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Seth Limmer: Trump’s entertaining hatemongers is a part of an ongoing campaign to normalize prejudice

From the commentary: All of this is to say that last week’s dinner party was truly nothing new under the sun. Trump’s decision publicly to entertain hatemongers is nothing but a continued escalation of his ongoing campaign to normalize prejudice

US President Donald Trump meets with rapper Kanye West in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Oct. 11, 2018.
US President Donald Trump meets with rapper Kanye West in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Oct. 11, 2018.
(Sebastian Smith/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
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“We will stand up to hatred and bullying wherever it rears its head.” Such was the message at the 2016 Risa K. Lambert Luncheon, Chicago’s massive fundraiser for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. That same season, Donald Trump was running his first presidential campaign, which was fueled with language and policy of overt misogyny, racism and Islamophobia. It was shocking to me that in a room filled with 2,000 donors committed to teaching the world the message, “Never again,” not a single word, even of measured caution, was offered by any listed speaker about the invective of Trump’s campaign. I feared a blind eye was being turned toward the canary in the coal mine that was tweeting hate at the top of its lungs.

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It is in this context that we must understand the communal response to Trump’s decision last week to host hateful antisemites Nick Fuentes and the artist Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, at his Mar-a-Lago home. Anyone paying attention to Ye’s antisemitic antics of the past few weeks, or those frighteningly aware of Fuentes’ focused program to normalize the hatred of Jews, can comprehend why this dinner party offends beyond the pale. There is no difficulty understanding headlines such as “Jewish Allies Call Trump’s Dinner With Antisemites a Breaking Point.” The only real question is: What took so long?

Trump is a man who, in 2016 and running for the highest office in America, bragged that he could “grab” women by a vulgar description of their sexual organs, and said of Mexicans seeking asylum in America, “They’re rapists.” Less than a year into office, Trump took hateful actions against the LGBTQ community.

His early policy moves included the building of a wall to keep Latin Americans out of the U.S. and initiating a travel ban against countries whose population were predominantly Black and brown people or Muslims. Trump’s crass character was never in doubt; neither were his feelings about marginalized minorities in America. By the second year of his presidential term, research already showed how his hateful speech led to a rise in violence.

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Still, more context is needed to understand the sinister specifics of Trump’s art of the manipulation of the Jewish community. Why were so many America Jews willing to throw their support behind Trump for all these years, and why is this the moment that we read, on the front page of The New York Times, that Jewish allies of Trump are “no longer willing to ignore the abetting of bigotry by the nominal leader of the Republican Party”?

Perhaps the greatest gift he gave to Jewish Republicans was his unshaken commitment to the policies of then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognized the Golan Heights as being under Israeli sovereignty, recognized the rights of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories and withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement that Netanyahu opposed. While many of these incredibly hawkish acts played in the media as “standing with Israel,” they were just the shared priorities of American Republicans and the Israeli Likud-led right. In fact, most American Jews seek peace for Israel, with the majority believing the U.S. should help pursue a two-state solution for Israel alongside Palestine.

Domestically, Trump continued to court Jewish Republicans with a controversial 2019 order to combat antisemitism. The difficulty wasn’t in the intent but in its execution: Many liberals worried that this order would stifle debate about Israel, and most conservatives rejoiced that a conversation they didn’t want to have was stifled. By the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump overrode Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for houses of worship, which continued to endear him to many ultraorthodox Jewish communities that wanted to pray in person despite the disease. On these issues, and many others reducing the “wall” that separates church from state, Trump handed Jewish Republicans policy win after policy win.

Politics make strange bedfellows. This might be the easiest explanation for much of the Jewish Republican community’s decision, sustained over a longer than six-year timespan, to ignore Trump’s abetting of bigotry and antisemitism. All of these policy victories came after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, regarding which Trump claimed there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Many of these political wins were achieved after Trump invited evangelical leaders Robert Jeffress and John C. Hagee — both of whom have outraged the Jewish community with their comments about the Jewish people being beyond salvation and Adolf Hitler being part of God’s plan, respectively — to offer prayers at the dedication of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

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All of this is to say that last week’s dinner party was truly nothing new under the sun. Trump’s decision publicly to entertain hatemongers is nothing but a continued escalation of his ongoing campaign to normalize prejudice. All that is new here is a willingness, on the part of some Republican Jewish leaders, to say “enough is enough.” This willingness, some cynics might claim, perhaps derives from a shared sense that Trump has lost his power, and that there is nothing more to gain from political alliance with an unrepentant bigot.

But all of us should be warned, and on alert, about the real lesson here. Making concessions, sublimating our concerns about prejudice, might be paths to short-term policy wins but pave a path to a most dangerous, truly murderous, society. Especially as hate against so many marginalized minorities — the Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black, Latino, LGBTQ, Muslim and Jewish communities and more — has become normalized in America, all of us should learn that we can no longer make any deals with peddlers of hate.

We must prioritize the long-term health of every member of our democracy over any short-term political gain.

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Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is the founder of Open Judaism. This commentary is the columnist's opinion. Send feedback to: opinion@wctrib.com.

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