I’ll say it plainly: The high-profile Jews supporting Donald Trump make me sick. This is not about Democratic and Republican politics; I’ve certainly never said the same thing about supporters of (any) Bush. It’s about white supremacy.
Let’s take “white supremacy” out of the realm of insult. It is an ideology, after all, not simply a slur, and it is believed by tens of millions of Americans. It is the proposition that the real (“great”) America is white America, and while the “melting pot” can absorb some blacks, Asians and Latinos, the essential core of what America is remains the Christian, European iteration that prevailed for 200 years. It is English-speaking, Merry-Christmas-wishing, and ruled by “real” American men, not by women or people with the middle name Hussein.
Moreover, white supremacy is not the provenance of the Ku Klux Klan and other easy-to-dismiss villains. It is the very air that we breathe. It is, as Mohammed Ali commented in 1969, the fact that Jesus is white, angels are white, Miss America is (or ought to be) white and Snow White is white.
Similarly, racism is not about individuals having bad thoughts (or not) about other races. Racism is a structural phenomenon, built into the way in which we live — and it is often completely invisible to those of us on the privileged side. (This is why writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates get accused of “playing the race card.” To some white people, talking about race is playing a card; to people of color, it is the entire card game.)
Which brings us back to Trump, and the Jews who support him — Mel Sembler, Elliott Broidy, Sam Fox, Lewis Eisenberg and Ronald Weiser on the fundraising side; Jason Greenblatt and David M. Friedman on Israel, and of course, Sheldon Adelson.
It’s been a commonplace of late that Trump’s appeal rests on two foundations: first, the economic insecurity of working-class whites, who were trained for an economy that no longer exists and have not recovered from 2008, and second, the nativist, racist resentment these whites feel toward anyone who isn’t them. As scholars and critics have dug more deeply into the Trump phenomenon, however, it has turned out that the second motivation is in fact the predominant one.
First, white Republicans in general hold far more negative views of blacks than white Democrats do. In a stunning summary of data from two Vanderbilt University researchers, published in The New York Times on May 11, Thomas Edsall observed that on a scale of racial resentment whites feel toward African Americans, fully 58% of Republican whites were in the “most resentful” quartile, compared with 22% of Democrats and 42% of Independents. Meanwhile, only 4% of Republicans were in the least resentful quartile, compared with 23% of Democrats and 10% of Independents.
The Vanderbilt researchers also amalgamated how whites regard blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and LGBT people relative to themselves. Seventy-three percent of Republicans have unfavorable views of these “others,” with only 16% neutral and 11% favorable. Among Democrats, 41% had unfavorable views, 20% neutral and 38% favorable.
Think about that for a moment. Seventy-three percent of white Republicans think they are better than other groups Fifty-eight percent are strongly resentful of blacks.
Then came the data-crunching over at Vox on June 2, which showed that the best predictor of Trump support was not whether they think the economy is getting worse, but whether they think President Obama is a Muslim. “If they are white and the answer is yes,” Philip Klinkner wrote, “89 percent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton.”
There are a whole lot more data points in that piece, but the takeaway is disturbing. It’s not the economy, stupid; it’s the brown people.
Indeed, if you chart Obama’s disapproval rating according to the level of an individual’s racial resentment, as Vox did, it’s practically a straight line. People dislike Obama to the extent they dislike blacks.
In a sense, the whole Trump story is a simple one: black, “Muslim” president leads to nativist backlash, with a consummate salesman-demagogue giving his followers permission to say what had previously been beyond the bounds of polite discourse.
Now, neither Vanderbilt nor the sources cited in Vox included Jews among these “others.” But we all know the shocking levels of anti-Semitism among Trump’s supporters, Trump’s retweets of white supremacists, and the now infamous (((echoes))) among various code words they use to dog-whistle to one another.
Let’s dig one level deeper, though.
Twenty seven years ago, feminist theoretician Peggy McIntosh published an influential essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” This short article is a must-read, and helps make the invisible visible. “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture,” she writes. Rather, “I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.”
Yet McIntosh went on to list 26 ways in which her skin color gave her advantages in everyday life, from “I can be pretty sure that my neighbors… will be neutral or pleasant to me” to “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to ‘the person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race.”
Finally, she observes, “there was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turf, and I was among those who could control the turf. My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make. I could think of myself as belonging in major ways and of making social systems work for me. I could freely disparage, fear, neglect, or be oblivious to anything outside of the dominant cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely.”
This is the “great” America that Trump’s supporters are mourning: the America of white male hegemony, no Spanish on the phone-tree menus, no political correctness to prohibit hateful speech toward women, and no Kenyan Muslims in the White House. (As Ali pointed out, it is the “White” House, after all.) White Supremacy isn’t about what Trump may or may not believe in his heart; it is about his core message of restoring a more nativist, sexist, white-hegemonic America.
Do we American Jews really think that we have so successfully assimilated that we are not part of the problem according to this white supremacist logic? That the viciously anti-Semitic trolling of Jonathan Weisman, Julia Ioffe and, for this paper, Bethany Mandel (among others) is just happenstance?
Jewish tradition is clear that it is a sin to support a candidate of racial resentment, nationalism, and demagoguery who wishes to oppress the foreigner and who makes generalizations about disfavored groups (see Exodus 22:21-22 or 23:9, Deuteronomy 23:7 or 24:17 or 27:19, Jeremiah 7:6 or 22:3, Psalms 94:6, Zechariah 7:10, Malachi 3:5 and elsewhere). It also flies in the face of our own recent experiences as immigrants to this country, and as objects of religious hatred throughout Western Civilization.
But, beyond that, it is extremely foolish. We Jews are not so white that the logic of white supremacy passes over us like the Angel of Death on Pesach. We, too, are Other. And if it is now acceptable to shower contempt on those who are different, we will not remain untouched.
Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.