Perhaps the frog wasn’t boiled after all. Maybe it was just exhausted. How else to explain the flaccid reaction this week to American conservativism’s casual normalization of anti-Semitism?
It’s been two weeks since the former president blasted out his complaint about ungrateful Jews.
The implicit threat got no points for subtlety. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Trump’s post “insulting and disgusting.”
“We don’t need the former president, who curries favor with extremists and anti-Semites, to lecture us about the US-Israel relationship,” he said. None of this, however, is new. The ADL has been warning about Trump’s dalliance with anti-Semitism for years. After Trump tweeted out an image of Hillary Clinton and a Star of David in 2016, the ADL sounded the alarm:
We’ve been troubled by the anti-Semites and racists during this political season, and we’ve seen a number of so-called Trump supporters peddling some of the worst stereotypes all through this year. And it’s been concerning that [Donald Trump] hasn’t spoken out forcefully against these people. It is outrageous to think that the candidate is sourcing material from some of the worst elements in our society.
As we know, Republican voters — and the GOP establishment — brushed off the anti-Semitic imagery, and Trump went on to win the presidency. The alt-right blended into the GOP mainstream. In 2017, in Charlottesville after tiki torch carrying thugs chanted “Jews will not replace us”, Trump praised what he called “very fine people on both sides.”
You know the rest of the story.
Politico’s Jonathan Lemire put Trump’s latest threat in context:
This tweet comes at a moment where bias incidents and hate crimes, anti-Semitic incidents are already skyrocketing, they have been on the rise in recent years, and it feels like we know the president has inspired the violence of January 6th, called for supporters to be violent other times, related to the Mar-a-Lago case, sending out warnings, and threats to the FBI, and the fear here is this could be interpreted by his followers as a moment to potentially commit violence against Jews, and that is deeply worrisome…
Trump’s outburst also came amid Kanye West’s ongoing anti-Semitic meltdown.
Democrats have highlighted Mastriano’s ties to white supremacists and antisemites – in particular Gab, the social media platform that serves as a haven for the far-right – in hopes of swaying independent voters. Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba is the co-author of the just-published book “Christian Nationalism: A Biblical Guide to Taking Dominion and Discipling Nations” that has recently been among Amazon’s best-sellers.
Even amid evidence of rising anti-Jewish violence, the normally voluble right-wing media could not even be bothered to shuffle its feet. Elected Republicans could hardly muster a tired shrug among them; they are, apparently, too worn out, beaten down, and numbed to be outraged.
Fox News ignored, or shrugged off, the whole thing. Tucker Carlson edited out Kanye’s anti-Semitic rants from his broadcast interviews. The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens jumped to his defense, while her boss, Ben Shapiro, explained that Kanye’s anti-Jewish rant was “clearly anti-Semitic” and “disturbing,” but, but, but, “Kanye’s moves toward pro-life, faith, and family conservatism are encouraging.” Days later, Kanye announced he was buying the right-wing troll platform Parler (whose CEO is Candace Owen’s husband). After that news broke, Politico reports, Kanye and Trump spoke by phone. “West placed the call, during which the two confirmed plans to have dinner though nothing is currently scheduled.”
And this tweet from the House GOP Judiciary Committee official account is still up:
Kanye. Elon. Trump.
— House Judiciary GOP (@JudiciaryGOP) October 7, 2022
Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has speculated about Jewish Space Lasers, continues to rise in the GOP ranks and is poised to assume a much larger and powerful role in a GOP-controlled Congress.
And Trump? Historian Michael Beschloss asked on October 20th:
Do any Republican Party leaders have any comment at all on Trump’s admonition to American Jews?
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) October 16, 2022
So far, nothing. Nada. Crickets. And no one was surprised.
No GOP elected official has criticized:
1. Trump’s racist attack on McConnell’s wife (“CoCo Chow”)
2. Sen Tuberville’s racist diatribe against Black Americans (“the people that do the crime”)
3. Trump’s antisemitic rant (“U.S. Jews have to get their act together”)
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 16, 2022
It was not always so.
The founder of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley, thought that exorcizing the demon of anti-Semitism was so critical that when he founded National Review in 1955, he declared that the magazine “declined association with anti-Semites.” And he moved aggressively to purge the ranks.
When it became clear, in 1957, that the direction the American Mercury was headed was anti-Semitic, I ruled, with the enthusiastic approval of my colleagues, that no writer appearing on the Mercury‘s masthead, notwithstanding his own innocence on the subject, could also appear on National Review‘s.
Buckley’s adamancy was all the more noteworthy because of his own checkered background. “I have some credentials in the area,” he wrote, “among them my own father’s anti-Semitism.” In 1937, when he was 11 years-old, he later confessed, he “wept tears of frustration at being forbidden by senior siblings” to go with them to burn a cross outside a Jewish resort.
But after the horrors of the Holocaust, Buckley became convinced that, “The age calls for hypersensitivity to anti-Semitism, over against a lackadaisical return to the blasé conventions of the prewar generation, which in one country led to genocidal catastrophe.”
Years later, he would ban writer Joseph Sobran from his magazine, and defied and horrified many of his allies on the right by writing “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” and denouncing Pat Buchanan. Buckley wrote that he
[found] it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it. . . .
But even Buckley’s excommunication couldn’t disguise the fact that the guard-rails on the right were shaky. Despite Buckley’s conclusion that Buchanan had trafficked in anti-Semitic rhetoric, National Review nevertheless endorsed Buchanan in the 1992 presidential primaries as a “protest” against George H.W. Bush.
As First Things reported at the time, “Eleven distinguished figures, plus two editors of this journal, signed a letter protesting any endorsement, even a ‘tactical endorsement,’ of a candidate who refused to retract his anti-Semitic remarks.”
But, as it turned out, Buchanan was just the precursor. By the time Trump came around, what remained of Buckley’s guardrails were gone.
And now, it’s almost as if the right has forgotten they were ever really there at all.
Charles Jay Sykes is an American political commentator who is currently editor-in-chief of the website The Bulwark. From 1993 to 2016, Sykes hosted a conservative talk show on WTMJ in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This piece first appeared at thebulwark.com and is published here with permission.