary election. Not for Jewish voters, and not for anyone else who has come into Trump’s line of rhetorical fire.