If You Weren't Worried About President Trump, Steve Bannon Is The Turning Point
Godwin's Law has featured prominently in this election. While there has been a problem of people comparing politicians and other public figures they disagree with to Nazis and/or Adolph Hitler in the past, 2016 gave the country a candidate — and, now, a president-elect — who many rational people believe is worthy of those comparisons. I strongly hesitate to even abstractly compare Donald Trump to Hitler, mainly because I view it as an insultingly nonchalant view of the Holocaust and Hitler's destruction. However, at the very least, Trump's decision to elevate Steve Bannon to the White House has given me new cause for concern.
Bannon's appointment marks a turning point in how I have viewed a campaign that has, at best, toed the line with supporting anti-Semitism. At the very least, on too many occasions, Trump and his campaign has failed to denounce anti-Semitism, but raising Bannon to an official role is a sign to me that Trump's presidency may not only approve of but welcome anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
Why does Bannon's White House role in particular worry me (and especially as an American Jew)? Where do I begin? There's the site he's overseen, Breitbart, which has a disgusting pattern of comparing the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust and the Nazi's reign of terror. That includes headlines, like "Planned Parenthood's Body Count Under Cecile Richards Is Up To Half A Holocaust." Of course, there's anti-Semitism without anti-choice attacks mixed in, like a story about Bill Kristol, a political conservative who openly criticized Trump, called "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew." In another Breitbart article, Anne Applebaum, a columnist for the Washington Post, was attacked as a "Polish, Jewish, American elitist." As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency noted, "Breitbart has failed to remove some blatantly anti-Semitic comments, including one that says 'Heil Hitler.'”
But the disturbing evidence is not just from the news site that Bannon has overseen. Bannon himself has proudly called Breitbart a "platform for the alt-right" and made it clear he is not concerned if the site attracts white supremacists or anti-Semites, telling Mother Jones earlier this year:
Look, are there some people that are white nationalists that are attracted to some of the philosophies of the alt-right? Maybe... Are there some people that are anti-Semitic that are attracted? Maybe. Right? Maybe some people are attracted to the alt-right that are homophobes, right? But that's just like, there are certain elements of the progressive left and the hard left that attract certain elements.
Then, there are the claims made by his ex-wife, Mary Louise Piccard, in court documents during their divorce. The New York Daily News reported that Piccard stated in a court declaration from June 27, 2007 that "the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend," and "he doesn't like the way they raise their kids to be 'whiny brats' and that he didn't want the girls going to school with Jews." Piccard also stated that when looking at another school, Bannon asked the director why there were “so many Chanukah books in the library.” Bannon denied the allegations, with a spokeswoman telling the New York Daily News, "At the time, Mr. Bannon never said anything like that and proudly sent the girls to Archer for their middle school and high school education."
It wasn't surprising to me that Trump didn't seem too concerned about appearing supportive of anti-Semitic displays when he tapped Bannon for his third presidential campaign reboot in August. It's no secret that Trump's campaign flirted far too much with anti-Semitism, cozying up with supporters who embraced a hatred towards Jews and viewed them as one of the prime toxins in the swamp so in need of draining.
Personally, what stands out to me the most in terms of Trump's anti-Semitic displays are his and his wife's reactions to the harassment of Julia Ioffe, a journalist who wrote a profile of Melania Trump that displeased the couple. On Twitter, people who very much appeared to be Trump supporters harassed Ioffe with anti-Semitic death threats, sent her images of her face superimposed on Holocaust survivors, and, according to her, called her personal number, playing recordings of Hitler speeches. The Washington Post reported that Ioffe ultimately filed a police report in response.
I was short-sighted and now realize Trump's selection of Bannon is as frightening as it is fitting.
How did Melania and Donald Trump react? When asked about the Ioffe attack by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Donald Trump said, "I haven’t read the article, but I heard it was a very inaccurate article, and I heard it was a nasty article." Then, when pressed about the anti-Semitism among his supporters, Trump said, "You’ll have to talk to them about it." Melania Trump's response was actually more disturbing, telling DuJour, “I don’t control my fans, but I don’t agree with what they’re doing. I understand what you mean, but there are people out there who maybe went too far. She provoked them.” Ahh yes, a reporter "provoked" the mass of people wanting to kill her because she is a Jew who critically examined the Trump family.
There are a number of other examples to choose from for why you should be worried about Trump's impending presidency if you're a Jew in America or care about the safety of Jews in America: his too-slow disavowal of white supremacist David Duke; his tweet of an image Hillary Clinton with Stars of David and piles of money that reportedly originally came from a white supremacist message board; his campaign ad that focused primarily on attacking Jews in prominent financial roles, of which the Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote "Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody."
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) noted in a report this summer that violent anti-Semitic assaults in the United States in 2015 had gone up nearly 50 percent since 2014, and there was a general increase in anti-Semitic incidences.
Despite the above-mentioned evidence, my fears about a Trump presidency specifically connected to what it would mean for Jews in America were not top of mind until Bannon was appointed to be a senior White House adviser. I was short-sighted and now realize Trump's selection of Bannon is as frightening as it is fitting. The symbolism in legitimizing all that Bannon stands for by giving him a coveted stop in the highest levels of our executive branch disturbs me, but the pragmatic, day-to-day power he will have influencing the next commander in chief is far more disconcerting — especially when anti-Semitism is on a documented rise in our country.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) noted in a report this summer that violent anti-Semitic assaults in the United States in 2015 had gone up nearly 50 percent since 2014, and there was a general increase in anti-Semitic incidences. It's worth noting that the ADL sharply criticized the appointment of Bannon, stating, “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’”
By no means, do I blame Trump or Bannon for causing this rise in anti-Semitic incidences. (It was occurring before the campaign even began, for one, and there are many other complicated reasons for the rise.) However, I blame Bannon and Trump for tapping into it, whether for their personal gains or because they genuinely, wholeheartedly believe in such vile hate. The difference on the latter point of their motivation isn't terribly important to me. What is important to me is that they do it, and even more, that it was a successful way to reach the highest elected office in the United States.