Right-wing personality-shall-we-say Ann Coulter tweeted her wishes that “only people with at least 4 grandparents born in America” could vote, because then, Trump would, she believes, win the election. Coulter, who I will confess I’d mostly lost track of, in the blur of 2016 horribleness and 1990s revivalism, has evidently — see Cathy Young — reinvented herself as an alt-right anti-Semite.
The “grandparents” remark — apart from the strangeness of assuming the typical person has more than four grandparents — offers an explicitly exclusionary definition of American national identity. It doesn’t take years’ worth of seminars on Vichy France to see that this is full-on, red-alert we’ve-seen-this-before xenophobia. But if you have studied modern European history, as I have, it’s like, huh, I guess I’m going to be one of those faceless The Jews studied years from now, by doctoral students contemplating whatever happened to America’s Jewish population, which was, they have read, very vibrant at one point.
(Am I still reeling from seeing Trump’s name there on the ballot? Why yes, yes I am.)
Coulter — as is apparently the hip new thing on the right these days — is using the tropes of old-time anti-Semitism to stomp on the rights not only of Jews, but of anyone who isn’t a white, Christian American who meets whichever ‘authenticity’ requirements the alt-right has settled upon. It’s anti-Semitism for sure, but a new sort of anti-Semitism. It’s not just about scapegoating minorities, but also about demanding a new order, a future America where a white, Christian minority would count as the only real Americans.
I’m reminded — again, because I think of it often — of Jamelle Bouie’s Slate story from March, attributing Trump’s rise to Obama-inspired racist backlash: “For millions of white Americans who weren’t attuned to growing diversity and cosmopolitanism, […] Obama was a shock, a figure who appeared out of nowhere to dominate the country’s political life.”
Read Bouie, then do an online search for the name “Leon Blum.” French Jews reached a point, in the 1930s, where they were integrated enough into mainstream society to hold positions of political leadership. This did not signal the end of French anti-Semitism, but rather the birth of a new, scariest-yet variety.
What we’re looking at in the States, I think, is the rebirth of anti-black racism (and, more generally, racism against people of color) as something similar to what anti-Semitism’s been for the past century-plus: a bigotry expressing itself as anti-oppression politics. All the bigotries are merging, with anti-Semitism of course still in the mix. And I’m terrified.
Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at email@example.com. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.