A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Donald Trump’s Antisemitism—And Ours

Ira Allen, Northern Arizona University [1]

(Published February 27, 2018)

I met Timmy when I was in grad school in the Midwest. Hesitant, slim, patchily-bearded, he was a neo-Nazi, yes, but trying to not be. Timmy was working to stay off heroin, and I drove him back to his grandma’s house one afternoon, riding the Indiana hill-ridges off to the side of Bloomington in my little red truck, thick woods spilling into the hollers below. Jouncing along the cracked asphalt, I asked a bit nervously about his tattoos, and he told me he was as afraid of going back to the Klan as he was of smack. It was brotherhood, he said, a kind of belonging you knew was wrong but that pulled you in, violently even, and he didn’t know yet how to stay away. He was afraid of white supremacism in the same way he was afraid of heroin,[1] was afraid of the two together. I felt, in that moment, some of what it was to be a young white man from rural Indiana, with little in the way of functional community or life skills, trapped by bonds of abusive love that sustain hate.

I haven’t seen Timmy in years, and I heard that he had overdosed and died. It’s sad to think; he was a sweet kid, entangled still in his own web of wrongdoing when I knew him, but with a strong enough sense of shame to make me feel hope.[2] If Timmy were getting clean today, I don’t know how much hope he could have or inspire. I don’t know if it would be possible for him to be seen as a sweet kid by someone of my persuasion. I don’t know if he would feel so profoundly embarrassed by the swastika on the side of his neck, ashamed of the white power symbols on his chest. I don’t know that I could—or should—hope for him in the same way if he didn’t.

The contemporary rhetorical environment is less able to sustain a Timmy, a particular type of rotten egg hoping to change his life and rejoin the larger political community. Forgiveness and redemption—in our era of certainty that political others are irredeemably treasonous, deplorable, simply filled with hate—seem further down the horizon, not only in national politics and affects circulating around abstract Other-groups, but also interpersonally. But, why shouldn’t things stand thus? After all, I have myself written on the moral permissibility of punching neo-Nazis (tl;dr: a qualified “for it”) (Allen, “On Nazi-Punching”). The trouble is that, with the erosion of conditions for the internal wrangle that made the Timmy I met possible, democratic hope teeters on the brink.

A publicly shameless antisemitism, white supremacism and white nationalism[3] have taken the stage. Racialized hate, always hyperactive but for some time declining to speak its name, has become unashamed in America once more. Donald Trump, with the voices of hate to which he has lent something like legitimacy, has diminished the effective shamefulness of white supremacism. This has democratic consequences, because it is shame that enables the (always too slow) progressive revisions of who can count as a person, and thus who can participate in developing a political will.

Shame is not an ahistorical constant, but a circulating affect. It is a sense of impermissibility set in motion (in part) through public performances by powerful people. This affect can foster norms of either inclusion or exclusion, but always defines the boundaries of the social.[4] Timmy was ashamed to be a neo-Nazi, registering it as both a real part of his identity and an impermissible mode of life, incompatible with full participation in the larger world. Today’s neo-Nazis, emboldened by Trumpism, are not so ashamed.

The Unshaming of Antisemitism

In Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, aspiring neo-Nazi James A. Fields murdered anti-fascist counter-protester Heather Heyer with his car, plowing through a crowd of activists and striking her dead.[5] Elsewhere throughout the city, horrifying footage showed gangs of young white men in khaki pants, white or black polo shirts, and red hats or helmets battering anti-fascist counter-protesters, who had come in the wake of a torch-lit white supremacist march at the University of Virginia the night before. At that torch-bearing “defense” of a statue of slave-holding Confederate general Robert E. Lee, marchers chanted, “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us” (Spencer and Stolber). America professed to be shocked by this pair of unabashedly white supremacist events, though most news reports softened that still condemnatory “white supremacist” to the now bizarrely neutralizing “white nationalist” when describing Unite the Right rioters.

Donald Trump’s considered response, offered three days later at a press conference in New York, was telling: “You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was very violent” (Merica). The latter group, of course, was the true focus of Trump’s remarks, which repeatedly presented antifa as “very violent” while characterizing neo-Nazis, only once, as merely “bad.” Trump’s immediate response, offered on August 12, was even worse, describing the events of Charlottesville as an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides” (Astor et al.)—without mentioning that the organizers of the Unite the Right rally included known neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, nor discussing the fact that the rally’s violences were primarily committed by these right-wing extremists, who had come with the explicit intention of “doing battle.”[6] The murder of Heather Heyer, again, was perpetrated by neo-Nazi James Fields, though one wouldn’t have known it from Trump’s commentary.[7]

Liberal media erupted with condemnations of this both-sidesism, and even conservative politicians and outlets chastised Trump for failing to denounce neo-Nazis[8] (though, troublingly, his Jewish staff remained largely silent).[9] Interestingly, however, Trump’s response followed closely a pattern of liberal both-sidesism set in response to previous clashes. Trump’s concern for violence by “both sides” resonated with the concerned framing offered, for instance, by CNN commentators Madison Park and Kyung Lah when “violent protesters” prevented “right-wing commentator” (and now widely recognized, fully complicit media platformer of neo-Nazis[10]) Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at UC Berkeley in February 2017 (Park and Lah). Indeed, even Trump’s term for the antifa activists in Charlottesville, “the alt-left,” was originally invented by rightists and drew its public credibility from a both-sidesist argument articulated most cuttingly by liberals.[11]

Months prior to Charlottesville, in Berkeley, California, a Trumpist “Patriot’s Day” rally devolved into violent clashes between far-right militia members and antifascist counter-protesters. We like to say “devolved,” but street brawling was probably the telos of the event. Following two other such clashes in the preceding month and a half, rightists had flown and driven to Berkeley from all over the country to attend a rally billed as “pro-Trump” but had prepared for it as something more than that.

In internet forums, Facebook groups, and militia meetings, and with the giddiness of schoolchildren planning to play hooky and go quarry-jumping, “Patriots” anticipated a rally that would be as much war as politics. On premier white-supremacist website Stormfront, forum member LinuxGeek proclaimed, “It’s about time we all start getting prepared. Come armed and move in groups. The enemy is losing the culture war. They lost control of the police force in most states and now the people are rising up” (LinuxGeek). Nine days later, heavily-armored rightists beat black-clad antifa in the streets of Berkeley as the gathered police forces, having confiscated the weapons of the latter, stood aside.

Unlike kids cutting school to go swimming, the rightists descending on Berkeley on April 15, 2017 had come, as the phrase goes, with malice aforethought. That malice flew under white supremacist banners, and these waved alongside flags emblazoned with stars and stripes. Rightists wearing Trump hats threw Nazi “Sieg Heil” salutes and carried signs with cryptic assertions like “Da Goyim Know.” They held aloft a flag featuring a refashioned Nazi ensign composed of multiple renderings of the Trumpist meme-word “Kek.” And there was the violence itself: part of a long history of street fighting between fascists and anti-fascists, the ethno-nationalist right and the anarchist left. Rightists involved in such fighting have not always mobilized under explicit markers of antisemitism and white supremacism, but these did.

Without going down the shit-stained rabbit hole of white supremacist symbology,[12] the take-home is that rightist “Patriots” of all descriptions marched and fought under banners explicitly devoted to antisemitism and white nationalism. Berkeley, in this sense, was a staging ground for the heightened violence in Charlottesville a few months later.

Of course, not all rightists are directly racist or overtly invested in antisemitism. As journalist Natasha Lennard noted in an excellent Esquire piece, “This is not to say that each, or even the majority, of the hundreds of pro-Trump attendees sympathize with the Venn diagram of white supremacist, alt-right, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups which intersect with the president’s broader support base.” Rather, the point is that the constellation of hate gets interwoven at all levels irrespective of varying individual attitudes.

“Consubstantiality” is a rhetorical term for the way in which separate beings are together and, in being together, are one. To be consubstantial, as Kenneth Burke explains in A Rhetoric of Motives, is to be at the place where “stylistic identifications” and “identifications of interest” flow together (46). Consubstantiality means being together in style and, through that, being together in substance as well. Thinking in this way helps us to account for the troubling confluence of Trumpism and antisemitism.

Trumpism is, first and foremost, the rhetorical production of out-groups. In modern history, there is no out-group production more exhaustively studied and ubiquitously present in and at the margins of popular culture than Nazi Judenhass. Antisemitism, Nazis, the Holocaust: these are the figures par excellence for rhetorical production of an out-group.[13] When Trump returned a month after Charlottesville in September 2017 to insist that his refusal to unequivocally denounce antisemitism in August had been correct because antifa are “bad dudes” (Collins), this could not help but resonate with Nazism. The focus is on the production of out-groups, and the overwhelming emphasis is on rhetorically producing out-groups who are not not the targets of and defenders against resurgent antisemitism.

Such consubstantiality is part of why liberal responses to Berkeley and other clashes, which focused largely on antifa in their both-sidesist condemnations of violence,[14] set the stage for Trump’s failure to condemn violent antisemites in Charlottesville. Berkeley, like Charlottesville after it, was less about street fighting between opposing groups of political extremists—as a cursory read of many news outlets and liberal think-pieces would suggest—than it was about unshaming. What we saw in these clashes, and in the failure of public response to focus primarily on condemning neo-Nazis, was first and foremost the re-emergence of previously socially unacceptable views (however widely held, privately) as acceptable forms of public discourse—free speech to be protected from violent counter-protesters.

In this regard, tut-tutting liberals who wagged their fingers at Berkeley antifa for violating the free-speech rights of generalized “rightists” or “Trump supporters” enabled Trump’s later response to Charlottesville. Still worse were media depictions of antifa and white supremacists as opposite sides of the same coin, each due equal representation.[15] Given a limited attention economy, and given competing sets of moral claims—in the case of Berkeley, claims to resist fascist buildup of violence and claims to an absolute right of free speech—which claims we decide to privilege matters immensely. Liberal reactions to Berkeley primarily emphasized free speech, habitually de-emphasizing the threat of fascist violence.[16] Trump’s “both sides” argument after Charlottesville, roundly condemned though it was, in fact echoed liberal both-sidesism after Berkeley. Both contributed to the unshaming of white supremacy.

Titles Matter

Not only did neo-Nazis in Berkeley collaborate with other, “non-”hate groups in organizing and attending the rally, but their symbols flew proudly above rally and clashes alike. Before, during, and after the violence, red Trump hats bobbed alongside American flags and Hitlerian emblems. Patriotism, nationalism, white nationalism, and antisemitism melded, and hardly for the first time. The #MAGA hashtag of Trump’s campaign sloganeering accompanied in-person Sieg Heil salutes and Twitter celebrations of the violence by “Proud Boys” identifying as “western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world” (@ProudBoysCA). And, in a grotesquely pseudo-ironic display of true colors, rightists of all micro-ideological descriptions drank rich white milk before going into battle. The milk might seem inconsequential, but it registered a unifying commitment to whiteness über alles, to a core identity for the rally and for Trumpism (even as both include some people of color).

Celebrity white nationalist Richard Spencer took to Twitter to offer his thoughts on the violence in Berkeley: “Hail Victory!” (@RichardBSpencer, exclamation point sic, victory sic, hail sic). The next day, facing antifa/Black Bloc protests against a public appearance of his own (scheduled at Auburn University, canceled by the university, and subsequently ordered held upon Spencer’s judicial appeal), Spencer retweeted the conclusion of a fellow member of the Alt-Right Twittersphere, a man describing himself as “Nationalist. Populist. Reactionary. #ProudGoys. #AltSouth.” That man’s take? “The White Bloc is needed to shut down violent antifas and communists, disrupt PC on college campuses and defend free speech & assembly.”[17] Against the anarchist Black Bloc, the ethnonationalist “White Bloc.”

But, why call all this “Trump’s antisemitism”? It’s not like Donald Trump was out there punching antifascists on the Berkeley streets, or on the phone negotiating to get Richard Spencer’s hate speech a podium at Auburn. He only intermittently, not even ultimately, condemned neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, yes, but he did do so directly at points along the way. So, what’s the relation? At stake is the public rise of antisemitism in explicit identification with the rise of Donald Trump,[18] accomplished through the verbal magic of consubstantiality.

Consubstantiality, again, names a way of being together in language that is at once both symbolic and material. It is about difference and oneness, about being “both joined and separate, at once a distinct substance and consubstantial with another” (Burke, A Grammar of Motives, 21). It is a term for the way ideas and attitudes become substantially entwined by being placed repeatedly in proximity with each other.

Consubstantiality is about flags waving together and the alliances they make real, sometimes over and above anybody’s explicit intentions and sometimes not. It is about titles. It is, as Burke puts it, a matter of “acting-together; and in acting together, men [sic] have common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, attitudes that make them consubstantial” (A Grammar of Motives, 21). Or, as neuroscientists say, neurons that fire together wire together. Any way you slice it, the public shamelessness of racial hate in the United States today is consubstantial with the rise of Donald Trump. There is an acting-together, over and above individual ideological differences, that twins the two, makes them substantially one. Indeed, Trump’s winning of the Electoral College, and thus the Presidency, was immediately celebrated by a wide range of antisemitic and other hate groups (Reaves; Pigott).

Who Owns Donald Trump’s Antisemitism?

Racialized hate and Trumpism are different, but they also are together, and are together through a series of symbolic identifications ranging from shared slogans to shared practices of violence. Those identifications have been made possible, in important ways, by a media ecology that privileges outrage as a driver of clicks and shares.[19]

Witness, for instance, the bizarre CNN chyron accompanying a post-election, pre-inauguration segment on whether Trump should disavow celebrity white supremacist Richard Spencer: “Alt-Right Founder Questions if Jews Are People.” A part of what made the chyron so bizarre was that, as Sammy Nickalls notes in Esquire, “while Spencer is, indeed, an anti-Semite, this quote in particular was not technically about whether Jews are people. Instead, he was asking whether media figures denouncing Trump are people, or if they were soulless golems created by the Jews” (Nickalls). Noteworthy, too, is that CNN’s ham-fisted denunciation of Spencer was accompanied by a nearly three-minute conversation about the pros and cons of denouncing white supremacists who support you, as though that were even a legitimate topic of conversation. The net effect was, as with much media coverage of Trumpism, to amplify antisemitism as a publicly legitimate force in American political life. Trumpism and antisemitism fire together, and they shoot across every television screen in the nation.

Trump’s campaign speeches and popular reception, as others have shown and in keeping with his long history of racism and xenophobia,[20] brimmed with racial and religious animus along multiple axes. He inveighed against Arabs, equated with Islamist terrorism (the only sort of either Islam or terrorism many Americans are willing to imagine, notwithstanding ample evidence to the contrary).[21] He purported to love people of color, but followed longstanding Republican rhetorical policy in using lightly coded language to associate Black people with governmental waste and the unjust redistribution of (implicitly white) resources.[22] He inveighed against Latinx people, exemplified by Mexicans and presumed immigrants, whom he equated with violence and economic decline (both of which promised to be magically reversed by the building of a wall).

On the campaign trail and beyond, Trump consistently equated non-white groups with crime—to which he, the law-and-order candidate, would be the solution. Identifying crime with non-whiteness and himself as the enemy of crime, Trump established his white supremacist bona fides through a sort of transubstantiation. Trump’s rhetoric, like that of his supporters (and, for that matter, many who see themselves as opposing him), is racialized through and through, and non-whiteness is consistently identified as threatening.[23] So, it is not surprising that Trumpism wires together with racialized hate. Distressing, frightening, and in need of continual resistance, but not surprising or theoretically difficult to grasp. Trump embodies the casual white supremacism that is a core value of the United States,[24] nearly untempered by the shame that would hold direct expressions of that attitude in check and thus make substantive democratic growth feasible.

What was surprising, to many people, was that this toxic bloom in the rhetorical ecology of the United States also included a re-licensing of antisemitism as socially acceptable. After all, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is a committed member of the religiously serious Chabad movement within Judaism and a key player in the Trump White House; Trump’s daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism in 2009. Trump has longstanding ties to hardliner Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Kushner grew up knowing the man as a family friend (Kantor).

Influential American Jews have repeatedly assured us that Trump is no antisemite,[25] with more plausibility than those insisting against all evidence that he is not racist or misogynist. There is something theoretically interesting about the antisemitism that would be Donald Trump’s. Trump’s antisemitism tells us less about Trump the person—though he clearly “has” antisemitism, as this essay shows—than about a force of long standing within American culture. Understanding that force, notwithstanding Trump’s own wildly anti-democratic attitudes and behaviors, may help us to improve American democracy generally.

Certainly, Trump himself is a friend to one vision of Israel and of Judaism, though this hardly makes him a friend to Jews in general. His 2016 campaign speech to Israeli lobbying group AIPAC (a rhetorical rite of passage famously declined by Bernie Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win even a single U.S. presidential primary) brought down the house. There, he coupled his usual rhetoric of self-aggrandizement with lines like, “When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one,” and characteristically implausible assertions, such as that“ [President Obama] may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me” (Trump qtd. in Begley). In Trump’s proposed budget, marked by substantial cuts in U.S. aid to all other countries, U.S. financial and military support for Israel remained untouched (Wilkinson).

A heavy step further, Trump has waffled on illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, and he has seemed at least sometimes to be jettisoning the U.S.’s longstanding proclamation of commitment to independent Palestinian and Israeli states for openness to a single, Jewish-dominated state. Indeed, Trump’s chosen ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has a pronounced antipathy to the very possibility of a Palestinian state (Gearan and Eglash). From one vantage point, all this seems like friendliness to a Jewish people.

Then, too, a variety of Trump’s public proclamations since assuming the Presidency have been either pro-Jewish or at least ostensibly critical of antisemitism. Despite badly bungling International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a statement that failed to mention Jews at all (Gibson),[26] Trump pulled it together to proclaim May 2017 Jewish American Heritage Month coherently, in accordance with a tradition begun in 2006 under President G.W. Bush.[27] And, though reluctant in the sense that it took months before he would do so, he eventually did offer in late February 2017 a forceful condemnation of antisemitism and some indication that he would like to see it eradicated.[28] Of course, Trump’s reluctance in this regard itself reads as antisemitism. Who has to be pushed to condemn rampant bigotry, be they president or otherwise?

Still, there is also the fact that the first year of the Trump administration has seen gradual motion toward the ousting of overtly antisemitic and/or unrepentantly white-nationalist elements at the heart of Trump’s administration. And there remains the simple reality—again—that Trump’s daughter, his son-in-law, his grandchildren are Jewish. No U.S. president has ever been personally closer to Jewish people. Small wonder that Jewish groups have at times been divided over the question of whether to identify Trump’s administration with antisemitism (Guttman).

To the hard-eyed antisemites of Stormfront, all this has merited hundreds of responses to the question, “Is Donald Trump another jew- puppet [sic],” most eventually answering in the affirmative. As longtime forum member The Q wrote in early April 2017, following Trump’s bombing of Syria, “The Trumpfront era, the era of foolishly deluding ourselves that somehow Trump was a closet white nationalist sympathizer, is effectively over” (The Q). Surely, one sort of observer would conclude, no antisemite is Trump. The loudest antisemites, at least, have come over time to declaim what they see as his perfidy.

And yet, the presidential campaign, election, and early governing months of Donald Trump unquestionably fired together with antisemitic violence and threats in a manner not seen for decades. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) identified an astounding 86% increase in antisemitic incidents in the first quarter of 2017, on top of an already very worrying 34% increase throughout 2016 (Anti-Defamation League, “U.S. Anti-Semitic Incidents Spike 86 Percent…”).[29] Alarmingly, that increase has held steady, with 1,299 incidents of antisemitic assault, harassment, or vandalism through September of 2017, a total increase of 67% in the first three quarters of 2017 over the same period in 2016 (Anti-Defamation League, “ADL Data Shows Anti-Semitic Incidents Continue Surge…”).

During the months immediately following Trump’s election, in the neighborhood of 160 Jewish community centers received bomb threats (Abderholden).[30] Through the 2016 campaign and the early days of Trump’s presidency in 2017, multiple Jewish cemeteries were vandalized across the country, with hundreds of gravestones desecrated (Anti-Defamation League, “U.S. Anti-Semitic Incidents Spike 86 percent . . . ”). Predictably, after Charlottesville, the numbers spiked again (“Anti-Semitic Incidents Spike in 2017 . . .”). And, even before Trump officially took office, in a rash of seemingly spontaneous incidents, antisemites painted crude swastikas on billboards, ball-field dugouts, bus stops, and businesses nationwide.[31] Hate groups have begun recruiting via flyers on college campuses at a level the ADL describes as “unprecedented,” with white-supremacist flyering on 107 different campuses in 33 states during the 2016-17 school year (Anti-Defamation League, “ADL: White Supremacists Making Unprecedented Effort…”).

In May 2017 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt pulled no punches as he presented the link between Trumpism and antisemitism:

The majority of anti-Semitic incidents and other hate crimes are not carried out by extremists or organized hate groups. But the extraordinarily polarizing and divisive election campaign—which featured harshly anti-Muslim rhetoric and anti-Semitic dog whistles—has coarsened the public discourse and fostered an atmosphere in which white supremacists and other anti-Semites and bigots feel emboldened and believe that their views are becoming more broadly acceptable. The campaign’s repeated flirtation with these elements—retweeting their content and quoting their heroes—and the President’s initial reluctance to address rising anti-Semitism, have helped to mainstream their ideas. (Anti-Defamation League, “Testimony of Jonathan A. Greenblatt”)

Greenblatt describes a degradation of the rhetorical ecology. And Trump, as the ADL sees it, has contributed directly to that degradation. Trumpism is consubstantial with antisemitism, at the very least, in that his style and the style of overt antisemites run together—and, together, overrun precedent standards for public decency. The spike in antisemitic incidents that correlates with Trump’s rise in public prominence is, in an important sense, at his doorstep. So, too, is the public unshaming of antisemitism.

Trump’s resistance to repeated calls to condemn the rise in antisemitism has been especially marked.[32] For instance, when questioned in mid-February 2017 by a Hasidic member of the press corps about how he would respond to the “uptick in anti-Semitism” that had occurred in the early days of his presidency—a reporter who led by noting that he hadn’t seen “anybody in my community accuse yourself or anyone of your staff of being anti-Semitic”—Trump responded with an insultingly dismissive non sequitur. “Sit down. . . . I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” he said. He made no pledges to stamp out or otherwise mitigate the uptick in antisemitism. Instead, his answer included also the assertion that he was the “least racist person you’ve ever seen” and focused mostly on his own electoral success (Trump qtd. in Watkins).

Whether intentionally or not, Trump’s defensive response to this softball question, asked by a reporter from a very friendly outlet,[33] mirrored one typical response of well-established antisemites to questions about their ideology. That is to say, he deflected entirely the question of antisemitism by making and amplifying unrelated assertions about his ethos: No antisemite, and no racist, and a “huge” winner of Electoral College votes for good measure.

Now, it seems unlikely that Trump is personally a virulent antisemite—at least, in the same way that he is an unapologetic misogynist and a blatant racist. (It is unlikely, in part, because that would require that he be keeping this a secret, and Trump seems incapable of keeping any of his other noxious attitudes quiet.) Interesting as it may be to try to parse and  as much as it makes for good copy, Trump’s personal attitude only sort of matters. At least equally important is how often he sounds like a virulent antisemite.

If It Dodges Like an Antisemite

Dodging the details of direct, challenging questions is standard fare for politicians and celebrities alike. Generally speaking, however, it is only antisemites who need to do so for antisemitism. For instance, just before being punched in the head during an interrupted interview that quickly went viral, Richard Spencer answered a question about his white supremacism by focusing on the word “neo-Nazis”: “Neo-Nazis don’t love me. They kinda hate me, actually” (Know Your Meme). In dissociating himself from neo-Nazis specifically, Spencer was sidestepping the real question, a question about his white supremacism.[34] The rhetorical playbook of modern white supremacists makes much of individual ideological differences, and it relies heavily on sidestepping direct engagement with still socially negative labels.

On sites like Stormfront and subreddit /r/The_Donald, as well as face-to-face, antisemites initially reassured one another that “the Donald’s” reticence to embrace them openly merely echoed their own approach to certain kinds of confrontation.[35] So it was that Trump’s election was initially greeted by America’s most virulent antisemites with sheer joy.

Andrew Anglin, publisher of the influential neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, exulted on November 9, 2016, “We won, brothers. . . . Make no mistake about it: we did this. If it were not for us, it wouldn’t have been possible” (Anglin). Before they were against him, or at least skeptical of him, neo-Nazis celebrated Trump’s rise with violence and threats thereof. And why not? Yes, his daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish. But, after all, so is the wife of prominent alt-right organizer Mike Peinovich, and he long hosted a podcast called “The Daily Shoah,” which claimed over 100,000 subscribers (Sheffield).

As should be clear, the recuperative picture of Trump’s personal closeness to Judaism is more than a little troubled. It’s not that he necessarily is antisemitic, but that he and his people share a substance with antisemitism. Trump’s refusal to disavow the endorsement of his presidential bid by David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and self-described “racial realist,” is an excellent example of this consubstantiality.

Despite a well-documented history of awareness of who Duke was and of his status as a Klan leader, Trump’s response to a February 28, 2016 question about whether he would condemn Duke and white supremacists who had endorsed his candidacy was to plead ignorance: “I don’t know anything about David Duke. Okay? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists” (Trump qtd. in Kessler). Bizarrely, it was two days earlier, on February 26, that Trump had conceded, in one of the most tepid distancing moves ever undertaken by a modern political leader, “David Duke endorsed me? Okay, all right. I disavow, okay?” (Trump qtd. in Kessler). In other words, he was unpersuasively rejecting of Duke before he defensively didn’t know who Duke was. At such moments, Trump’s personal feelings about Jews matter much less than his failure simply to shame antisemites at the appropriate time.

And then there was the clownish Sean Spicer, a press secretary so incompetent he was hard to credit with genuine malice, but who vomited his share of substance into the space shared by Trumpism and antisemitism. Like many in Trump’s entourage, he was a grotesquerie, a cartoon villain, but the damage done by him is real. The list of Spicer’s more and less white supremacist comments was topped by his assertion—historically nonsensical, perhaps intentionally damaging—that Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad was worse than Hitler, who “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” (Spicer qtd. in Johnson and Parker).[36] In taking Spicer publicly to task for this and other dangerous inanities, historian Eileen Kane cogently articulates their danger:

Many think of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism as a worldview that one deliberately embraces or rejects. But it’s perhaps more useful to think of it as a creeping, infectious disease that spreads easily to people who are not particularly self-reflective or principled, and who understand its usefulness to their own advancement in a given context. (Kane)

Much antisemitism is not the antisemitism of Stormfront and The Daily Stormer. It is the indirect, but nonetheless real antisemitism of Sean Spicer.

American history has a long tradition of normalizing antisemitism,[37] as in Spicer’s post-Trump installment as a Fellow at the Institute of Politics in Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Spicer’s antisemitism is a handy attitude, a collection of implicit beliefs that are neither avowed nor disavowed, but are simply active. Such antisemitism is rarely punished in American life, though the rapidity of Spicer’s rehabilitation after leaving the Trump White House—by scholars, no less!—should be startling.

Donald Trump’s antisemitism, if conscious, likely consists of a similarl low cunning, a recognition of its political usefulness. What’s crucial, though, is the confluence of his (and his surrogates’) symbolic actions with those of antisemites. Responding to criticism of his boss’s long silence and subsequent robotic condemnation of antisemitism, Spicer complained that “no matter how many times he talks about this, it’s never good enough” (Spicer qtd. in Rozsa). Isn’t that just the sort of thing a weaselly antisemite would say about a sidestepped apology or a half-hearted one given with a wink and a nod to politically expedient deplorables? With such men running the show, how could hate not be emboldened? And when hate is emboldened in America, it is ecumenical.

Racialized hatreds of all sorts are consubstantial with one another and with Trumpism. Antisemitism, constellated in that grim Venn diagram with other forms of racialized hate, belongs to Trump’s America. This much is clear. But who, exactly, is Trump’s America? The easy answer, one beloved of liberals both when Hillary Clinton enunciated it during the 2016 presidential campaign and still today,[38] is that it’s a big basket of deplorables, but that’s too easy by half—and it’s a pragmatically poor answer for anyone wishing to hold onto democratic hope.[39]

Antisemitism Today

Donald Trump is a symptom of contemporary America’s problems—exacerbating underlying causes, but rarely creating them. Indeed, “antisemitism” has long been a disputed rhetorical object—in ways orthogonal to the firing together of Trumpism and racialized hate. For years leading up to Trump’s election, the term “antisemitism” seemed in a sense to be “owned,” available as a charge to be levied, primarily by Israeli and American Zionists.[40] Both before and after Trumpism opened the side door onto the public stage for out-and-out white supremacists like Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin, the term has long been leveraged to put pressure on figures critical of Israel and/or Israeli treatment of Palestinians and colonial practices in Palestine (though not only that: see note 40 above).[41]

Indeed, some organizations identify all anti-Zionism as prima facie antisemitic.[42] As a counter-strategy, anti-Zionists and others critical of Israel have argued that it is Israeli policy that it is effectively antisemitic. As they have it, Zionism generally—the idea that Israel is a nation-state specifically for the Jewish people—together with settler colonialism—the practice of building settlements on lands internationally held to be Palestinian—produce reasonable backlash that takes predictably unreasonable antisemitic forms.[43] The questions of who owns the term “antisemitism” and who are the real antisemites have, for some time, been bound up in a political battle between these opposing views of both Judaism and the state of Israel/Palestine.[44] Antisemitism (the object) is by no means reducible to that battle, but “antisemitism” (the term) has in recent decades appeared most frequently in its throes.

Now, though, both the term and the object, the map and the territory of antisemitism present in a new-old way. Garden-variety white supremacism—with all the associated personal violence, harassment, and threats thereto appertaining[45]—has returned to the spotlight of American public life, though of course it is hardly a newcomer there. In many ways, the map “antisemitism” seems right now, at least in U.S. media, to be owned by political liberals and progressives.[46] Still, throughout Trump’s rise and following his Electoral College victory, the historically non-partisan (at least as regards the Republican-Democrat divide in U.S. politics) Anti-Defamation League has also repeatedly used the term to decry his statements and those of various proxies.[47] So, to whom precisely, does an antisemitism that has come virulently back into play with Trump—Trump’s antisemitism, the territory, not the map—belong?

We have to begin by thinking of antisemitism not merely as a term and object—not merely a map and territory, that is—but as a particular case of a general type of rhetorical ecology that is both profoundly harmful and deeply rooted.[48] Antisemitism is something we all own. By that, I mean both that it is a term available to all and that it is a structural force that infuses public life in ways that are often obscure and that intersect dynamically with other forces.

Antisemitism runs through American life. It is, as Max Horkheimer and Samuel Flowerman put it in their series introduction to The Authoritarian Personality, “a social disease” with “periods of quiescence” preceding “the virulence of the next outbreak” (Horkheimer and Flowerman in Adorno et al.). Antisemitism’s character as a kind of social disease is what makes it consubstantial with other forms of white supremacism and de-personifying Othering. The marking-off of Jews as Other—like the marking-off of Black people, Latinx people, Muslim people, GLBTQ people, trans* people, and so forth—is a rhetorical maneuver that occurs both consciously and unconsciously. It is a motion in language, and language does not allow us to not mark the boundaries of community with Otherness.

At its deepest level, such boundary-marking becomes the division between persons (who matter) and non-persons (who don’t).[49] As Kenneth Burke notes in an essay on “Terministic Screens,” all of our terminologies make some provision for marking off the boundaries of personhood, for distinguishing between that which acts (persons) and that which merely moves (things); this “involves the pragmatic recognition of a distinction between persons and things” (Language as Symbolic Action, 53). Antisemitism, at its core, is a terminology devoted to marking Jews off as non-persons, mere motions. As such, it is a matter not merely of semantics but of pragmatics as well; it provides a (violent by definition) orientation toward action.

As a terminology for de-personifying Jews, antisemitism has a performative element; it is not enough merely to think of Jews as non-persons, but requires the antisemite to specifically produce discourse that marks Jews as outside the boundaries of moral concern. Performances of hating Jews include, for instance, neo-Nazis in Charlottesville chanting, “Jews will not replace us” (Rosenberg). Since there is no clearly unifying activity that the antisemitic chanters are engaged in, and in which Jews would be replacing them, such a chant functions purely as performance of the decision on personhood. Either Jews can be persons and the chanters things, it suggests, or else the chanters persons and Jews things.

This essay has been exploring what it means for a major political figure to consubstantially be antisemitic without personally hating Jews, without directly performing the decision on personhood as hatred. This is a question of responsibility. To ask, “Who owns Donald Trump’s antisemitism?” is to ask “Who is responsible for the consubstantiality of antisemitism and Trumpism?” Why have antisemitism and Trumpism risen in tandem? How? Answers here are not as easy as we might wish.

There are deeper rhetorical structures at play in public sentiments and action (even and especially when these structures are unavowed or disavowed) than merely the (ever-more frequently reproduced, attentively engaged) waving flags of deplorables. Antisemitism, racism, misogyny: all of these take many forms, often without being intentionally avowed. And all of them remain with us, even in an America that only a few years ago crowed that it had finally become “postracial.”[50] We, the readers who could be addressed by this text, are very much also Trump’s America.

Most thoughtful people know, on at least some level, that they are implicated in the production of harmful attitudes and worldviews. We all inherit worlds of injustice that make us who and how we are, and these worlds make us all, to some extent, in their image. It doesn’t take long thought to see that there’s no way around this. But the move from that acknowledgment to a more personal sense of responsibility is hard to understand and accept, especially if you don’t feel yourself to be, for example, an antisemite. And doing something with that sense of responsibility can be harder still. This is partly because our words for noxious attitudes—words like “antisemitism”—tend to operate somewhat like the noxiously Othering words to which we object.

“Antisemitism” belongs to (in the sense of being an ineluctable property of, inhering in) deplorables. Deplorables, of course, are outside the sphere of moral concern. They are Others whom We, ourselves, clearly are not. Cultural critic Chauncey DeVega puts this nicely in a 2014 primer on white supremacy, noting that “images of terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis serve as outlier caricatures of racism in the post-Civil Rights era” (would that it were still so). His point is that:

White racial innocence, and a sincere belief by many white folks that they do not hold racist attitudes, or benefit personally or collectively from systemic white racism, is an example of how white supremacy has evolved to make itself relatively invisible (to willfully ignorant white people) as a dominant social force in American life. (DeVega)

The personalized, reified stereotypes of the racist, the sexist, the antisemite habitually operate as defenses—as in Trump’s response to questions about how he would address an uptick in antisemitism—against our own complicity in the social machineries of racism, sexism, antisemitism.

Antisemitism and Identity

But, still, there remain people who are avowed antisemites. Indeed, today they multiply. These can be identified by the definition-clause that begins Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew: “If a man attributes all or part of his own misfortunes and those of his country to the presence of Jewish elements in the community, if he proposes to remedy this state of affairs by depriving the Jews of certain of their rights . . . we say that he has anti-Semitic opinions” (7). Sartre offers the definition as a misleading oversimplification, but it is also an apt description of antisemitic self-identification. Most people in the United States are not antisemites in this sense, but more are today, and far more publicly so, than have been for decades.[51]

The percentage of avowedly antisemitic Americans seemed only a couple of years ago to be quite low.[52] Neo-Nazis proliferated in the publicly accessible but quasi-closed communities they formed on Twitter and 4chan, of course, and in the Indiana and Kentucky hills. But, they knew their attitudes were unwelcome in public discourse,[53] unless at least semi-cloaked—much like anti-Black racism. #AllLivesMatter, amirite?

And but now? Consubstantial with Trumpism, identity-antisemitism is publicly avowable in new-old ways.[54] As the media ecology, going back to well before Trump’s actual election, has amplified white supremacist messages, the rhetorical landscape has grown tangled and weird. Thinking very much of Hitlerite Germany, Kenneth Burke of observed such phenomena that “a ‘good’ rhetoric neglected by the press obviously cannot be so ‘communicative’ as a poor rhetoric backed nationwide by headlines” (A Rhetoric of Motives, 25-26). The We of even the self-described “resistance” in Trump’s America is a national We that responds to headlines and chyrons that amplify and, in many cases, legitimize antisemitism, casual and otherwise. Unreconstructed antisemites may still not be welcome in polite company, but they can now be celebrities.[55] And that fact does not lie only at Donald Trump’s doorstep.

Before taking my first faculty position in Beirut in 2014, I had rarely encountered personally directed expressions of antisemitism. Indirect or passive-aggressive, however, was another matter. Particularly notable was the time a landlord accidentally forwarded to me correspondence with her property manager. Complaining of my intractability on some matter, she had exclaimed, with the exasperation of antisemites through the ages, “Sorry he’s being such a prick—Jewish boy, I’m afraid.” Her property manager rose to my defense, after a fashion: “My experience with American Jews is that they’re usually some of the most well-adjusted people around. Israeli Jews are a different story entirely.” In this vignette, accidentally or not so accidentally shared with me, is exposed the quiet antisemitism of many Americans, not just of poor Timmy and the neo-Nazis of the Indiana hill county.

My landlord and her property manager were well-educated people, good liberals (though of course not representative of all in that category). The former had completed her PhD at Indiana University, where I was then studying, before she moved to a faculty position elsewhere; the latter was a respected member of Bloomington’s broadly tolerant, open community. Though neither, I think, intended to communicate to me their attitudes toward Jews, they felt comfortable expressing these amongst themselves. Their antisemitism, like most American antisemitism, was not meant to be shared publicly; it was a private affair. Bound up in their identities, no doubt, their antisemitism was not a matter of explicit identification. When I confronted my then-landlord about the email by phone, she was flustered and embarrassed, ashamed even. “You have to understand,” she said almost tearfully, “I’m not a racist.”

“But I’m not a racist” is a refusal of complicity that is at once dangerous and laughable. The answer is always more or less the same: Yes, you are, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Yes, you are; you’re a product of a racist system and your denial helps in its reproduction. Yes, you are; we all are. At the same time, however, that plea offers real grounds for rhetorical hope. My landlord didn’t want to be “a racist.” Timmy didn’t want to be a white supremacist. And yet each was exactly that but, in their way, was also available for conversation precisely because they felt ashamed of so being.

In each case, the appropriate response was conversation, an effort to find ways to live together well—not without anger, and certainly not by dissimulating a comity not in fact achieved, but in the spirit of democratic hope. That spirit eschews the urge to scapegoat, recognizes that what Burke called “the cult of the kill” is ever and always bound up with hierarchic principles that work anti-democratically (A Rhetoric of Motives, 252-55). The point is not first and foremost to cast out the antisemites from the temple of the polity, but to begin by swaying all who can be swayed—which means refusing to firmly Other those holding noxious views.[56] Owning and entering into conversation with our own deplorability, recognizing that it is nearly always more closely shared than we would hope, is a necessary step on the road of democratic possibility.

This leaves us with a different read on what presidential rhetoric is good for than that typically espoused by scholars of rhetoric and politics.[57] Not merely agenda-setting or norm-defining, presidential rhetoric can be usefully expressive of what we collectively disavow. Trump’s consubstantiality with antisemitism presents us with the reality of a disavowed, but no less real for that, backdrop antisemitism in American private life. Perhaps, to be effectively shamed, the darker strains of our collective pathologies must occasionally come to light in the figure of a grotesque Other, whom we only then learn to apprehend is muchly Us.

Paradoxically, presidential rhetoric might best foster the conditions for democracy precisely where it is itself most anti-democratic. Harmful presidential rhetorics are consubstantial with broad swathes of the demos that reject other swathes of the demos as legitimate political interlocutors, and thus cannot be effectively just dismissed. Presidential rhetoric, as in the consubstantiality of Trumpism with antisemitism, marks real, existing limits of ongoing democratic polity-formation. We, accordingly, need to carefully negotiate between acceptance and repudiation in the face of Trumpist antisemitism.

Such negotiation begins by noting but not giving undue importance to the attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately the utterances of the current White House resident. Much more, our job is to focus on democratic friendship where it is most difficult—in feeling our way through what it means for Trump's antisemitism to exceed his own intentionality and, in some sense, to be all of ours. Only in assuming collective ownership of Trumpist antisemitism, recognizing it not as aberrant but as thoroughly American—and also as shameful—can we negotiate together for a more democratic polity.

Timmy and/or Us

Timmy, the young neo-Nazi who wanted not to be and who, in the end, died of an overdose, was a figure avant la lettre for the poor white experience lovingly detailed in J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. The entwinement of heroin and neo-Nazism in his life, though, makes clear something that gets eclipsed in current narratives that would too swiftly redeem poor, white Trump voters in the name of democratic friendship. Timmy was ashamed. He was, in his way, a victim, but he was also culpable—and he felt culpable. In itself, that’s not enough for much of anything, but it is requisite for movement from communities of hate to democratic communities based on broadly pluralistic values.

Toward the beginning of this essay, I twice invoked a standard trope: contrasting a more innocent past with the frightening present to which it has given way. The first was a direct distinction between pre- and post-Trump. Today, I suggested, neo-Nazis are no longer ashamed, and so the chances of a Timmy leaving Their ranks and needing to find a place in Ours are slimmer. The second distinction was indirect, between the guilty pleasures of disobedient children and the guilty pleasures of disobedient adults. I want to return now to that second distinction.

Schoolchildren are obliged to be in school. The innocence of cutting class to go swimming is edged with a refusal of authority, but we do not hold children wholly responsible for that refusal. The men who came to Berkeley to beat up anti-fascists and to Charlottesville to hoist burning torches were legal adults. Their giddiness had in it the joy of refusing authority—of throwing off the supposed shackles of an oppressive culture of political correctness, in which desire they are consubstantial with Trumpism—but without that authority’s ever having had clear dominion in the first place.

The PC culture from which these men were seeking freedom does not mobilize state violence to prevent them from flying Nazi flags, nor has it mobilized state violence to prevent them from beating up Black Bloc members or burning crosses. Perhaps it should; I am not persuaded that conversation with them is always possible.[58] If it is to become possible, however, the rhetorical action other citizens can take, as citizens, will be the collaborative invention and practice of forms of non-de-personifying shaming.

There are many features of Trumpism that cry out for naming and shaming, and there are many—some, the very same—that call on us for good-willed conversation. Shaming and conversation are not polar opposites, as some takes on “marketplace of ideas” liberalism would suggest. The misogyny, the racism, the transphobia, and, yes, the antisemitism of Donald Trump all must be publicly and vigorously resisted. And, they all must be interpersonally negotiated. The trick is to discover mechanisms for such negotiation that shame without de-personifying. Timmy was ashamed of his swastika, and I was glad of it. And he was also somebody, and he could have been recuperated for democratic community.

Of course, not every citizen is at all times obliged to seek out good-willed conversation with Nazis. There’s plenty to be said (and that has been said) about whose responsibility this is. (Spoiler: mostly, privileged folks’.) And, again, such conversation cannot simply preclude or reject the very idea of punching Nazis. The trouble is, there is a strong temptation to believe at the end of the day that antisemites, racists, misogynists are ultimately Somebody Else’s Problem, each a Very Bad Person—deplorable, irredeemable—but also simply unresistable once words fail.

There is a temptation to assume, both before and after conversation, that They are the whole of the problem; that the problem is racists and antisemites and that We are not those things; and that therefore all we really need to do is more of the sorts of things that are Who We Really Are, such as free speech and good-willed conversation with those who have ears to hear; and that hopefully They will just go away after their ideas lose out in the marketplace of ideas. This is as rhetorically wrong as its emotionally satisfying and democratically impossible opposite extreme: “Kill ‘em all and let a Norse god sort them out.”[59]

We need to develop stronger rhetorical capabilities for democratic forms of shaming, and these come in part from self-criticism. Not the pseudo-self-criticism of a Mark Lilla, who has inspired a cottage industry of “discovering” that he and his fellow liberals did not care enough for poor whites.[60] Rather, a self-criticism that opens onto our own shame. Burke warned against the pull to scapegoat not only because it is morally wrong, severely curtailing the possibilities of others, but also because it limits our own capacities.

Like racism and misogyny, antisemitism does not disappear just because you have correct politics. Nor—though there’s a strong case for doing so—does it disappear because you punch Richard Spencer. Antisemitism is an othering force, a pull in language. Its manifestations need to be named and shamed, and its presence in our own hearts needs to be negotiated. Sometimes, we need to forcefully resist political enemies, Others with whom political conversation must be rejected—at least for now. I close, however, with a plea for doing such rejection only carefully, thoughtfully, cautiously.

Where we sacrifice the possibility of persuasion—the resources of rhetoric as “a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, 43)—we sacrifice also the possibility of a larger community. Burke observes that sacrifice is the ultimate glue of consubstantiality, that this form of being-together finds its strongest form where style and interests meet in “common participation in a notable, or solemn experience” (266). Group identity coalesces around the sacrifice of a “victim, representing dangers and triumphs [the group] had shared in common” (266). It is tempting to articulate American identity against the trollish Others of Trumpism. Perhaps it is even, to an extent, unavoidable. But, such a sacrifice is not only of deplorable Others to be sorted out by Norse gods. It is also of a good portion of our own democratic possibility.

Negotiating antisemitism is an ongoing work, and requires its own sacrifice. The sacrifice in question is of our own self-image. We can only negotiate antisemitism as a democratizing people, which is a people that recognizes itself as not already The Good Guys. Democratizing the United States, if this remains possible, will require many interlocutors, and it will require new mechanisms for working shaming together with good-willed conversation. If we are to become a democratizing people, we will need not only to vocally reject Donald Trump’s antisemitism but also to rejectingly own our own. For this work, we need each other, and as many of our other Others as possible.

Americans today, Jews and non-Jews alike, are at a crossroads. It is a crossroads at which we have often found ourselves, and at which we have often, though not always, been found wanting. Will we own the shame that is all of ours—white supremacism in all its manifestations, including antisemitism—and work to rectify it? Or, will we declare it only the property of those who most strikingly embody it, from Timmy to Trump, and believe it gone as soon as it fades once more from visibility? Democracy, as ever, hangs in the balance.

[1] A footnote on endnotes. Because Trump is so relentlessly dishonest, because antisemitism is such a charged issue, because a scholarly take on current events necessarily responds to many mediations of those events, and because the Fourth Estate is habitually partisan in its framing, I pursue here a policy of meticulously sourcing arguable claims about who said what when, as well as about who is what and why (with an emphasis on informative over polemical media sources). I’ve cited almost exclusively from openly accessible media sources, so that readers can easily comb through the data and doxai for themselves, and I offer framing analysis for news sources where necessary. Though this renders things a bit cumbersome, it conduces to the maintenance and reconstruction of the public orientation toward truthfulness that has long been a mainstay of rhetorical theory, truthfulness without which words and democracy alike fail.

[1] A not-absurd fear. On the addictive character of white-supremacist identity groups, see Simi et al.

[2] On the utility and disadvantages of shame for public life, see Nicotra.

[3] Are these terms strictly interchangeable? Not exactly. Being anti-Jew is not always the same as believing that people of color are inferior to white people, and white nationalism pretends to be a “non-prejudicial” preference for the political company of white people that is distinct from both. The terms, on their own terms, all name different points of reference. So, why lump them together? Because, together, they name a cluster that must become ashamed if demographic democratic change is to become possible. Please note that in spelling antisemitism as one lowercase, unhyphenated word I follow emerging consensus within the Jewish community (not yet reflected in most journalistic style guides). See, for instance, Leonard Dinnerstein’s Antisemitism in America. Also see “Should Anti-Semitism Be Hyphenated?” in the Forward for an accessible discussion of what’s at stake.

[4] On the democratic necessity of shame, see political theorist Christina Tarnopolsky’s excellent Prudes, Perverts, and Tyrants.

[5] Media coverage—including that of the New York Times—focused heavily on personalizing Fields, as it commonly does in the wake of spectacular acts of violence committed by white men. See, for instance, Bronwich and Blinder.

[6] The violence was not spontaneous, as shown by chat logs for the white supremacist groups that had been gathering under the title “Unite the Right” (Morris).

[7] Between his initial response and his later defense of that response, Trump did manage to produce the doxastic condemnation of Nazis expected of him (Rubin).

[8] Including many Republican lawmakers (see Shear and Haberman). Also, for the first time since Trump’s election, American Jews seemed relatively unified in denouncing the Trumpist refusal to unequivocally condemn what was at last acknowledged to be clear and present antisemitism. See, for instance, Barabak and Finnegan, as well as Green.

[9] See Shear, “Jewish Trump Staff Silent.” Prominent Jewish Trump advisor Gary Cohn claims that he nearly quit his post over Trump’s equivalence of antisemites with the protestors against them; importantly, however, he did not quit, in one of many normalizations of antisemitism that have fired together with Trumpism, see Kelly and Haberman, “Gary Cohn.”

[10] The truly impressive reporting on Yiannopoulos’ neo-Nazi connections was first conducted by Joseph Bernstein for Buzzfeed.

[11] Of which James Wolcott’s rambling, ungenerous, and conceptually dubious “Why the Alt-Left Is a Problem, Too” serves as the signal instance.

[12] For those who simply cannot tear themselves away, Emma Ellis’ “Your Handy Field Guide to the Many Factions of the Far Right,” provides the state of the field as of May 2017.

[13] This is not to say that the Holocaust is more important or intrinsically worse than other genocides—such comparison unnecessarily and harmfully temporizes each of the profound wrongs it would sweep up in its calculation. Rather, the point is that Nazism, as the traumatic kernel of modern, Western-dominant histories, conditions our reception of any rhetoric that is oriented primarily toward the production of out-groups.

[14] For all Trump’s invective against CNN, their reportage was headlined by the obfuscating (in his supporters’ favor) “Trump supporters, protesters clash in Berkeley”; no mention at all was made of antisemitism, and the signal instance of violence described was when “one man set afire a red ‘USA’ hat and held it overhead” (Ellis and Marco). See also solidly liberal Politico’s sensational presentation of a bloodied Trumpist in its depiction of Berkeley as “a hotbed of violence,” which “mainstream conservatives and liberals alike viewed . . . with trepidation, fearing their causes would be coopted by fringe elements” (Siders). In this rendering and many like it, violence is a byproduct of extremists, while the event itself is normal political speech—“normal” in the peculiarly American sense of being divided neatly into two well-defined, opposing sides. Such a telling, which here quotes sympathetically the Trumpists who marched and fought cheek-by-jowl with people waving Nazi flags, ignores entirely the consubstantiality of Trumpism with white supremacism at this scene, the collaborative role of antisemites in organizing the event, and the unshaming to which maintenance of a “both sides” narrative contributes under these exceptional circumstances.

[15] Only days before the violence in Charlottesville, a New York Times piece upped the ante of liberal both-sidesism, promising to get to the bottom of “Berkeley’s Semester of Hate” by interviewing antifa and white supremacists in roughly equal measure (Beale and Kehrt). Its tagline? “When far left meets far right, sparks fly.”

[16] NBC News portrayed Berkeley as “a new battleground for free speech” (Bailey), while the New York Times worried that “Berkeley Is Being Tested on 2 Fronts: Free Speech and Safety” (Fuller and Saul). Such examples can readily be multiplied.

[17] The account, @occdissent, was subsequently suspended. Last accessed May 16, 2017.

[18] Note, well before Trump’s actual election, the Times of Israel’s June, 2016 timeline of Trump-related antisemitism over the year preceding (Heilman).

[19] On this media ecology, see Ott.

[20] See the special supplement of political theory journal Theory & Event devoted to the political meanings of and identifications involved in the rise of Trump—especially William Connolly’s essay, “Trump, the Working Class, and Fascist Rhetoric.”

[21] Trump’s mockery of Obama and other politicians for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” and instead sticking with “Islamist terrorism” (the former, Trump’s preference, identifying violence with Islam in general and the latter seen as more cautiously linking violence only to politically mobilized Islam, “Islamism”) was a mainstay of his 2016 presidential campaign. Small wonder, then, that the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey for 2017 found that nearly two-thirds of Arabs between the ages of 18 and 24 felt concerned, scared, or angry about Trump’s election—and that 70% believed him to be anti-Muslim (Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey).

[22] Aside from his longtime advocacy of birtherism, the racist insistence that President Obama could not really be American and must have been born somewhere else (presumably because he is Black and successful), and apart from his weird use of the definite article (“I have a great relationship with the blacks. . . . I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks” [Trump qtd. in Hayat]); there were many campaign-rally comments like the cartoonishly stereotypical assertion that black people, en masse, were “living in hell” (Trump qtd. in Kaleem and Simmons).

[23] On the way this taps into a distinctive rhetorical legacy, see Bruce Baum on “Donald Trump’s ‘Genius,’ White ‘Natural Aristocracy,’ and Democratic Equality in America.” For a smart popular take on the same issue, see Benji Hart’s provocative “White Nationalists Understand US History Better than Liberals Do.”

[24] For full articulation of this point, see Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s more-than-magisterial An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

[25] Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, for example (Reuters, “Jewish Treasury Secretary Defends Trump’s Response to Charlottesville.”)

[26] The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect described Trump’s eventual statement condemning antisemitism as “a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record” (@AnneFrankCenter).

[27] Trump’s version of the proclamation ended on a personal note: “This month, I celebrate with my family—including my daughter, Ivanka, my son-in-law, Jared, my grandchildren, and our extended family—the deep spiritual connection that binds, and will always bind, the Jewish people to the United States and its founding principles. We recognize the faith and optimism exemplified by American Jews is what truly makes America ‘The Golden Country,’ and we express our Nation’s gratitude for this great, strong, prosperous, and loving people” (President).

[28] “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and 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” (Collinson).

[29] These numbers were contested, however, primarily by Jewish groups not wanting the fake bomb threats to be included and by those concerned about long-term ramifications of identification of antisemitism with the right wing of American politics (Medoff).

[30] In a strange twist, it turned out that most of these threats had been called in by a dual U.S./Israeli citizen, himself Jewish, calling from Israel (Goldman et al.). Setting the motivations of the caller partially to the side, a rhetorical perspective looks at the social effectivity of the calls (this has also been the position taken by the ADL). Alongside a massive spate of anti-Jewish vandalism, the cumulative effect of the bomb threats and reportage thereupon has been an uptick in the public presence of antisemitism.

[31] A trend that carried forward more or less unabated through the first several months of Trump’s presidency. As I began writing this piece, the most recent reported incident was the May 10, 2017 defacement of a public memorial to Anne F­rank in Boise, ID, with a mixture of antisemitic and anti-Black graffiti (Morlin).

[32] The ADL described this resistance as “mind-boggling” (“ADL: President Trump’s Repeated Dodging . . .”).

[33] Ami, the employer of reporter Jake Turx, is a rightist news magazine for the Orthodox Jewish community. Turx is its first member of the White House press corps, credentialed as such by the Trump administration.

[34] In case doubt remains as to the latter, in mid-May 2017, Spencer co-led a torch-pumping rally directly reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan’s (and subsequently cheered by former KKK leader David Duke) in defense of a Confederate monument scheduled for removal in Charlottesville, VA. His message to the crowd? “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced. . . . We have awoken. We are here. We are never going away” (Spencer qtd. in Morlin, “Richard Spencer Leads . . .”). That rally, of course, was the template for the August events in Charlottesville, which saw a much larger collection of white supremacists unified under the ostensive banner of historical preservation.

[35] See, for instance, the comments of (white nationalist) Traditionalist Worker Party co-founder Tony Hovater in Evan Osnos’ in-depth New Yorker piece on how Trumpism was firing together with white supremacism as early as August 2015.

[36] As though determined to make matters worse, Spicer clarified, as though many of the millions of Jews Hitler gassed were not themselves German, that although Hitler took “Jews into the Holocaust center,” he at least “was not using the gas on his own people in the way that Assad is doing” (Spicer qtd. in Johnson and Parker).

[37] See, for instance, many of the episodes detailed in Leonard Dinnerstein’s Antisemitism in America. For a post-Charlottesville, popular take, see Rebecca Erbelding’s “The Dark Political History of American Anti-Semitism.”

[38] For the former, in September 2016, see Chozick; for the latter, see her September 2017 interview with David Remnick for The New Yorker.

[39] In support of the “deplorable” view, however, see Trevor Martin’s latent semantic analysis for FiveThirtyEight of Trump supporters active on the subreddit /r/The_Donald, which finds dramatic overlaps for user participation in a range of other racist, sexist, and otherwise deplorable subreddits (Martin). Certainly, Clinton was entirely correct to call Trump himself deplorable, offensive, and dangerous.

[40] For a (somewhat too) polemical criticism of this tendency, see Antony Lerman’s “Antisemitism Redefined: Israel’s Imagined National Narrative of Endless External Threat.” To be clear, I do not mean solely owned. Antisemitism has also, and long, been available to any comer who (rightly) means to name and shame the anti-Jewish attitudes and practices of (both everyday and extremist forms of) American life.

[41] Not that this practice has disappeared. Hardly! See, for instance, Roger Cohen’s October 2016 hit piece in The New York Times, “Anti-Semitic Anti-Zionism,” implausibly depicting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a kind of British Trump. For more sober instances of the genre, see reportage on anti-Zionism and the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement in The Jerusalem Post (for example, Noa Amouyal’s “Lauder . . .” and Sam Sokol’s “Anti-Zionism . . .” pieces).

[42] Stretching the politics of definition to the breaking point, British group Campaign Against Antisemitism explains, “Those claiming to be only anti-Zionist, not antisemitic, are denying Israel’s right to exist, which is considered to be one of the manifestations of antisemitism.”

[43] Judith Butler has made this argument forcefully in a number of venues since her widely read 2003 London Review of Books essay. For another thoughtful take that pursues this view and also works to avoid polemicism, see Bruce Robbins’ 2013 film Some of My Best Friends Are Zionists (http://www.bestfriendsfilm.com/). The New York Times hosted a debate on this question in April 2016. See also the essays of On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice, edited by Jewish Voice for Peace.

[44] Though not the topic of this essay, that opposition gets to a core dispute. For the religiously Zionist—as many, though not all, practicing Jews in the United States are today—Israel’s status as a nation-state for the Jewish people is itself a religious commitment (“A Portrait of Jewish Americans, Chapter 5”). To be opposed to that commitment is, for such religionists, to be opposed to Judaism itself; thus it is that, one-sidedly but not mendaciously, they cast anti-Zionism as intrinsically antisemitic. For anti-Zionist Jews, by contrast, neither religion nor cultural identity requires identification of Judaism with Israel; indeed, this faction argues, such identification fosters antisemitism because it invites a predictable backlash against controversial practices of the state of Israel (particularly with respect to settlements on Palestinian land, though not only this) in the mold of antisemitism, as backlash against Jews and Judaism generally. See also Yavok M. Rabin, What Is Modern Israel?

[45] In addition to the ways already noted, the ADL documents a hate campaign against Jewish journalists on Twitter in 2016, of a piece with the open misogyny to which female professionals are habitually subjected in online spaces (Anti-Defamation League. “ADL Task Force Issues Report . . .”).

[46] Not without pushback, though. When the ADL, alongside progressives of all stripes, objected to Donald Trump’s closing campaign ad in 2016 as being filled with antisemitic dog-whistles, eventual Trump ambassador to Israel David Friedman responded, “This is an absolute abuse of the accusation of anti-Semitism. . . . I don’t see how anybody can take the Anti-Defamation League seriously going forward” (Friedman qtd. in Kornbluh).

[47] Here, too, with pushback. Abe Foxman, former Director of the ADL and no Trump supporter, worries that the term and issue of antisemitism “has been hijacked politically by Democrats who’ve made it a political issue to attack Trump, and by Republicans who have made it a political issue to defend him” (Foxman qtd. in Guttman).

[48] Indeed, as Theodor Adorno notes in his contribution to the monumental post-WWII study The Authoritarian Personality, “We came to regard it as our main task not to analyze anti-Semitism or any other antiminority prejudice as a sociopsychological phenomenon per se, but rather to examine the relation of antiminority prejudice to broader ideological and characterological patterns.” Anti-minority prejudices, it became clear in this sweeping qualitative study commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, are consubstantial both with one another and with deeply rooted collections of lifeways and social institutions. The importance of this finding cannot be overstated in discussions of the toxic efflorescence of antisemitism, white supremacism, and the like in the United States today.

[49] Many posthumanists hope to sidestep such a distinction by finding ethical or political community in and with the nonhuman world. Though motivating plenty of good work, the aim itself is theoretically incoherent, for reasons I articulate in the forthcoming The Ethical Fantasy of Rhetorical Theory.

[50] In a 2015 New York Times Magazine essay, Anna Holmes aptly terms this “America’s ‘Postracial’ Fantasy.”

[51] Consider the experiences of this dramatic shift described by editors of and reporters for The Forward, the United States’ premier periodical of Jewish life (Peiser).

[52] The Anti-Defamation League’s 2013 Survey of American Attitudes Toward Jews in America found a 3% drop from its 2011 survey in the percentage of Americans holding deeply entrenched anti-Jewish attitudes, to 12%, part of a steady decline from the high of 29% when the poll was first conducted in 1964. This rose back to 14% in 2016 (Kaleem, “Anti-Semitic Incidents . . .”).

[53] That is to say, while racism and antisemitism are far from novel in American life, it is a return to older standards that they now appear regularly as stances held by public figures, directly avowed in national conversations as these are mediated by large conglomerates in print and broadcast media especially.

[54] Think again, for instance, of the bizarre chant of the Charlottesville torchlight marchers: “Jews will not replace us!” (Bizarre because there is no conceivable way in which Jews seem keen to replace the economically and socially peripheral white men who are, on the whole, most keen to identify as antisemites.) This chant may be better read less as expression of a sincere political belief than as a performative identification with antisemitism and of Jews with the usual targets of replacement-anxieties: racialized Others, especially migrant workers and the quasi-beneficiaries of “free” trade now occupying “American” jobs that have been offshored. The chant is an incantation, meant to transform Jews, like all these others, into non-persons and assure the chanters of their personhood.

[55] Entertainment celebrities in recent years have been consistently shamed for overtly white supremacist and antisemitic outbursts. Consider megastar Mel Gibson’s 2006 tirade—“Fucking Jews . . . Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” (TMZ) and the subsequent decade it took for his career to not quite recover. Antisemites like Richard Spencer, by contrast, are celebrities now precisely just for being vocally white supremacist.

[56] As already noted, this is not necessarily to say that violence and the threat thereof are always avoidable. Though it exceeds the scope of this essay, it is both politically possible and democratically necessary to perform social and physical violence in such wise as to refuse the redemptive comforts of abjecting deplorable Others. Not easy, but possible.

[57] Different, that is, than the classic and for many still definitive take offered by Jeffrey Tulis’ The Rhetorical Presidency: that the American presidency is at base a position from which to lead public opinion. For more on this question, see also the essays in Allen and Flynn.

[58] As observed above, there is a curious confluence between some liberal responses to white supremacist rallies and the thematics of those rallies themselves. Both, following the opinion of the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, (offered in the 1927 Whitney v. California, which upheld the free speech rights of a communist organizer), hold that the remedy to bad speech is “more speech, not enforced silence.” Ironically, both also remain silent regarding the conditional clause with which Brandeis introduced this dictum, a clause that significantly constrains the dictum’s breadth: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education” (Whitney v. California, italics mine).

[59] As profound an album as punk rock group Propagandhi’s Less Talk, More Rock, from which I have the phrase, certainly is.

[60] See, for instance, Mark Lilla, “The End of Identity Liberalism.”

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