FeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

Trump and his Recent Denunciation of Anti-semitism

11 Theses

1. There has been a striking upsurge of anti-Semitic threats and incidents since Donald Trump was elected President in November 2016.

2. This is a very bad thing for Jewish-Americans, for minorities of all kinds, for all citizens who care about the rights of individuals and the importance of constitutional democracy, and for all human beings who care about human dignity and respect.

3. It is imperative that this anti-semitism is denounced and opposed.

4. It is a good thing that Donald Trump finally denounced it today during remarks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Better late than never.

5. At the same time, it is shocking and disturbing that it took him so long; that he had repeatedly sought to evade the issue; and that as recently as Holocaust memorial day he refused to mention much less denounce anti-semitism. It is also rather curious that while he refused to speak of anti-semitism in commemorating the Holocaust, he chose to speak of it, and not the history of slavery and Jim Crow — in prepared remarks — while commemorating the African History museum. Legitimate questions should be raised here about whether or not there is a strategy of dissimulation going on here. There are good reasons to be suspicious. Always.

6. Trump’s refusal, until today, to explicitly name and condemn anti-semitism is symptomatic of a much broader and deeper problem: his affiliation with far-right, “alt right” individuals and groups, his attraction to far-right conspiracy and “Birther” theories, and his appeal to a rhetoric of “America First” that has its roots in Nazi-sympathizing groups of the 1940’s. The fact that his chief White House advisor is Steve Bannon is merely the tip of this iceberg.

7. Drawing on these connections, Trump has consistently buoyed the fascist aspirations of the far-right, and has consistently received the praise of far-right — white supremacist and neo-Nazi — leaders.

8. Trump’s statement today ought to be welcomed. But it was weak, odd, and merely a drop in an ocean of racism that he has done a great deal — more than any other politician in recent memory since George Wallace — to cultivate.

9. If Trump is even remotely serious about the “horror” of anti-semitism, then he must loudly and consistently speak out against it, and demonstrate, in action as well as words, his opposition. He should remove Steve Bannon from his White House position, an important symbolic gesture. More importantly, he should direct the Attorney General to commence a serious Justice Department response that involves investigating the spread of vandalism, harassment, and threats and bringing to justice the perpetrators, and elevating the level of security at all Jewish community centers in the United States.

10. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated, we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever effects one directly, affects all indirectly.” If Trump is serious about the scourge of anti-semitism, and hatred and bigotry more generally, then he ought to abandon central promises of his campaign — including the Mexican wall, the expanded deportation order, and the Muslim ban — and work hard, and publicly, to repair the social fabric that he has done so very much to tear apart. Let him publicly speak about the fact that immigration, and ethnic pluralism, are central features of the American political tradition. Let him announce his commitment to enforcing the Voting Rights Act. Let him announce his commitment to the reproductive freedom of women. Let him work respectfully with civil rights groups instead of denouncing them. Let him stop denouncing the independent press as “liars” and “enemies of the people,” and demonstrate a serious commitment to a free press. Let him behave like a President who understands and values the basic principles of a constitutional democracy.

11. Philosophers and writers of all kinds will make these arguments in the coming days, as well they should. It is important to understand and to criticize the bigotry and exclusivism and authoritarianism at the heart of Trumpism. At the same time, the point is to challenge and to change it.

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Jeffrey C. Isaac

  • Deb S Kent

    Another brilliant piece by an excellet political scientist, writer, and professor.

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