If a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, a vacuous analogy is the curse of those who are incapable of seeing foolish comparisons. Enter the leftist Israeli newspaper Haaretz, whose Chemi Shalev has found in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump not only a new reason for the rise of anti-Semitism unmeasured by any but the most anecdotal standards, but an enhanced understanding of the rise of the Third Reich.
The work of Hannah Arendt, Franz Neumann, and William Shirer now provide us with new insight as a consequence of the Trump phenomenon, or so Shalev and others like him would like us to believe. I am waiting, I suspect in vain, for a similar exegesis of the Hillary Clinton campaign that will enhance our comprehension of Evita Peron or Mary, Queen of Scots.
All Kinds of People Attend Political Rallies
Trump is not only held responsible for what any yahoo at a rally might say (including operatives the Clinton campaign has paid to be violent), he is also the personification of that mentality. Haaretz must live in a political vacuum devoid of both air and reality. I have attended more political rallies than I could possibly count, so I know all sorts of people turn up at these events. Many come to promote their own agendas that have nothing to do with the theme of the rally.
For example, a Tea Party rally in San Francisco brings out large numbers of organized Lyndon LaRouche supporters, who carry with them reams of literature and well-rehearsed presentations. No one invited them, but in the American public square there is no way to prevent them from working the crowd. It’s their constitutional right. The public square in America, as Haaretz seems to have forgotten, belongs to everyone.
Moreover, because their message is the most extreme to be found, the media gravitate to the LaRouchies like flies to horse manure. On the evening news, it is the LaRouchies whose message is not only reported, but presented as characterizing the rally.
Every American political rally has an array of different groups with different agendas in its audience. To find anti-Semites at a Hillary Clinton rally, one need look no further than Black Lives Matter or leftists who share Max Blumenthal’s professional anti-Semitic writings, which Hillary Clinton praised as suggested reading for her staff. Yet somehow Blumenthal’s anti-Semitic screeds never made it onto Haaretz’s radar.
One Area Where the Comparison Holds
Haaretz did get correct one aspect of the Trump campaign. In all likelihood, the Trump campaign is mobilizing the electoral periphery, and the electoral periphery inhabits a different world of belief than the traditional electorate.
Some three decades ago, James Robbins and I published in the professional political science journal Polity a statistical analysis showing how the Nazis went from a minor party to a major party by mobilizing the previous German non-voter. Hitler brought into the polls those Germans who had been alienated from the traditional parties.
But if Haaretz wanted to condemn a campaign because of its mobilization of the electoral periphery, it is eight years late. Whatever Trump might accomplish in mobilizing alienated segments of the American electorate, it will not remotely compare to the success of Barack Obama in bringing the traditional non-voter into the polling place.
Yet Haaretz did not see mobilizing the periphery on the left side of the electorate as a threat to the viability of American democracy. Nor was Obama ever compared to Adolph Hitler despite the fact that both appealed to those alienated from the political system. Such a comparison would have been as fatuous as comparing Trump to Hitler. Yet, in the latter case, political prejudice triumphs over reason.