Is Donald J. Trump an antisemite? If so, he would not be the first American president to harbor prejudices against Jews. Nixon, despite his close relationship with Henry Kissinger, obsessed about whether Jews were out to get him. Regardless, this question was the subject of a heated exchange on CNN yesterday.
CNN commentator Kayleigh McEnany posed a simple question to Steven Goldstein, the Anne Frank Center’s executive director, on Tuesday night: “You think the president does not like Jews and is prejudiced against Jews?”
Goldstein’s response was unequivocal: “You bet.”
So began an intense exchange on CNN’s “Out Front” that escalated when McEnany suggested that President Trump cannot be anti-Semitic because his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner.
“Does he hate his daughter?” McEnany asked. “Does he hate his son-in-law?”
“You know what, Kayleigh?” Goldstein shot back. “I am tired of commentators like you on the right trotting out his daughter, trotting out his son-in-law as talking points against the president’s anti-Semitism. They are Jewish, but that is not a talking point against anti-Semitism, and that is a disgrace. Have you no ethics?”
Indeed, ‘some of my best friends are Jewish’ isn’t much of an argument—even when it extends to one’s own family. As Erin Burnett correctly noted, it’s far from unheard of for people to make exceptions to their prejudices when it comes to, say, ‘their Jews’ or ‘their blacks’ or ‘their Catholics.’ For that matter, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the Prime Minister of Israel praised a President supportive of his policies.
However, I think that a focus on Trump’s personal views misses the point entirely. Since the start of his campaign, Trump has rarely missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to condemn antisemitism, whether among his supporters or in the form of anti-Jewish terrorism. The administration’s exclusion of Jews from its Holocaust remembrance statement, and the way that it doubled down on the matter, justifiably provoked concern among members of the Jewish community and their allies. Consider the statement by the Trump that McEnany invoked:
Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.
I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on because lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time.
I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation. Very divided. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And, you know, it was something that was very important to me.
As far as people — Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening, and you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love. Okay? Thank you.
As Callum Borchers noted:
“For those wanting to give the president a fair chance,” McEnany said, “you would have heard him condemn anti-Semitism. … That sounds like a condemnation to me.”
If it was a condemnation, it was one that did not specifically mention anti-Semitism and began with an off-topic boast about Trump’s electoral college win — all in all, an unconventional answer from a president.
To put it differently, Trump took a softball question—’Mr. President, I am providing you an opportunity to condemn a wave of antisemitic incidents’—and provided an discursive and elliptical answer. We shouldn’t have to be parsing his precise meaning. When Trump did call antisemitism “horrible,” it shouldn’t have come across as petulant damage control. What this suggests to me is not so much that Trump is antisemitic—but rather that he just doesn’t care that much. It’s another example of his narcissism and spotty empathy for the suffering he might inflict—by commission or omission—on others. Trump’s Jewish problem, in other words, is merely a symptom of the fundamental flaws that render him unsuited to the Presidency.