The Democrats’ ‘Casablanca’ Moment

The reaction of Democratic officialdom to their base’s uprising is what I call their “Casablanca” moment.
November 30, 2023
Demonstrators attend a rally in support of a cease fire in Gaza on Independence Avenue near the U.S. Capitol Building on October 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In the classic 1942 film, “Casablanca,” the delightfully corrupt police captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) orders Rick Blaine’s (Humphrey Bogart) Café Américian closed to satisfy the demand of a petulant Nazi officer offended by patrons singing the French national anthem.  Rick demands to know the reason.  Renault replies with incredulity that he is “shocked, shocked to find gambling is going on in here!”  A moment later, the roulette dealer presents Renault with his night’s winnings.  Renault politely responds, “Oh thank you very much.”

I am reminded of this famous scene as we witness the histrionic street displays gripping America’s urban centers and college campuses in apparent support of Hamas.  The reaction of Democratic officialdom to their base’s uprising is what I call their “Casablanca” moment.

Since the Hamas-led rampage of Oct. 7, the sadistic details of which are still emerging, cities and campuses have pulsated with unadorned antisemitism.  Angered by President Biden’s perceived pro-Israel stance, these self-styled “progressives” have directed much of their ire towards their own party.  Here is a sampling:

  • On October 18, hundreds stormed the U.S. Capitol rotunda chanting “Free Palestine,” leading to the arrest of 300 people including three for assaulting police officers.
  • Just three days before, 30 were arrested outside the White House.
  • On November 1, demonstrators gathered outside the State Department sporting signs with anti-Israel slogans like “Israel = Cancer of the Middle East.”
  • On Nov. 15, hundreds were arrested after violently attacking the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and barricading legislators inside. According to the Capitol Police, one officer was slammed into a garage door, a female officer was punched in the face, and officers were pepper sprayed by demonstrators.  One video showed a demonstrator shouting “F— you!” repeatedly in a policeman’s face.
  • On Nov. 26, one of the busiest travel days of the year, 1,000 anti Israel demonstrators shut down the Manhattan Bridge in New York.Similar episodes played out at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting.
  • Calla Walsh, a self-described “communist” who as a 16-year-old in 2020 was celebrated by the New York Times as part of a cadre of young Democratic activists, was arrested this month for wrecking a New Hampshire building housing an Israel-based company.

As Constitutional Law scholar Ilya Shapiro notes, much of this behavior is not free speech at all, but criminal conduct: Menacing, stalking, harassing, intimidating, threatening, defacing, vandalizing.  Many of the perpetrators are also masked, in violation of some state laws.  Ask yourself, why are they masked?  (Hint: It’s not COVID).

This is the politics of the street, the force of the mob. They are, as Bari Weiss describes them, cultural vandals.  They seek to destabilize and overturn American and Western order.

I have heard a common refrain since Oct. 7 from many liberal Jewish friends: “eye-opening,” “revealing,” a “gut punch.” But should it be?  Should these well-meaning people really be surprised?  Should the White House really be stunned by what it described as “extremely disturbing” and “grotesque” antisemitism in the ranks?

We have seen these cultural arsonists before.  In 2020, when indignation at the awful killing of George Floyd devolved in some places into violent riots.  This unrest was described by CNN as “mostly peaceful” and by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan as the “Summer of Love.”  Kamala Harris, soon to be nominated for Vice President, tweeted and drove millions of dollars to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which bailed out violent rioters.  And she warned of the protests, “Everyone beware.  They’re not going to stop before election day in November, and they’re not going to stop after election day.”  Prominent Democratic figures encouraged harassment of conservatives in restaurants, airports, and their private homes.

Then, unlike now, there was political incentive to fan the flames: There was an election to be won, by any means necessary.  Donald Trump had to go.  But the guarantee of expediency is, eventually you have to pay the piper.  The mob unleashed in 2020 cannot be controlled in 2023.  It is turning on its erstwhile political sponsor, the Democratic Party.  And the antisemites in the base have shown their ugly face plainly.  They are, in the words of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), liberal Jews’ “fellow ideological travelers.”  Some BLM chapters were among the first to praise the Oct. 7 attack.  The #MeToo movement has been radio silent, ignoring the widespread reports and evidence of mass gang-raping and gruesome murders of Jewish girls.  Oxymoronic signs stating “Queers for Palestine” proliferate. I could go on.

Of course, once the politics of the mob are unleashed, it gains currency.  If Democrats are facing their “Casablanca”moment after October 7, Republicans faced it on January 6.  When Donald Trump called for roughing up opponents at rallies in 2016; when he refused to say he would support the GOP nominee if it wasn’t him; when it became clear that narcissism and one-way loyalty was his only value: Could Republicans who held their nose for him really be shocked when he unleashed his January 6 mob?

When you take this great nation for granted; when you assume its prosperity, power, and institutions will endure on autopilot; when you think you can trash Western values without consequence, do not be shocked when one day you have no country left to gamble with.

Mr. Tanenbaum is a Los Angeles native and an attorney residing in Maryland.  

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