This weekend, Donald Trump signaled once again to neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites that his campaign is a safe space for misogynistic Jew-bashing disguised as political criticism: The presumptive Republican nominee deploys such rhetoric with such frequency that it has become a pillar of Trumpism. And while right-wing hate groups across the country have celebrated this development both online and off, it has also revealed certain fissures in the institutions surrounding the Trump campaign—such as the newspaper owned by the candidate’s Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has steadily risen in stature within the campaign over the past few months.
On Tuesday, Dana Schwartz, an arts and culture writer at the New York Observer, wrote an open letter to her publisher, questioning how Kushner could abide by his father-in-law’s gruesome digital courtship of America’s white supremacists. The newspaper’s editor, Ken Kurson, rode to Kushner and Trump’s defense, but on Wednesday the young real estate developer wrote his own response. In the post, after throwing up the rhetorical smokescreen of his family’s Holocaust narrative, and condemning “journalists and Twitter throngs,” Kushner embarks upon a spirited defense of his participation in his father-in-law’s presidential campaign:
It doesn’t take a ton of courage to join a mob. It’s actually the easiest thing to do. What’s a little harder is to weigh carefully a person’s actions over the course of a long and exceptionally distinguished career.
True enough—if wildly condescending to Schwartz. But it’s not what Kushner goes on to do in the post. Instead, Kushner claims that Trump’s “from-the-heart reactions” are “instinctively pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.”
Just last week, at an event in New Hampshire, an audience member asked about wasting money on “Zionist Israel.” My father in law didn’t miss a beat in replying that “Israel is a very, important ally of the United States and we are going to protect them 100%.” No script, no handlers, no TelePrompter – just a strong opinion from the heart.
Actually, Trump’s instinctive response, at a debate in February, to a question about the Israel-Palestine conflict, was to advocate for American “neutrality.” A month later, when the New York Times asked him directly about his position on Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, he reiterated this notion: “I’d want to go in there as evenly as possible and we’ll see if we can negotiate a deal.” This is quite a long way from “we are going to protect [Israel] 100 percent.” So, what happened? Well, Jared Kushner happened, cultivating in Trump a more conventionally Republican stance that may or may not have had anything to do with assuaging Zionist billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s concerns. Those concerns having been assuaged, Adelson has opened up his coffers.
Kushner goes on to make a lot of claims in Trump’s defense, several of which are self-serving and contradictory, writing,“If my father in law’s fast-moving team was careless in choosing an image to retweet, well part of the reason it’s so shocking is that it’s the actual candidate communicating with the American public rather than the armies of handlers who poll-test ordinary candidates’ every move.” That may well be the most spectacularly self-negating sentence published this year. Did the “fast-moving team” chose the image? Or was it the “actual candidate?” The man needs an editor. Did Kurson read this before it went out?
“Blaming Donald Trump for the most outrageous things done by people who claim to support him is no different from blaming Bernie Sanders for the people who stomp and spit on American flags at his rallies,” he writes at one point. “This notion that has emerged that holds my father in law responsible for the views of everyone who supports him is frankly absurd.”
Taken together, these two sentences epitomize the most toxic impulse in American political discourse: the drive towards the false equivalence. Notice how Kushner cannot describe his father-in-law’s action in anything more than equivocation and euphemism—e.g. “the most outrageous things done by people who claim to support him,” and elsewhere “he has been careless in retweeting imagery that can be interpreted as offensive”—only to claim that this behavior is of a kind with defacing American flags. (For what it is worth, the example of the misbehaving Sanders supporters crops up in Kurson’s earlier statement on the matter to Politico.)
Obviously, courting Nazi sympathizers and stomping on American flags are not the same thing, and do not represent the same thing. As Malcolm Harris recently argued for Pacific Standard, insisting that political views and actions outside the American mainstream are all functionally the same is, at bottom, an intellectual dead end, the refuge of the craven and the myopic. That being the case, Kushner is in good (or at least ample!) company.
What Kushner wants us to believe is that Donald Trump is not an anti-Semite. If that’s true, it only confirms deepening suspicions that he is something far worse: An amoral, megalomaniacal nihilist allying himself with the most virulent and hateful factions of the American right, toying with their resentment and fear, making promises he will never be able to keep.
Or he’s a secret neo-Nazi. Take your pick.