Donald Trump is a master gaslighter. He takes things said about him and tries to convince us that the flaw in question actually applies not to him but rather to his opponents or detractors.
When he was caught on tape bragging about disrespecting women (and worse)—he told the world that no one (NO ONE!) has more respect for women than he does.
He distanced himself from his role as a leader in the Obama birther movement, (a role which he claimed previously he is proud to have served) only to later claim it was Hillary Clinton who had started the movement in the first place (she did not).
In the last debate of this presidential cycle, Clinton referred to Trump as a puppet for Putin. He disagreed but—because this is Donald Trump—he also responded, “you’re the puppet.” Which makes no sense—the interaction came after Trump pointed at Clinton and stated, “Putin, from everything I see, has no respect for this person”—but this is 2016. So anything goes.
This election cycle is full of additional examples. If something nasty or distasteful is said about Trump, he will happily turn it around to make a similar claim against his accusers. “I know you are, but what am I.”
Trump has also surrounded himself with staff and advisers just as adept at such manipulation. Kellyanne Conway, Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani, each in their own way, can take any claim about Trump and readily turn it around on the Clintons, the media, the liberals, or whoever else might be deemed relevant to the conversation.
This week, David Friedman, a Trump Israel adviser, made headlines when he dismissed the idea that anti-Semitism existed amongst Trump’s supporters. He insisted though that there IS actually “anti-Semitic sentiment among Clinton’s supporters.” That’s some Trump-level gaslighting right there!
Are there anti-Semitic Clinton supporters? Of course. When you are talking about tens of millions of people, there are going to be those who hate the Jews. It’s just a way of the world sadly.
But they and their bile are not embraced or welcomed by any respectable person in the Clinton campaign or the Democratic party.
Trump, on the other hand, retweets statements by known anti-Semites to his millions of Twitter followers!
And that is just some of the abject anti-Semitism coming from the candidate and his senior advisors… on Twitter. His campaign is of course much bigger than a single social media platform.
Recently Trump stated, “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.”
Per Cheryl Greenberg in the Washington Post: “These are old canards straight out of the phony ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ conspiracy theories about wealthy, international Jewish bankers plotting to destroy the nation and take over the world, controlling politicians with their wealth or through the power of the media that they dominate.”
There are some who wonder if Trump actually realizes that language like this is anti-Semitic. After all, his daughter converted to Judaism; she and Trump’s son-in-law are observant Jews and are raising Jewish children. Trump not understanding the weight of his words is horrifying in its own right for a man who could become president. But his ignorance (if given the benefit of the doubt that he is not actually an anti-Semite himself) also raises questions about who he has empowered to run his campaign.
Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News, to serve as CEO and to help run the final months of the campaign. This is a man with a troubling record. Bannon’s wife stated in court that, when choosing a school for their twin daughters, her husband “said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.” As recently as a few weeks ago, Beitbart News published an article that was an openly anti-Semitic attack against a Washington Post columnist.
Although he has (clumsily) stated he does not want it, Trump has the support of David Duke and numerous other white supremacist organizations.
When Trump supports got mad at a reporter for writing an unflattering article about Melania, someone created a photoshopped image that made it look like the journalist was in a concentration camp and the image was widely shared within Trump supporter online communities. When asked about it, Trump could (and should!) have outright condemned it. Instead, he shrugged it off. “You’ll have to talk to them about it.” When Melania was asked for comment, she responded: “I don’t control my fans. But I don’t agree with what they’re doing. I understand what you mean, but there are people out there who maybe went too far. [The journalist] provoked them.”
Trump’s primary slogan of course is Make America Great Again. But he also routinely promises to put “America First.” America First was a WWII-era “isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the US to appease Adolf Hitler.”
Trump supporters have even co-opted a cartoon frog named Pepe, imbuing it with horribly racist and anti-Semitic connotations. If you see this particular cartoon frog on social media, be warned. There’s an anti-Semite on the other end of that account.
This week, Trump and Pence addressed a crowd in Israel via video to try and get out the vote amongst the several hundred thousand American Jews currently living in Israel. The event was hosted by Republicans Overseas – Israel. They sold tickets to the event, highlighting a video from Trump. Trump’s remarks, clocking in at just 59 seconds, opened with him saying “I love Israel” and closed with him saying that “together, we will make America and Israel safe again.”
But not this time: Clinton is currently trouncing Trump amongst Israelis by an almost 2-1 margin.
Clearly Israelis do not believe he is the one to “make Israel safe again.” American Jews obviously feel the same way as they currently support Clinton over Trump by a 3-1 ratio.
In a few more weeks we will definitively see how the rest of the country feels. Regardless of what happens on Nov. 8th though, it’s pretty clear the Trump campaign has emboldened anti-Semitism in America, regardless of David Friedman’s gaslighting on the matter.
In the meantime, watch out for Pepe. And follow me on Twitter @jlemonsk.