In the department of small violins, consider the moral embarrassment, after Charlottesville, Virginia, of right-of-center Jews who voted for Donald Trump in the election and remained — at least until last week — broadly supportive of his presidency.
I don’t mean Jared Kushner, who is beyond embarrassment. I also don’t mean the economics czar Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Standing by the president’s side during last Tuesday’s catastrophic news conference in Trump Tower, the pair had that look of pre-emptive mortification reminiscent of crotch-covering soccer players bracing for a penalty kick.
At least they can console themselves with the notion — it might even be true — that they’re all that’s standing between the president and another financial crisis. But then there’s the rest of the Jewish right, this columnist among them. Last year we were given a choice between moral judgment and political opportunity.
Would we vote for a man we knew to be a casual bigot because his bigotries aligned, in some sense, with our political views? Or did we know enough about bigotry to understand that, just as the hatred that starts with Jews never ends with them, the hatred that starts with others lands all too frequently on us?
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Here was the argument of many of Trump’s Jewish supporters: He’d rip up the awful Iran deal. He wasn’t afraid to call out the Islamofascists by name. He “got” Israel and wasn’t going to abide the State Department’s failed pieties about the peace process or the location of the U.S. Embassy. He’d rebuild the military and restore the respect that America had lost under Barack Obama. He’d surround himself with good advisers. And his unpredictability was an asset in the face of our adversaries.
Any suggestion that the Trump campaign trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes was an outrageous slander based on flimsy evidence and contradicted by the candidate’s Jewish grandchildren. The real enemies of the Jewish state were, anyway, almost exclusively on the political left.
There were additional points, and other excuses, but that was the gist of the Jewish conservative’s case for Trump. The Jewish conservative’s case against Trump was far more simple: Breathe in deeply with your nose and … smell.
You could smell it in the shyster methods by which Trump built his business: the unpaid bills; the endless lawsuits; the deceitful advertising; the shady business partners.
You could smell it in the sort of people drawn, like flies to sewage, to Trump’s candidacy: David Duke, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Richard Spencer, Pat Buchanan and Steve Bannon, lately of the White House.
You could smell it in the tweets: an approving citation of a Benito Mussolini quote; an image of Clinton alongside a six-pointed star and a pile of cash.
You could smell it in the denunciations of “globalism” and “international banks” and the “enemy of the American people” news media.
You could smell it in the Muslim ban and the border wall and the trade protectionism and the calls to revoke birthright citizenship and the resurrection of “America First” as an organizing political slogan — a politics of exclusion that has never served Jews well even when we were suffered to be included.
Above all, you could smell it in Trump’s indifference to truth. Clinton may have been a “congenital liar,” as William Safire famously put it. But Trump is something else: a Jabberwock president, nonsensical, menacing and beyond reason.
If conservatism is supposed to teach anything, it’s that, even in politics, character counts above everything. Trump’s Jewish supporters, like so many on the right, ignored the lesson.
After Charlottesville, they’ve discovered too late that the price of that support will fall, as it so often has, disproportionately on them.
It’s not going to get better.