On Friday, before boarding Marine One to begin a trip to Florida, the president fired a verbal shot at Democrats:
The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel. There’s no question about that. And it’s a disgrace. I mean, I don’t know what’s happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel and frankly I think they’re anti-Jewish.
— Donald Trump, March 22, 2019
That’s right, the President of the United States said he thinks Democrats are anti-Semites.
This is demagoguery with a very dangerous edge.
For reference, dictionary.com defines demagogue as “a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people.”
Trump’s remarks on the South Lawn follow this general form:
- The [other] is anti-[something].
- “It’s terrible! How could this happen?
- They are anti-[your group].
Let’s dig a little deeper.
“The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel.” They have? Which Democrats? How so? Trump makes a sweeping generalization, asserting that an entire political party is opposed to the nation of Israel, without offering any evidence to support it.
“There’s no question about that.” Actually, there are several questions about that (see above). The president is seeking to remove any room for doubt when what he’s already asserted is highly questionable.
“And it’s a disgrace. I mean, I don’t know what’s happened to them…” This is a plea to the emotions, arguing that it is shameful to hold any opposing opinion or question the assertions already made (and the affections and loyalties implied). How could anyone not stand by Israel? Well, what if Israel is not acting honorably?
“[B]ut they are totally anti-Israel and frankly I think they’re anti-Jewish.” This is the payload of Trump’s weaponized speech. Trump repeats his unproven, specious argument and equates it to antisemitism.
Bottom line, according to Donald Trump: Democrats hate Jews.
Confirmation bias suggests that people are naturally inclined to agree with something that supports their existing beliefs. The argument that Democrats are somehow not supportive of Israel is already believed by many conservative-leaning people — mainly Republican Christian and Jewish conservatives. Telling them that Democrats are anti-Israel/anti-Jewish may be readily accepted. A really successful bit of demagoguery would get even Democratic Jews to reconsider their party affiliation.
Confirmation bias also suggests that people are more likely to remember and believe the first thing they’re told. Countering a demagogue’s emotional rhetoric may come up short. An outrageous claim, told first, may be more likely to be believed than a well reasoned counter argument offered later.
Another truly dangerous aspect of Donald Trump’s brand of demagoguery is his tendency to disparage individuals or entire groups. Less than three weeks ago at CPAC, Trump asserted that there are members of Congress who hate America (see Flags, Bibles and Dog Whistles for more on that one). In the same speech, Trump railed against people seeking asylum in the United States, asserting that the United States is being invaded and suggesting that Democrats will do nothing about it:
“They give us some very bad people. People with big, long crime records. People with tremendous violence in their past. Murderers, killers, drug dealers, human traffickers… And the Democrats, they’re going to do whatever they do if they get into power, and it won’t have a damn thing to do with whether or not we approve our national emergency. Because let me tell you — they don’t like it when I say it — but we are being invaded. We’re being invaded by drugs, by people, by criminals. And we have to stop it.”
Trump’s favorite targets, in no particular order, tend to be Democrats, journalists, Republican rivals, foreigners and Muslims. Trump tends to dislike and diminish people who are not very much like him, or don’t like him very much.
Most will recall Trump’s serial take-downs of his 2016 rivals for the Republican nomination, replete with insulting nicknames and crazy accusations (example: “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz’s father was with Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963 prior to JFK’s assassination).
Crowds at Trump rallies still sometimes chant “lock her up!” when Trump mentions “Crooked Hillary” Clinton.
During the past week Mr. Trump carried on a media war against the late Senator John McCain, whose great sin was apparently a vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare).
Most of Trump’s targets for abuse, however, are very much alive. Some of Trump’s supporters and people with similar views have planned and acted against individuals or groups whom Trump has derided.
- Last October a fanatic Trump supporter mailed pipe bombs to a number of Trump’s supposed enemies. The Democrats targeted included two former presidents, a former VP, former presidential nominee, and five members of Congress. The bomber pled guilty in federal court on Thursday.
- In February an active duty Coast Guard lieutenant — a self-described white nationalist — was arrested for amassing a cache of weapons and drugs while plotting a domestic attack targeting politicians and journalists. The plot was uncovered because the would-be domestic terrorist used a government computer in some of his research and planning. According to a court filing, he “compiled a list of prominent Democratic Congressional leaders, activists, political organizations, and MSNBC and CNN media personalities” in the context of targeting “traitors”.
- Last weekend an Australian holding strongly anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic, white nationalist views attacked two New Zealand mosques, killing 50. The shooter reportedly acknowledged Trump in his manifesto (now officially banned in New Zealand): “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”
Talking to Breitbart this month, Trump dismissed congressional investigations as “playing cuter and tougher” but asserting that the right actually is tougher and suggested that things could get “very bad”:
You know, the left plays a tougher game, it’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad. But the left plays it cuter and tougher. Like with all the nonsense that they do in Congress … with all this invest[igations]—that’s all they want to do is –you know, they do things that are nasty. Republicans never played this.
The president is spewing hateful, dangerous rhetoric and making thinly veiled threats which need to be unequivocally condemned, starting here and now. Not cool, sir.