Many U.S. commentators are saying that a Donald Trump campaign-closing television commercial is antisemitic.
The ad depicts three identifiable Jewish villains, all notionally associated with Hillary Clinton: billionaire George Soros; the Chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen; and the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein.
Over pictures of Clinton and the three, who, again, all happen to be Jewish, Trump talks about the sorry state of America.
He tells viewers that “the establishment has trillions at stake in this election,” and refers to “global special interests” who “control the levers of power in Washington.”
Warming to his theme, Trump then excoriates “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations …”
Journalist Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of the Talking Points Memo, says of the ad that it’s packed “with antisemitic dog whistles, antisemitic tropes and antisemitic vocabulary.”
The ad, Marshall says, employs “standard antisemitic themes and storylines, using established antisemitic vocabulary lined up with high profile Jews as the only Americans other than Clinton who are apparently relevant to the story.”
Viewing the ad, Huffington Post reporter Daniel Marans is put in mind of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, “a late 19th-century publication likely commissioned by the Tsarist Russian government.”
The Protocols, of which auto tycoon Henry Ford was a big fan, promulgated “a conspiracy theory that a Jewish-run cabal of global financial elites dictated world affairs.”
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, also chimes in.
“Whether intentional or not,” he said, “The images and rhetoric in this ad touch on subjects that antisemites have used for ages.”
These critics, and many others – including one time Saturday Night Live cast member turned Minnesota Senator, Al Franken – are probably right.
Donald Trump has recklessly and cheerfully appealed to all kinds of prejudice and bigotry about various forms of ‘otherness.’
His multiple, bigoted comments on Latinos and Muslims are notorious.
But Trump also raised no objection when his supporters shouted “Jew S-A” at reporters covering his rallies. Jew S-A is a variant of the common Trump campaign shout of U-S-A.
Nor was the Republican candidate particularly concerned when he learned that former American Nazi Party leader David Duke supported him.
The Trump campaign’s disavowal of Duke, many weeks later, was tepid, at best.
Attacking Jewish journalists
In fact, there is a vast body of evidence that Trump has trucked and traded with all kinds of quite openly antisemitic, alt-right types.
Writing in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper in October, Bradley Burston tells about the online hatred and violence visited on Jewish journalists, or journalists with Jewish sounding names, who had the temerity to comment critically on Trump.
Burston mentions the cases of Washington Post reporter Anne Appelbaum and Bethany Mandel, who writes for the left of centre Jewish publication, the Forward.
After Appelbaum wrote a piece saying the actions of Poland’s recently elected rightwing government might foreshadow the regime of a President Donald Trump, the chairman of the alt-right news site Breitbart, Stephen Bannon, who is now Trump’s campaign chair, said of her: “Hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.”
It was worse for Mandel.
When she wrote a story about Trump’s large number of openly antisemitic supporters there were online attacks calling her a “slimy Jewess” and saying she “deserved the oven.”
Burston also relates the case of Jewish writer Julia Ioffe, whose not-entirely-sycophantic profile of Melania Trump for GQ magazine annoyed some Trump loyalists.
Burston reports that “Ioffe was barraged with death threats and crank callers, one of whom played recorded speeches of Hitler on her phone line, another who told her that her face would look good on a lampshade.”
And there has been much, much more of this vile stuff. Some of the worst of it has been aimed at conservative Republicans who refuse to support Trump, such as Jonah Goldberg of the conservative magazine National Review.
Trump loyalists call Goldberg and his ilk “Kikeservatives.”
There’s a good reason, Burton writes, that so many antisemites support Trump.
“It’s not that he’s an antisemite. He’s something worse,” Burston says, “He’s an influential public figure who trades on antisemitism, who benefits from it, who enables and tolerates and excuses and pumps it, and who, most crucially, cannot afford to lose the votes of his admirers who hate Jews.”
All of which supports the argument that Trump’s closing television ad is deliberately and consciously designed to appeal to the darkest impulses in the American political psyche.
Antisemitic, yes but also, on the surface, anti-capitalist
But there’s something else these commentators are missing.
The ad does indeed associate prominent Jews, who are visually depicted but not named, with economic injustice and pain. The implication that there is a Jewish bankers’ and financiers’ conspiracy to control the economy will, indeed, speak directly to extremists and racists.
However, at the same time, the Trump commercial’s description of a kind of rigged economy — which works for the rich and powerful, but not for the people — almost could have come from the Bernie Sanders campaign.
In fact, while Sanders — and self-styled Canadian progressives of both red and orange hue — studiously use the code word “middle” to describe the working class, the Republican Trump is not similarly constrained.
Indeed, Trump’s closing ad may be the first time in many decades when a North American mainstream candidate or party (including the NDP) has used the phrase “working class.”
It is extraordinary.
Trump is a self-styled billionaire, who is proud of evading income tax, truculent about his tendency to stiff his contractors and workers, and not embarrassed to have supplied his businesses with cheap products made by low paid offshore workers.
As a candidate, Trump’s chief economic proposal, aside from tearing up existing trade agreements such as the NAFTA, is to radically lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy.
And yet, the Republican candidate is less reluctant than democratic socialist Sanders, or the social democratic NDP, to incur the accusation the he is somehow stirring up class warfare by employing the usually banned term “working class.”
That is what is scary about Trump.
He is a demagogic politician of the right who has the power to convince displaced and ignored members of the industrial working class that he can offer them hope.
In this, he is very much in the tradition of earlier Fascists – and one must not shy away from the political sobriquet that best suits Trump and his campaign.
Here’s how one former senior Canadian government official put it to this writer:
“Yes, this is Fascism. For now, it lacks the organizational trappings, but the brownshirts are on the fringes, together with the slogans, the incipient uniforms, the slogans, and the threat of physical violence. The denigration of all things democratic, denial of legitimacy for other authority (courts, independent police), and the myth of an uber-mensch…Yes, the real ingredients for Fascism. And it is altogether enabled by social media.”
A seasoned Canadian academic, who researched Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy, told this writer that, at this stage in their careers, Trump is, in fact, more of a Fascist than was Mussolini.
The man who became “Il Duce” and Hitler’s closest ally started his political career as a socialist.
Mussolini founded the Fascist movement, shortly after World War One, in large measure as a way to mobilize the legions of disgruntled former soldiers who felt as though nobody cared about them, and were disappointed in what they saw as former allies disrespecting Italy when they distributed post-war spoils at Versailles.
Hitler’s national-socialist, or Nazi, movement, in Germany, had similar origins, also based on unhappy war veterans and a sense of national betrayal.
But Hitler actually won an election, or at least gained the largest number of seats, and took power, at first, as head of a coalition of rightwing parties.
Mussolini and his Fascists had a small contingency in the Italian parliament in 1922 when the King invited them to take power.
King Victor Emmanuel, and more importantly his conservative industrialist and landowner friends, believed the Fascists’ appeal to the working and lower middle classes would serve as a bulwark against a rising Communist movement, which they feared much more than Mussolini’s rag-tag band of über-nationalists.
Trump’s extremism exceeds that of Mussolini in the early 1920s
At first, Mussolini ruled as a constitutional prime minister. He focused on rebuilding the economy, based on his philosophy of corporatism, which he considered to be an alternative both to socialism and unfettered capitalism.
After a few years, the Italian Fascist showed his true colours. He abolished unions, banned strikes and then got rid of democratic institutions completely, making himself a dictator: Il Duce, rather than the socialist Benito.
As for Trump, on the eve of his possible election, the real estate developer and reality TV star is more authoritarian and more hateful and violent in his rhetoric than was Mussolini when he took power in 1922.
The Italian Fascist leader, like Trump, was a virulent nationalist; but he did not, at first, play the scapegoat game. His appeal to angry and disillusioned supporters was, like the Donald’s, the promise to make Italy great again. It was not an appeal to racism and resentment of minority groups.
In his discourse about Mexican rapists, Islamic terrorists, violent blacks and – perhaps a bit more sotto voce – Jewish bankers, Trump goes way beyond the Italian Fascist dictator’s rhetoric, at least at the outset of the latter’s career in power.
Mussolini, like Trump, was a textbook narcissist, obsessed with his own glorious image.
But Mussolini was also a literate and cultured person.
By the time he became Italy’s prime minister, he had written a novel, edited a socialist newspaper, and translated works of philosophy from the French and German.
As Italy’s constitutional head of government and then dictator, Mussolini frequently quoted Plato’s Republic.
Trump probably thinks Plato is a Disney cartoon character. You know, the cute orange dog with the floppy ears.
Compared to the Italian Fascist dictator, Trump is an ignoramus and a boor.
At heart, though, both share contempt for democracy, a delusional sense of self-aggrandizement, and a belief that constitutional political office – the prime ministership in Mussolini’s case, the presidency in Trump’s – confers on them pretty much absolute power.
In that light, any Canadians who might want to comfort themselves that a potential Trump presidency would be anti-globalization and, somehow, anti-capitalist, should have their heads examined.
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