In the late 1980s, in my mid-twenties, I remember seeing a special report on anti-Semitism in the United States. It sent chills up my spine, because the rural Americans they interviewed seemed like nice people. People I would like. Except that, oh, by the way, they wanted to put me in a gas chamber and burn my body in a furnace.
I grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago, utterly insulated from this sort of insanity. Sure, there were kids in high school who would throw pennies at the Jewish kids, but that didn’t seem lethal. It was annoying and hurtful, but not frightening. This was a whole other category of anti-Semitism—something I’d thought had largely ended in America since the newsreels of the death camps made it to American theaters.
Now, I knew at the time, and I know now, that people like this are rare, even in rural America. The people who were interviewed knew most people didn’t share their views, and bemoaned that fact. They thought the best way to change that was to get publicity. Some of them complained about the fact that the media didn’t give their message the attention they felt it deserved.
The president back then was either Ronald Reagan or the first Bush. If you had told these neo-Nazis and Klansmen that they could get vast amounts of media exposure simply by telling people that they supported the Republican president, they would have jumped at the chance. That’s publicity that money can’t buy. But the media hadn’t fallen to the depths that it has in 2016. They may have hated Reagan and Bush, but they didn’t hate them enough to deliberately shine a spotlight on this lunatic fringe of reprobates, all to hurt those presidents.
Turning Anti-Semitism Into an Attention-Getter
Over the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, however, those depths were reached, if not surpassed. In their absolute frenzy to defeat Donald Trump at all costs, the media pulled David Duke and his ilk from the filthy shadows in which they lurked, and handed them a big microphone through which they could proclaim their hatred of anyone not like them. They told them, if not in so many words, that publicly supporting Trump would get them even more publicity, and they showcased every such utterance, usually on the front page.
To be clear, bigots and haters exist in both sides of the political divide. Crowds chanting: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” Jewish college students bullied and terrorized for simply being Jews. The repeated mantra that all white people are inherently racist, just because of the color of their skin. If anyone thinks the growing view on the Left that Israel should be erased from existence is any different in kind than the poison that comes out of the mouths of creatures like Duke, they need a reality check.
But the fact that there are bigots of that ilk who support Trump — or claim to — became a major talking point over the past year. A man who had never previously been accused of racism, despite his celebrity; whose daughter became an Orthodox Jew, and whose other children, almost without exception, are married or dating Jews; a man who had sent copies of “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” to every member of the Palm Beach town council in order to shame them into dropping their opposition to his acceptance of blacks and Jews into his Mar-a-Lago club—this man was painted as anti-black and anti-Semitic because some fringe groups on the far-right voiced support for him.
A Media Pay to Play Agreement
The media’s choice to pursue this “scorched-earth” policy towards Trump will have long-lasting repercussions. The new wave of publicity has given these fringe groups a major shot in the arm. Even now, after Trump has won the election, those who opposed him continue to offer a kind of “pay to play” agreement to the neo-Nazis and Klansmen. “You keep applauding Trump, and we’ll give you all the publicity you could possibly want.”
CNN gave a forum to neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, who has been falsely credited with “founding” the alt-right, allowing him to spew his poison to a larger audience than he ever could have achieved on his own. When Spencer suggested that some anti-Trump media figures might not even be human, but rather creations of the Jews, CNN filled the bottom third of their screen with “The Trump Transition: Alt-Right Founder Questions If Jews Are People.” Even the foul Spencer didn’t say this, but CNN, like most of the media, is doubling down on its effort to raise up anti-Semites and other bigots, without any regard for the consequences. Anything, so long as it harms Trump.
The evening of the election, Stephen Colbert, a vocal spokesman for the American Left, had a rare moment of clarity and self-perception. Visibly shaken, Colbert said:
So how did our politics get so poisonous? I think it’s ‘cause we… overdosed. Especially this year. We drank too much of the poison. You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side. And it tastes kinda good. And you like how it feels. And there’s a gentle high… to the condemnation. Right? And you know you’re right, right? You know you’re right.
It’s that kind of wild and irresponsible poison that is the lifeblood of fanatics on the Left and on the Right. I only hope it isn’t too late to stop them from growing out of control.