The video went viral. It showed a man at a Trump rally in Phoenix, gesticulating wildly at journalists in the press pen while shouting “Jew-S-A! Jew S-A!” It became a national story. On CNN, Jake Tapper asked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway whether she would call the man’s behavior “deplorable.” “Yes, I would,” she responded, “His conduct is completely unacceptable.”
Anti-Semitic and racist outbursts by Trump supporters have been a notable feature of the 2016 race. Donald Trump has shown himself reluctant to criticize or distance himself from his most extreme followers. Instead, by means of winks and nods and dog-whistles, he has courted them.
His initial refusal to disavow the support of former Ku Kux Klan grand wizard David Duke — claiming that he did not know who Duke was — is the most salient example, though it’s hard not to forget the fact that Trump spread, and then defended, an image with Hillary Clinton, a Jewish star and piles of money.
But on this occasion, if Trump himself said nothing, his campaign manager said exactly the right thing: “This individual does not speak for the campaign or the candidate, and what he had to say was disgusting.”
This emphatic disavowal should have been the end of this particular episode. Yet, curiously, it has continued, taking on a life of its own.
The name Roger Kimball is hardly a household name. But as the editor of the New Criterion, a leading monthly “review of the arts and intellectual life,” the publisher of Encounter Books, a leading conservative press and the author of several books of his own, Kimball is not an insignificant figure in our country’s conservative intelligentsia.
Kimball is also an outspoken Trump supporter, and not of the kind that sees the real estate tycoon, as some pro-Trump conservatives do, as a “lesser evil” next to the supposedly “greater evil” presented by Hillary Clinton.
Rather, Kimball sees Trump as a positive good, “a breath of fresh air,” a candidate who is “unapologetically pro-American, who wants this country to be richer, freer, more secure.” Trump, writes Kimball, will be a welcome change after “nearly eight years of a President who hates this country and has done everything in his power to make us poorer (and) less secure.”
As a personal acquaintance of Kimball (Encounter Books published my first book) and someone whom I have always held in high regard for his intelligence and erudition, I was shocked by his readiness to endorse a man I regard as the antithesis of everything conservatism stands for. And I was flabbergasted by the sheer nuttiness of his contention that Obama hates America and is seeking to impoverish our country and render it vulnerable, a point of view one finds on the lunatic fringe but not in the rarefied offices of the New York intellectual elite.
After the Phoenix incident, I asked Kimball on Twitter whether he was “proud or ashamed” to have anti-Semitic dregs as an ally. Kimball’s response, and the reaction it ignited, tells us a great deal about the Trumpian world which we now inhabit.
“Oh, dear,” Kimball tweeted back, “Anti-Semitic chap at Trump rally was a plant. No one tell poor @gabeschoenfeld.”
But Kimball adduced no evidence that the individual in question, whose name is George Lindell, was sent by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic Party or anyone else. All he provided was a link to a website in which Lindell is captured on a video talking about an automobile wreck. The charge that the “anti-Semitic chap” was a “plant” appears to be-pure and simple-Kimball’s invention.
Lindell, in fact, now makes clear he was not a plant but a real Trump supporter — and claims the “Jew” was an innocuous replacement for “U.” (“I speak Spanish a lot. That’s just the way I say it.”) In fact, listen closely to the original viral video, and you can clearly hear him say “You’re the enemy,” “You’re the ones who work for the devil” and “We’re run by the Jews, okay?”
Nevermind. The notion that he was a plant, in some quarters, was granted immediate and unquestioned acceptance. Dozens upon dozens of Trump supporters have been gleefully re-tweeting Kimball’s assertion, adding and embellishing: “He is a hired performer,” wrote one. “That guy is a Hillary plant, look it up, he’s been busted,” wrote another. He was paid for by the (Jewish) financier George Soros, wrote yet another.
Trump himself may not be a master of the art of the deal, but he is definitely a master of the art of confabulation. He has been hugely successfully at disseminating lies — his claim that Obama was not born in the United States is among his more notorious ones — that then becomes unchallengeable facts among his supporters and beyond.
But Trump is not the only manufacturer of the false reality that many Americans have entered. It is a cottage industry in which intellectuals are playing a part. Whether it is Trump’s contention that global warming is a Chinese hoax or his claim that high tariffs will bring home jobs, there has not been a shortage of PhDs and highly-educated pundits who are eager to step up and add a brick to the wall of delusions on which his campaign is based.
The massive lying that Trump and his supporters engage in is a deeply troubling development for our democracy. But anti-Semitism, as the world’s most ancient hatred, is a special realm all to itself. As we watch intellectuals who are supposed truth-seekers and truth-tellers become allies of and apologists for those who would spread this hateful creed, it is past time to be alarmed.
Schoenfeld is author of, among other books, “The Return of Anti-Semitism.”