Spasm Of Past, Or Future?
While visiting Poland in 1976, I heard about a book, “Anti-Semitism Without Jews: Communist Eastern Europe,” and it was mentioned to me because the Jews of Poland almost entirely had been murdered — yet the hatred of them persisted. The title popped into my head when 11 Jews were slaughtered in Pittsburgh, allegedly by a mad anti-Semite, and President Trump, not to mention Republicans in general, denied any connection between the shooting and the president’s rhetoric. They are historically ignorant or moral cowards. They do not appreciate that, in style and rhetoric, Trump’s anti-Semitism, like that of Eastern Europe’s, is “without Jews.” He himself lacks the prejudice. He was raised in the resplendently Jewish city of New York. His daughter converted to the religion and his grandchildren are being raised as Jews. His associates — Roy Cohn and Michael Cohen — have been Jews, and he is supported by Jewish donors like Sheldon Adelson, whose wife, Miriam, lost family in the Holocaust. Trump is not a Jew hater. But he has adopted the mind-set of an anti-Semite. He does not rebut the stereotype of the villainous rich Jew, that latter-day Rothschild, George Soros, who is seen as the deus ex machina funding the caravan of the desperate wending its way north from Honduras. In Soros’ native Hungary, where he escaped Eichmann’s roundup — more than 437,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz — Soros is the poster boy of all the anti-Semitic tropes. In America, the cliché of rootless amoral Jews has been replaced by a media with the same odious characteristics. Jews have long been associated with journalism — in 19th century Vienna, the word journalist was analogous with Jew — and in 1941, Charles Lindbergh, a steadfast isolationist, made matters clear. What he called “war agitators” consisted of three groups: “the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.” These “agitators”, he added, are “only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence. Against the determination of the American people to stay out of war, they have marshaled the power of their propaganda, their money, their patronage.” In Trump talk, the media remains the enemy of the American people. It lies because it is evil. It lies because it is un-American. Trump relies on the predicate for this belief, which was established years ago when the three television networks and some major newspapers were controlled by Jews In the belief system of Trump and his followers, the media accounts for so much that is wrong with America. This is nothing new. Richard Nixon went after the press, and his vice president, Spiro Agnew, made it one of his themes. But no administration has made media-bashing a matter of policy — a way of governing, of disestablishing truth and facts. This is a kind of fascism or communism. The ruling party doesn’t have critics, it has “enemies of the people,” in this case journalism. The rhetoric strips the opposition of legitimacy. It is not a party in temporary opposition. It is a party in permanent sedition. Lesley Stahl of CBS News told an audience in May that Trump told her he wants to “discredit” and “demean” the media “so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.” But it’s far less clear that he realizes what encouragement he offers to conspiracy believers, of which anti-Semitism is the most adaptable and durable. I don’t necessarily see the homicidal act of one man as proof of a resurgence of anti-Semitism. A far more certain danger is the validation Trump has offered those who believe in conspiracy theories. In spirit and in essence, this is anti-Semitism that only lacks Jews. History, though, warns that the vacuum will be filled. It’s up to Trump and his morally dormant Republican Party to ensure that Pittsburgh remains a spasm of the awful past — and not a harbinger of an even worse future. RICHARD COHEN writes for The Washington Post.