October 19, 2019

“Truth is anything you can get away with”

This week’s Jewish Journal contains an op/ed by Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host with a periodic column in this paper. He holds up the conservative side of the Journal’s political diversity. He can be generally counted on to take jabs at liberal positions and their advocates.

But his recent column is neither a defense of conservative ideology or policy positions, but rather it is a transparently specious defense of Donald Trump pursued by knocking down straw men that he blames on “leftists…and their poisoning of Jewish life.”

His claim is that there is no “wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism” related to the president, his rhetoric or his campaign. It’s virtually all the hype of “left wing hysteria…because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it.”

As evidence, he cites eight incidents where threats, graffiti or other bigoted acts were alleged to have occurred that turned out to be phony. He had to reach back to November to try and make his point.

According to Prager a “serious number” (whatever that means) of anti-Semitic acts “are being perpetrated by leftists” and “there are so many examples of hoaxes perpetrated by Black, Muslim and white leftists that they could fill this issue of the Jewish Journal.”

Prager might want to do a bit more homework.

The Anti-Defamation League, which systematically monitors and catalogues anti-Semitic and racist incidents, just issued a report which documents white supremacists’ “unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses.” There have been over one hundred incidents of white supremacist actions on campus since the school year began with more than 61% of the incidents occurring since January.

The ADL, which is very careful about ascribing causality for anti-Semitic incidents, made clear what it thought, “these hate groups feel emboldened by the current political climate….White supremacists, emboldened by the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign, are stepping out of the shadows and into the mainstream….In January, Jared Taylor [a longtime white supremacist] wrote, ‘It is widely understood that the election of Donald Trump is a sign of rising white consciousness….Now is the time to press our advantage in every way possible.’

Prager will undoubtedly dismiss the ADL’s conclusions as “left wing hysteria…they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it….leftism has poisoned Jewish life.”

Indeed, there are Chicken Littles in the Jewish community who in the past have been too quick to claim anti-Semitism (I have written extensively about that reality for decades both in this paper and elsewhere). But that’s too transparent a diversion to propel forward Prager’s effort to sanitize Trump—he has to ignore over a year and a half of unprecedented incivility and unvarnished bigotry to focus on a few incidents as dispositive.

If one is truly concerned about anti-Semitism (as Prager purports to be) he ought to be troubled by a leader like Trump who undermines the mores of a society that has kept Jews and other minorities safe for over two centuries. Whether Trump condones anti-Semitism in its vulgar forms is an irrelevancy; he promotes and furthers its handmaidens.

stephensIn fact, among the most vocal critics of Trump have been principled conservatives who rightly perceive his danger. Most noteworthy among them is Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal who has made clear that Trump’s modus operandi is lying, “truth is whatever you can get away with.” He warned of Trump’s “assaults on what was once quaintly known as ‘human decency’” in his speech at the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last month.

And powerfully on point, Stephens has a special message for those who (like Prager) choose to ignore the threat that Trump poses to our society; the class of pundits who are the “TrumpXplainers”, they rationalize what Trump “meant to say” despite his words being “logically nonsensical.”

As Stephens has observed, “the most painful aspect of this for me has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune. We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity.”

What is in front of our nose is a president who has the likes of a Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka in the Oval Office—individuals with unambiguous ties to extremists and bigots—one who was hesitant to denounce anti-Semitism, who brazenly invokes the discredited America First chant as a call to action, who shamelessly targets a religious minority [Muslims], who has betrayed a profound lack of empathy and understanding for the Black community, who has stereotyped and demeaned Latinos and insults our intelligence with his absurd and incendiary tweets.

Prager’s hostility to liberals doesn’t justify his collaboration with “illiberal politics” and his abandonment of “intellectual integrity.”

Perhaps the admonition of a fellow conservative like Bret Stephens will move him to think again about siding with Trump. That course, as Stephens has written, is “the road of ignominy, of hitching a ride with a drunk driver.”

It’s time to sober up!