When President Donald Trump lauded Judah Samet, who survived both the Holocaust and the recent Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, and former Nazi concentration camp prisoner Joshua Kaufman in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, his words were nothing but sympathetic. He said that their presence “honors and uplifts our entire nation.” At least, that’s what I think he said. I was too busy screaming at my television.
Trump’s whole speech was typically rambling, disjointed, and offensive. But this section of the speech made me angrier than I thought possible, given how nauseating the whole thing already was.
Donald Trump is perhaps the single most animating force in American anti-Semitism today. He is adored by neo-Nazis. He praises white supremacists as “very fine people.” He and his family repeatedly dabble in anti-Semitic dog whistles. He has unambiguously laid the groundwork for a resurgence in right-wing violence against Jews (and African Americans, Mexicans, trans people, and on and on and on). Does Trump hate Jewish people himself? I don’t know. As I’m sure will be pointed out in my inbox over and over again after this piece is published, his daughter and son-in-law are both practicing Jews. What I do know is that, to echo Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum’s memorable phrase, anti-Semites and racists feel he’s in their corner.
Which brings me back to last night, and the president’s empty promise to “never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed.”
Donald Trump uses people solely to bolster his own public agenda, rather than out of any genuine empathy or moral conviction. By paying lip service to the anti-Semitism Samet and Kaufman experienced, he appropriated their lives, and the hatred they’ve endured, to score points with those who actually care about the rising tide of anti-Jewish hatred—one, it should be noted, that comes in no small part from the president’s most ardent white nationalist supporters.
Well, fuck that. You don’t get to foster an atmosphere of hate, and division, and paranoia, and yes, anti-Semitism, and then turn around and grin like a moron when people clap for a survivor of that same atmosphere’s outcome. You don’t get to take their stories and make them your own.
Seeing how happy Trump looked when people gleefully swallowed his mealy-mouthed platitudes whole, I lost it in a way I rarely have during the course of his presidency. I yelled. I fumed. It was disgusting and it was personal.
Donald Trump might not be an anti-Semite. He might even say the right thing at the right moment. But don’t let his words fool you. He’ll say whatever he thinks will get him the biggest applause and the most effusive morning-after praise. Last night, that just so happened to be condemning anti-Semitism. If the House chamber had been packed with anti-Semites, he’d likely have praised the courage of their convictions and smiled just as broadly.