By David Lehrer
Last week Donald Trump invoked, wittingly or unwittingly, a classic anti-Semitic canard,
Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plan the destruction of global sovereignty in order to enrich these global interest powers, her special interest friends and her donors.
Charges regarding “international bankers,” “Bilderbergers,” “Illuminati” and “Elders of Zion” meeting to secretly undermine the world of finance and enrich themselves have been the stock in trade of anti-Semites for eons. Disproven forgeries, virulent demagogues’ fall, the millions of lives lost to hate’s influence have not shaken these absurd conspiracy theories’ attraction — here or abroad.
In the wake of Trump’s comments his defenders have come forward to proclaim his relationship with Jews as friends, family members, and employees as if that insulates the candidate from the charge of fomenting bigotry and hate.
As one who has been actively involved in combatting, exposing and monitoring hate groups and their leaders for decades, I long ago abandoned the notion that an individual’s state of mind was relevant to an assessment of whether they were bigoted or not. I am not, nor is anyone who is speaking publicly, Trump’s psychiatrist or his confessor. What his innermost thoughts and motivations are remain unknown — we can only judge him by his actions and his words.
On that score, Trump is now a classic demagogue who lays the foundation for bigotry and prejudice on a massive scale. Virtually all of his rhetoric is laced with the classic historic tropes of racists and anti-Semites.
Last year, Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, wrote an illuminating essay in the Wall Street Journal, The Return of Anti-Semitism. In it he warned of a disturbing resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East and opined that “an ancient hatred has been reborn.”
Sacks found a link between the instances over the past two millennia when anti-Semitism became deadly,
Anti-Semitism becomes deadly only when a culture, nation or faith suffers from a cognitive dissonance so profound that it becomes unbearable. It happens when the way a group sees itself is contradicted by the way it is seen by the world. It is the symptom of an unendurable sense of humiliation.
These humiliations resulted not in introspection but in a search for foreign culprits — for external enemies who could be blamed and destroyed.
Hate cultivated for such cultural and political ends resolves the dissonance between past glory and current ignominy. By turning the question “What did we do wrong?” into “Who did this to us?”, it restores some measure of self-respect and provides a course of action. In psychiatry, the clinical terms for this process are splitting and projection; it allows people to define themselves as victims.
Donald Trump invariably engages in “splitting and projection”, no matter what goes wrong it is someone else’s fault — from the macro to the micro — that’s clearly how he thinks. He doesn’t need “external enemies” he cleverly feeds off of domestic differences that he terms foreign and alien.
In Trump’s view, our nation has been “humiliated”, it has been disrespected; only he can keep us from the “brink of collapse and chaos” brought about by duplicitous leaders who don’t care about our future. Only he can counter the secret financiers and political leaders who meet to undermine our financial system (with a manipulated Federal Reserve as a co-conspirator). He alone can protect our cities from the alien “hordes” that are tolerated by corrupt political leaders who want to swell their voting rolls. The first debate was lost because of some hidden hand’s fiddling with his microphone, his position in the polls is due to a conspiracy of the media and the “corrupt elites.” Speaker Ryan and other Republican leaders haven’t done their jobs in defending him appropriately because they too have conspired against the “anti-establishment” candidate.
He has also mastered anticipatory victimhood — the election “will be rigged,” obviously by forces that are out to humiliate him — as they have the nation. And on and on — the list of manipulators and “hidden hands” seems endless. Even Melania claims his Access Hollywood comments were the fault of Billy Bush who “egged him [Trump] on.”
No matter what goes wrong there is never a hint of introspection or doubt — it is always “who did this to me?”
The “other” in Europe was invariably Jews; in Trump’s 2016 America, the “other” can be, and has been, Muslims, Latinos, African Americans and other targets who can fill the role of the culprits in humiliatingAmerica [and Trump] and keeping it [him] from being “great again.”
Trump is reading from a script that inevitably leads to rancor, division, stereotyping and scapegoating. The horrible template is clear to anyone with a sense of history: perpetually blaming the “other,” while seeing oneself as a victim, in combination with political power can become toxic.
Whether Trump knows, or cares, about what his rhetoric leads to is unknown and largely irrelevant. What is known is that its historical precedents are tragic and cause for deep concern.
This piece was featured in The Jewish Journal on October 18, 2016