In the midst of my week-long, cross-country road trip with two close friends, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, had posted an image critical of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Somewhere between Knoxville and Nashville, between the Waffle Houses and the trees, I noticed a peculiar meme on my Twitter newsfeed. This was not out of the ordinary. What was unordinary, however, was the red Star of David overlaid on $100 bills next to Clinton’s face, on which the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” were written.
And the intention is crystal clear: Clinton is a shill for the money-grubbing Zionists who control the world. Elect her, the meme says, and you get the nefarious Jewish cabal in charge. Elect Trump, though, and all that corruption will be defeated. At least, that’s how former KKK-leader and outspoken Trump supporter David Duke and Paul Ryan see it.
Trump, of course, has consistently refused to call out and categorically condemn the anti-Semitism (or the Islamophobia or the racism, for that matter) that is so ubiquitous among his supporters. Like he has in the past when he retweeted white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, he refused to apologize for the meme. He insisted that the image was a “Sheriff’s star” (those usually have dots on the points, unlike the star in this meme).
When I first saw this meme in the car, I immediately showed it to my two traveling companions, who are also Jewish. There was no ambiguity. This is the same star that Nazis made our relatives wear in concentration camps (not completely unlike Trump’s plan to make Muslims wear special IDs). The same star on the Israeli flag. The same star I wear around my neck.
The conversations soon turned in a different direction. If Trump — or whatever bloviating demagogue comes after him — literally made anti-Semitism a cornerstone of his campaign, would the mainstream right fall in line after it? Would Fox News whine about the “greedy Shylocks,” would Breitbart regularly post about “shifty-eyed Jews” hoarding the gold? (It wouldn’t be the first time Breitbart has dabbled in anti-Semitism.)
I argued, rather unequivocally, that they would. And I pointed to a recent and terrifying precedent.
Before the 9/11 attacks, Muslims were a significant part of the Republican coalition. According to an analysis by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), 78 percent of American Muslims backed George W. Bush in the 2000 election. That supported plummeted after the attacks, specifically because of the racist laws and spike in hate crimes that succeeded it. In 2004, a poll showed barely 7 percent of Muslims supported Bush for re-election.
But even Bush was not openly Islamophobic. He repeatedly stressed that America is not at war with the Islamic religion. Now the Republicans do not even pretend. Ben Carson thought that Muslims should be prohibited from serving as president, and Trump — in addition to believing Muslims should wear special clothes and register with the government — has repeatedly stated his desire to ban all Muslims worldwide (roughly 1 billion in all) from entering the country.
The right-wing press, even the ones in the mainstream like Fox News, eggs on this extremism by repeatedly showing coverage riddled with Islamophobia that suggests, among other defamations, that every Muslim is hell-bent on bringing Sharia Law to America.
But it’s not all, as Mitt Romney would put it, “trickle-down racism.” Many local Republican grassroots events have long been cesspools of prejudice against Muslims. In Houston recently, a senior Republican activist — who happens to be a Muslim — was nearly denied a precinct chair position because an obstreperous group of bigots grandstanded against his appointment because of his religion.
If the backlash could happen against Muslims, it could surely happen against Jews, who have not voted as a group for Republicans — much less at 70 percent — since the 19th century.
That night, in a hotel in Little Rock, over libations, one of my friends put it poignantly:
“I don’t care if I have to go to in the streets, house-to-house,” he said. “I — we — cannot let Donald Trump become president.”
Indeed, the three of us had all been saying this for many months already. Trump’s vileness, dishonesty and racism against Hispanics, Muslims and other people have long disqualified him. But now the charge of anti-Semitism can be added to that list of damnations. It may not — probably won’t — enter the mainstream during Trump’s campaign, but it definitely could, especially when Trump’s ideological successor, whoever he is, rises out of the ooze. And that is what scared my friends and me most of all.
Horwitz is a first-year law student from Houston. Follow him on Twitter @NmHorwitz.