The Donald Made Them Do It
If Abraham Lincoln were alive today, as Yogi Berra might put it, he’d be spinning in his grave. Lincoln was more than America’s greatest rhetorician; before Donald J. Trump came along, he was the last president whose legitimacy was rejected by half the country as soon as his election was complete.
Although the 1860s version of “the resistance” didn’t turn out well, it never soured Lincoln on Americans’ capacity for good. “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” he proclaimed at the height of the Civil War. It’s the most evocative tautology in the American rhetorical canon. But its spirit is in short supply these days.
“You are not welcome here!” a Pittsburgh Presbyterian pastor screamed at Trump, her face contorted in hate. “We welcome everybody here!” That’s some kind of reverse tautology. Not expressing an idea in two different ways, but rather making two opposite sentiments as though they are compatible. It’s akin to the ancient Greek philosophers’ “liar’s paradox.” (“I always tell lies,” a man says. Is he lying or telling the truth?)
Yet there was nothing philosophical about CNN anchorman Don Lemon’s Trump-blaming after the murder of 11 American Jews in their Pittsburgh synagogue. “We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right,” Lemon said – thereby demonizing, oh, I don’t know, 100 million of his fellow Americans. Even more efficient than the vitriolic Pittsburgh Presbyterian, Lemon refuted himself in mid-sentence.
This encapsulates the state of the anti-Trump resistance. In the name of tolerance, a raging intolerance. I’m not a partisan person, so it’s difficult for me to reconcile how activists and Trump-bashing journalists are behaving these days. It takes a special cast of mind – and I don’t mean that as a compliment – to treat a hate crime or other atrocity as a political opportunity. Yet that’s what has been happening since Trump’s arrival on the political scene.
In early 2017, a rash of Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in several U.S. cities, most notably in St. Louis. At the same time, more than 100 bomb threats were phoned in to Jewish community centers all over the country. You don’t have to ask who got blamed, do you? Trump and his supporters, of course. In St. Louis, a Jewish woman surveying the cemetery desecration said Trump bore sole responsibility, which NPR dutifully reported. Vox News castigated Trump for not denouncing the damage even though he’d done just that during a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community at community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said. Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence toured the St. Louis cemetery personally.
Eventually, two African-Americans were arrested and convicted of these crimes. Alzado Harris told police he was drunk and on drugs when he went on a rampage at the St. Louis cemetery. It apparently had nothing to do with Trump or politics -- or even Jews. As for the man who called in scores of bomb threats, well, he was a left-wing journalist who’d been fired for fabricating stories on racially charged subjects. He said he was trying to get back at a girlfriend. To recap: Not Trump’s fault. Not his supporters’ doing.
Nobody in the media felt the need to apologize, let alone atone. There’s no cost to condemning Trump, regardless of the facts. When asked about their own excesses, these critics point to Trump’s pugnacity, his imprecision, his exaggerations, his insensitivity and – when it comes to immigrant policy – his demagoguery. His critics are not wrong, but does it excuse their own immoderation? Their own demagoguery?
This tactic of alibi-by-proxy was taken to new heights recently by lawyers for one of three white racists convicted of plotting to bomb Somali immigrants in their homes and places of worship in Kansas. They asked a sentencing judge for leniency on account of Trump’s 2016 campaign rhetoric. “The court cannot ignore ... one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history,” the attorneys wrote.
This sounds like a desperate gambit, but it’s worked in legal settings before. Attorneys for U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl played the Trump card – and basically got their client released from custody. In San Francisco, a Mexican citizen previously deported from the U.S. five times was acquitted by a jury of killing 32-year-old Kate Steinle. The defendant had found a stolen handgun and fired a stray shot that killed her as she walked on a pier with her father. Trump had made an issue of the case on the campaign trail, which apparently helped the defendant beat the most serious charges against him.
I don’t blame defense lawyers trying to help a client, even if they use the president of the United States as a foil. But when the media whips up hatred against him because some anti-Semitic, immigrant-hating murderer stalks a synagogue, that’s something else altogether. Trump’s daughter and son-in-law would have been a target of the Pittsburgh killer. Trump’s grandchildren, too.
Yet, the mainstream media amplified the publicity stunt of a group called Bend the Arc, which demanded that the president not set foot in Pittsburgh. Bend the Arc was identified in the New York Times, Washington Post, and elsewhere as an organization of Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh. If Trump was that misleading, as he often is, the Post fact-checkers would give the comment four Pinocchios.
Bend the Arc is based in New York, not Pittsburgh. Although it mobilizes “Jewish voices,” it’s not a religious organization; it’s a political action committee formed in 2015 by the son of Democratic donor George Soros with the express intention of helping elect left-wing Democrats. As the 2016 presidential cycle took shape, it’s raison d’etre morphed into opposing Donald Trump. Nothing wrong with that, but “Anti-Trump Organization Bashes Trump After Synagogue Shooting” is not as enticing a headline as “Pittsburgh Jewish Leaders Tell Trump to Stay Out After Synagogue Shooting.”
The ploy worked, and the city’s Democratic mayor went along with it. The “resistance” used a tragedy to essentially abrogate unto itself the authority to tell a U.S. president what cities he can visit. And it doesn’t stop there.
“Any strategy for enhancing the security of American Jewry should involve shunning Trump’s Jewish enablers,” proclaimed Franklin Foer in the Atlantic. “Their money should be refused, their presence in synagogues not welcome. They have placed their community in danger.”
Read those three sentences again. They seem to say that Jews who support the democratically elected president of the United States should be banned from their own places of worship. This is not a sustainable position, but I know Frank Foer, and he is not an intemperate man. The anti-Semitic death threats he and other Jewish critics of Trump receive are not imagined -- and the Pittsburgh shooting was an alarming wake-up call. Nonetheless, liberalism carries with it difficult obligations. The “resistance” must find ways to resist the temptation of becoming the very thing they oppose.