The strategy is clear. Whether Trump confronts Sleepy Joe, Crazy Bernie, Pocahontas or some other Democratic opponent in the presidential race, he will target the “Squad” of newly elected freshman congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.
Trump has decided to (1) depict them as the real face of the Democratic Party; (2) attack them as socialists and radical leftists; (3) misrepresent their criticisms of Israel as egregious anti-Semitism, and (4) win the 2020 election by posing as the savior who revived the U.S. economy versus the party of people who hate America and Israel.
This strategy combines the racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim themes that have worked well for Trump so far, with Cold War-style red-baiting, fawning devotion to the Jewish state, and old-fashioned character assassination. “They hate our country,” Trump repeats. Why don’t they leave?
Those of us who grew up in the 60s recall the right-wing slogan, directed against critics of the Vietnam War, “America—love it or leave it!” The simple logic being that people complaining about the country didn’t belong in what should have been a solid landscape of pro-war nationalism. You’d think the stupidity of that slogan, implicitly a call for slavish devotion to the state, would be obvious in 2019. But no, it’s not. Trump has revived it, testing its resonance.
Some take comfort in the fact that Trump has walked back and stated that he did not in fact agree with the infamous chant at his June 19 rally: “Send her back, send her back, send her back!” (He just stood there frowning and nodding in apparent approval for 13 seconds.) This disavowal, they may think, somewhat mitigates the fascist threat. The president is not in fact calling for mass expulsion of dissidents, even Muslims who complain. He is not in fact encouraging the mob to demand the expulsion of an immigrant refugee who became a congresswoman.
Yet Trump stresses the innate goodness of the hateful mob—noting as always its amazing size— expressing its righteous outrage at the Squad members’ statements. Told many were unhappy with the fascistic chant, Trump blamed the victim, retorting: “I’m unhappy with the fact that a Congresswoman can hate our country.” (They started this, not me.)
The president arrogates to himself the right to define what constitutes hate speech. And racist speech, which he denies he’s ever used. What sort of hateful speech does he refer to, when he accuses Omar of anti-Semitism?
In a recent column on Mondoweiss, Philip Weiss lists the four statements for which Ilhan Omar has been faulted with that offense. (Trump implies to his followers that he has “pages and pages” of “vicious” anti-Semitic statements by the four congresswomen, but has been very vague on specifics. He is lying.)
(1) In 2012 while working as a nutritionist in the Minnesota public school system, during the Israeli assault on Gaza that killed over 100 Palestinian civilians, Omar tweeted: Israel “has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
(2) Five weeks after being elected to Congress after journalist Glenn Greenwald expressed puzzlement that Republicans in Congress would want to punish Omar and Tlaib for their criticisms of Israel Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” The Israel Lobby has plenty of money and uses it to promote uncritical support for Israel and to discourage criticism. “Benjamins” refers to $ 100 bills, which bear the image of Benjamin Franklin. It is not an anti-Semitic reference. But Trump has frowningly noted this tweet, adding, “She should never have said that!” implying that he will be using this particular tweet against her so long as it fires up his followers.
(3) Asked to explain the tweet, Omar curtly replied: “AIPAC!” The American Israel Political Affairs Committee is, of course, the most significant group within the Lobby, and helps ensure that Israel receives near-unconditional support from the U.S. Congress. It would be naïve to underestimate its importance. But the Lobby responds to any criticism of itself with accusations of anti-Semitism designed to intimidate.
(4) At a “progressive town hall” in Washington, D.C. in February, Omar said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” While awkwardly expressed, her point is apparently that the Israel Lobby promotes the idea that the U.S. and Israel are so closely allied and so bound together through “common values” and religious tradition that loyalty to the one cannot conflict with loyalty to the other, and that indeed to be a good American you need to support Israel. This would be an accurate depiction of the problem. Surely Trump is conflating love of Israel with Americanism as he seeks to isolate and vilify the Squad.
He wants to promote patriotic and pro-Israel outrage, posturing as both the flag-kissing nationalist and best friend of Netanyahu while wages a Hermann Göring-like campaign against his sharpest critics. As the New York Times keeps reminding us, there is no end to his lies.
In fact, none of these four brief statements by Omar attacks or disparages Jews as Jews. But she has hit nerves. Nancy Pelosi berated her for promoting “anti-Semitic tropes”—a fancy way of saying that anytime you associate support of Israel with money, you reduce the dream of the Holocaust victims for a homeland, and the Christian Zionist’s dream of the Rapture, to mere material considerations, feeding bad stereotypes. It’s just politically unwise to mention money in the same sentence as Israel. Trump and Pelosi unite in their acceptance of Zionist ideological hegemony within U.S. politics. In their view, Israel was either created out of existential necessity, or in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy; in any case, its legitimacy must never be questioned.
No U.S. politician is allowed to frankly note that Israel was created through racist violence in 1948. No one stands up in Congress reminding its members that 711,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, in part through naked terrorism, to make way for the Jewish state formed mainly by recent European settlers claiming—with U.S. Evangelicals’ support—that “God gave this land to me.” A serious critique of Zionism is not possible within the constricted U.S. political universe. The exploitation of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment is on the other hand infinitely possible, as Trump knows full well.
“They hate our country, and they hate Israel.” Trump is probably going to combine these two allegations, crudely courting Jewish support, throughout the campaign. Thus the growing U.S. fascist trend supersedes earlier anti-Semitic fascisms in upholding the expansionist Jewish settler-state (that occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem and maintains the open-air concentration camp of Gaza); its anti-Semitism consists of support for the vicious oppression of the Palestinian Arabs at the hands of their fellow (Jewish) Semites.
It makes good sense for Trump to wage an electoral campaign based on the vilification of the opposing party as radical left, socialist and anti-Semitic, its key standard-bearers angry, foul-mouthed young women of color who hate their country and Israel. It makes sense to make, for your largely moronic racist base, the terms of the battle simple: us versus them.
Real Americans, happy smiling and free, versus the angry people who don’t belong here. With all the clear logic of a 10-year-old, Trump suggests that they love it or leave it.
If Omar can accuse Israel of “evil doings” just because it killed 100 Palestinians, and suggest that money influences Congressional votes on Israel, and that dual nationals may feel dual loyalties, she arouses Trump’s keen moral indignation. He adopts the Evangelical preacher’s soaring prophetic oratorical mode, and the simplistic distinction between good and evil, and actually declares (to Omar) that “You can’t talk that way about our country—not while I’m president!”
So what is he gonna do about it? Trump will use attacks on her and the other three to further normalize the political culture of schoolyard bullying that he has brought to Washington, integrating both fascistic elements and abject deference to Israel, proving there’s no inherent contradiction between the two. And he will retain a base that will seize the next chance to chant “Send her back! Send her back!” so that Trump can smile, pause, shake his head, say, no, no….then let it go on longer, saying, okay, no, no…
Trump will now walk a fine line between encouraging and harnessing the racist energies of his worst adherents. He loves to rile them up, to hear them go crazy. To think you can do that just by demanding the death penalty for the Central Park Five, or questioning Obama’s birthplace, or advocating a Muslim ban, or building a wall and abusing children and separating families to discourage Hispanic immigration, or attacking elected Congresswomen because they are not white and they don’t love U.S. imperialism and criticize Israel!
Trump must rejoice in a world in which the pure stupidities he spews receive the support that must exceed his expectations. I suspect that he tests the waters, wondering: how fascist can I go and make this still work for me? The occasional call from Steve Bannon might help. The present course is to attribute hatred of the country to any who criticize it for what it is (a capitalist, imperialist country with a deeply-rooted sexist and racist culture that must be changed) and/or criticize Israel for what it is (a settler-state built on Palestinian suffering). And then to sit back and watch how society responds.
“You can’t talk that way about our country,” says Trump, “not while I’m president!” And who will rid me of this meddlesome monk? Trump is positively inciting violence against those who do not embrace his MAGA vision, deliberately exacerbating contradictions. The effort could backfire and blow up in his face; this country’s youth are generally progressive, hate Trump and are very open to interpretation that is administration is fascistic. But his steady 40% support rate, never faltering whatever he does, is frightening—in part because it is so pro-Israel, and Israel under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu is hell-bent on sparking a war between the U.S. and Iran.