In 1992, in the midst of a tough primary against Republican President George H. W. Bush, Pat Buchanan said that “David Duke is busy stealing from me. I have a mind to go down there and sue that dude for intellectual property theft.”
David Duke, of course, is the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard who was at that time also campaigning for the Republican nomination.
Twenty years beforehand, in a memo to President Nixon’s campaign staff, Buchanan instructed that the Manchester Union Leader should report “all the peace money, New York Jewish money” being donated to Nixon’s opponents.
Though voters were made aware of these and other anti-Semitic comments, Buchanan would go on to win 23% of the vote, largely unharmed by his self-comparison to a white supremacist.
The Republican Party has a long history of anti-Semitism that can be traced from Ulysses S. Grant’s military order to expel Jews from all areas under his command during the Civil War, to Republican support for pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh’s America First Committee, to Duke and Buchanan in the late twentieth century.
In recent years, however, that history appeared to have been put to bed. After the 1992 primaries, Republicans worked hard to excise anti-Semites from their ranks, following in the footsteps of William Buckley Jr. (himself the son of an anti-Semitic conservative) who condemned Jew-hatred from the 1950s on.
If anything, Republicans now verge on offensive philo-Semitism – the remaining anti-Semitism they truly grapple with is that which is borne of their beliefs in America as a Christian nation.
At the same time, the Republican Party has become increasingly vociferous in its support for Israel, with this year’s party platform all but abandoning the two-state solution in favor of a Greater Israel policy. Though this support for the Jewish State can sometimes be used to mask anti-Semitism, it nonetheless marks a significant shift from the days of Buchanan condemning a “cabal of polemicists and public officials” seeking “to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel.”
That Republicans have so quickly and convincingly shed much of their anti-Semitism is admirable – but it’s beginning to look like that might not last. Donald Trump’s electoral college victory and his actions since may well have dragged the Republican Party back decades in terms of anti-Semitism.
In other words, the era of Jew-hating politics is on the rise once again.
The anti-Semitism from Trump’s followers during the campaign was vocal, explicit, and often condemned by society at large. Whether it’s the supporter chanting “Jew-S-A” at the media, the man who told a reporter to “go to f**king Auschwitz,” or the two Trump backers who shouted the Nazi slogan “lugenpresse,” each of these incidents received extensive press coverage.
What went more unnoticed was the barely-veiled anti-Semitism coming from Trump himself. Although Trump’s speech condemning the “international bankers” supporting Hillary Clinton received significant coverage, little of it was focused on unraveling the anti-Semitic connotations of the phrase. Even less robustly analyzed or critiqued were the anti-Semitic stereotypes associated with Trump’s declaration that the election was going to be “rigged” by the media and elites.
Unpacking each of these is fairly easy. In the earlier speech, Trump said in full that “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.” Hillary’s meeting “in secret” immediately invokes the Jewish cabal, as do the implications of dual loyalties and unadulterated greed.
As for rigged elections, that in and of itself is a common stereotype – the scheming Jews meddling in elections to ensure that their choice wins. The actual rigging was in this case being attributed by Trump to the media – and who owns the media? As the “Jew-S-A”-chanter helpfully reminds us, “We’re run by the Jews, ok?”
Trump’s final ad of the campaign season depicted George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein – all prominent Jews – and ties them to “global special interests.” This received a little more mainstream press coverage than previous incidents, but still flew by largely unnoticed.
By far the most outrage has come from Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. We needn’t revisit that conversation, which has been covered to death in the Jewish and national press. However, despite the condemnations from dozens of Jewish groups, hundreds of members of Congress, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans, Trump hasn’t pulled back from his decision.
His anti-Semitic campaign tactics succeeded. His normalization of implicit anti-Semitism will stain American politics for years to come. It won’t be a surprise to see Jew-haters filtering out of the woodwork now that Donald Trump has set the stage for them, and soon enough we may well see the media shrug at Nazi slogans in the same way they ignored the coded language of “international bankers.”
The widespread horror at Richard Spencer and the Washington, D.C. white nationalist conference has failed to prevent the normalization of such outrages. Despite having spoken before a crowd performing Nazi salutes, Spencer has been invited to speak at universities and on NPR.
Trump’s campaign has shown those so inclined that the political drawbacks of open or barely-veiled anti-Semitism are not as strong as they used to be – and that, in fact, such anti-Semitism may be an effective national political platform. William Buckley Jr.’s great campaign has, evidently, failed. Jew-hating politics is back.