They looked at his marital history, his media persona, his vulgarity — and they concluded that Donald Trump was not a true conservative. In fact, some of the strongest and enduring critiques of him have come from social conservatives, such as David Brooks and John Podhoretz.
At the end of the day — Election Day, to be exact — many conservatives pulled the levers for him anyway, because he was preferable to Hillary Clinton. Trump’s most vociferous supporters continue to sing his praises, referring to those who disagree with them by the horrific terms “libtard” or “cuckservative.”
The joke is on them.
Because over the past two weeks, the Trump administration has made a series of statements that seem oddly leftist.
The Trump Administration’s Statement on the Holocaust.
One of the dominant modes of liberal thinking in America is the urge to universalize experiences. (But, not always; there is justified opposition to those who would drown out “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter”).
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Trump issued a [statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The statement mentioned the “victims, survivors, heroes,” and said nothing about the Jews. On several occasions, the administration had golden opportunities to backtrack, qualify, explain, and otherwise apologize for what could have simply been a historical oversight.
No way. The removal of the Jews from their own history was deliberate; as absurd and as tasteless as marking Good Friday without mentioning Jesus.
Where did this omission of the Jews come from?
Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt refers to it as “soft Holocaust denial,” which has been mostly a tactic of the radical right.
I have analyzed the Soviet roots of the “Jews not a central part of the Holocaust” theme.
Others have noted that it was actually the intrepid Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal who first originated the notion of five million non-Jews dying in the Holocaust” – a number that he conjured up in order to elicit more sympathy for Jewish victims, but which has contributed to the imagined de-emphasis of specific Jewish pain.
“Tribal” Jews would want to emphasize the uniqueness of the Jewish experience in the Holocaust. They will focus on — correctly — the fact that the Nazis targeted all Jews for destruction — a claim that cannot apply to any other group.
They will focus on the unique Jewish lessons that have emerged from the ashes –- most specifically, Emil Fackenheim’s ringing insistence that we hand no posthumous victories to Hitler – which means that maintenance of Judaism and the continuity of the Jewish people.
“Universal” Jews are quick to raise up the “not for Jews only” lessons of the Holocaust. That is the dominant message of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Universal Jews see the Holocaust as a universal warning system for humanity. They will see it as an illustration of the potential demonic nature of science and technology. They are absolutely correct. But, some universal Jews are uncomfortable with Jewish particularity. So, too, was this administration’s statement.
One of the most annoying aspects of left-leaning intellectual life is its rampant intellectual relativism –- defined as: “the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong…are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.”
This is precisely what the late conservative thinker, Allan Bloom, was railing against in his classic The Closing of the American Mind. He, and other neoconservative thinkers and social critics, liked to lay the causes for the plague of intellectual relativism right on the doorsteps of the elite universities:
The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism…The purpose of their education is not to make them scholars but to provide them with a moral virtue—openness.
Witness, then, this administration’s suggestion that there are “alternative facts” – the most recent of them being Kellyanne Conway’s repeated insistence on the historicity of something called the “Bowling Green Massacre.” It is a war on truth that would cause Bloom to roll over in his grave.
Trump’s Statement on the Israeli Settlements
Those on the center-left of Israeli politics assert that the settlement enterprise in the West Bank is morally problematic and strategically dangerous.
In point of fact, many of Trump’s Jewish supporters voted for him precisely because they believed that he would be “good for Israel.” John Kerry’s December speech about the settlements at the United Nations only served to reinforce their certainty that Trump would be better for Israel.
No one expected this statement from President Trump:
We do not believe that existing settlements present an obstacle to peace, but the construction of new settlements expanding existing settlements may not contribute to achieving this goal.
This is precisely what many center-left American Jews have been saying for decades.
Trump’s Moral Relativism Regarding America
Almost nothing defines the leftist narrative about America more than the willful indictment of American history — the destruction of natives; slavery; the McCarthy period; the clampdown of radicals in the 1960s, etc. In the late 1960s, it was common for radicals to spell America as Amerika – the Germany spelling.
Shocking, then, to note: in a recent interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, President Trump appeared to equate U.S. actions with the authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”
In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens is aghast at this pronouncement. He wonders aloud: imagine if Barack Obama had said such a thing?
In 2009, Mr. Obama gave a series of speeches containing passing expressions of regret for vaguely specified blemishes from the American past. Examples: “The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in history.” And “we’ve made some mistakes.” This was the so-called Apology Tour, in which the word “apologize” was never uttered. Even so, conservatives still fume about it.
And, let’s be clear: when those on the center-left have criticized America, it has not been for gleeful purposes. Rather, it has been to emphasize the need for a national teshuvah (repentance), a way for this country to heal itself and to move forward.
As for Trump, we cannot know what he had in mind in comparing the American shadow to Vladimir Putin. I am not saying that Donald Trump has become a leftist. I am merely suggesting, albeit playfully, that our new president’s statements have been chaotic, confusing, and seemingly devoid of any kind of ideological coherence. And that, more than anything else, should give us pause.