Like the overwhelming majority of Jewish women, I voted for Hillary Clinton. Her experience and competence as a Senator and Secretary of State, and then as a career politician who nonetheless seemed to believe in public service and democratic values earned my support. I was drawn to her lifelong insistence that women’s rights are human rights, and that it takes a village to rear the next generation.
I was also appalled that both the right and the left trash-talked her with such impunity. Especially concerning was the eerie echo between Sanders’ charge that Clinton was “dependent upon big-money interests” and Trump’s tweet that featured Clinton adjacent to a Star of David with the words “most corrupt candidate ever” amid wads of cash. Voters on the right and the left also seemed joined in their desire to jail a legitimate candidate.
This ubiquitous blame game was horrifying to us Clinton supporters, but we naturally assumed that after Clinton’s devastating loss and her grace in defeat, the blame-Hillary-for-all-political-ills-game would end.
In retrospect, that thought seems as naïve as the polls predicting her win.
Indeed, the assumption that Hillary Clinton has undue influence is as strong as ever. As Rachel Maddow has chronicled in her blog, Trumpites seem to believe that Clinton has presidential powers despite having lost the election. Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager, is on the record lambasting a fake “Clinton administration” for “its continued lies.” And Sean Hannity actually mistakenly referred to “President Clinton” on air (and he wasn’t talking about Bill).
Clinton responded to these delusions about her influence with her trademark wry wit, more pronounced post-election: “It appears they don’t know I’m not President.”
But the continued attacks on Clinton are no laughing matter. In fact, they remind me of another persona who has often served as the perfect scapegoat for whatever ails the nation in which she resides. I am speaking of course of the figure of the Jew.
Social theorist Zygmant Bauman, who had to flee Poland twice — first from the Nazis, then the Polish Communist Party — has written about the importance of understanding “the Jew as a concept” in Western thought. Conceptual “Jews” are not identical with real or “empirical Jews,” which is why anti-Semitic memes can attach themselves to anyone, even non-Jews.
As Bauman writes in his essay “Allosemitism: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern,” “the Jews were the most obvious dumping ground for otherwise disparate class-bound and nation-bound anxieties.”
This role of the Jew as political and social dumping ground parallels Clinton’s public life. Take for example a meme of Clinton boxing Jesus, revealed as part of Russian pre-election propaganda in recent hearings. Designed to appeal to white Evangelical voters who feel dispossessed, it calls upon a classic trope used against Jews – that they birthed Jesus Christ only to betray and kill their savior
Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump adviser, took the Clinton as Jew the betrayer narrative one step further when he accused Clinton of a treasonous uranium deal with Russia and likened her to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
She-devil, anti-Christ, Commie spy—Hillary has become the dumping ground for a dizzying amalgam of misogynist and anti-Semitic tropes.
While it might be tempting to view such figurations of a conceptually Jewish Hillary as the product of the right and the white supremacist “alt-right”, there’s an increasingly troubling left version of this narrative.
Just last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren charged the Clinton campaign with using its financial power to “rig”the Democratic primary process. Although Trump certainly seized on this narrative through Twitter, this latest attack on Clinton originated from Democrat Donna Brazile’s new book.
Isn’t it possible, you might ask, to accuse someone of rigging without using an anti-Semitic trope? Sure, except that Brazile has now confirmed that no evidence exists for the rigging charge.
Never mind its lack of evidence. The narrative has taken on a life of its own. Hillary’s capitalist machinations, so the story goes, brought down socialist Uncle Bernie. Billed as “the next step for the Bernie Sanders’ movement,” Our Revolution wrote in an e-mail to supporters that “we need your help to take the power back from the party insiders and special interests who control the Democratic establishment.”
Surely I’m not the only one unsettled by the uncanny echo between that e-mail and Breitbart’s complaints about “globalists” “controlling” the establishment.
The DNC swamp that was represented by the Clinton campaign and former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz continues to “alienate progressives,” according to Our Revolution. And, of course, some Bernie Sanders’ supporters still entertain the fantasy that if Hillary hadn’t been a capitalist spoiler, Bernie would have won not only the Democratic nomination but also the presidency. The Hillary lobby as scapegoat is an apt summary of this political sleight of hand.
In a similar vein is the desire for Clinton to disappear from public life. The Daily News offeredthe crudest expression of this desire: “Hey Hillary Clinton, shut the fuck up and go away.” In the Guardian, Hadley Freedman rightly reads such vitriol as a classic misogynist attempt to silence and “burn the witch.”.
But it’s worth returning to Bauman to understand this desire for Clinton to disappear. According to Bauman, Jews are regarded as “venerable ancestors of Christianity, who however, refused to withdraw and to pass away once Christianity was born and took over.”
In other words, like Clinton, the Jews had the chutzpah to persist.
Throughout the election and into this year, Clinton has been figured as a treasonous commie like the Rosenbergs, while simultaneously alienating labor with her capitalist conspiracies. And she is cast as the old money-changing Democrat who refuses to be replaced by the new.
Sounds like an anti-Semitic rendering of the Jew to me, and a potent reminder that when anti-Semitic ideology pollutes the public square, the nation, non-Jews, and real Jews are all imperiled.
Helene Meyers is Professor of English and McManis University Chair at Southwestern University. She is the author of Identity Papers: Contemporary Narratives of American Jewishness, Femicidal Fears: Narratives of the Female Gothic Experience, and Reading Michael Chabon.