Kanye and Nick: Did Trump finally do Jews a favor?

Just imagine Trump still in the White House. Or maybe again.

He has two bizarro guests to dinner.  Maybe he’s been too busy congratulating himself for his accomplishments in office to learn that Ye (née Kanye) West has publicly argued that “everyone, even Hitler” brings something to the table.  And as for Nick Fuentes, maybe Trump actually thought his using the term “replacement” was about something altogether different.

Give him a break, though: he argues that he simply didn’t know!  Yes, naturally, at a press briefing he’d blame White House staffers or the Secret Service (“I’m gonna fire them, damn it”) for not having vetted his guests, and fake news for making a federal case out of it. In response, he’d loudly “swear” that he’ll unilaterally eradicate anti-Semitism in our time — “I’m the only one in the world who could do it” — with all the fervor he could possibly muster: “I have Jewish grandchildren, after all.”  He must be something at the Shabbat table!

But he’d nonetheless take no blame for what occurred: “I didn’t know that they had actually said that stuff.”  Maybe, alternatively, he’d argue that Mar-a-Lago is a safe harbor “marketplace of ideas” (apparently even for hate speech). A veritable First Amendment absolutist!

Maybe my pot shots at Trump are unfair. After all, I’m arguing that Trump’s “salon” with his two pals will be a good thing, long term.  Yes, Bibi, today’s arguably most important Jewish figure in the world, publicly castigated Trump’s dinner guests. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to condemn his soulmate over that “guess who’s coming to dinner” moment, and Trump’s continued failure to condemn them. Same is true with the sycophantic Kevin McCarthy, too busy looking over his shoulder.

In general, though, a number of right wingers (whom Jews certainly won’t be able to count on at crunch time if anti-Semitism worsens in America) have publicly condemned the dinner guests and their stated beliefs. I, myself, don’t count on their purported sincerity; but it’s certainly far better than nothing.  Fortunately, there hasn’t been a violent reaction to the Mar-a-Lago disgrace, as occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. There is, accordingly, no oppositional story like that which severely undercut Floyd’s terrifying ordeal and what it could ideally have meant for the Black community in particular.

Jews — no less than Trump’s “friend” and former Israel Ambassador— recognize precisely what Trump hasn’t done in response to this disturbing episode. It probably doesn’t really matter that Trump himself hasn’t ponied up for inviting Kanye — even if Fuentes was just an uninvited anti-Semite and fellow traveler who casually arrived on Kanye’s arm. Happily, a number of politicians who have supported Trump have come out of the closet and have at least been willing, in response to the fiasco, to publicly declare that America simply can’t tolerate anti-Semitism (whether or not Trump himself recognizes it).

I don’t frankly care if Kevin McCarthy, or Mike Pence, or Ron DeSantis or Mitch McConnell truly oppose anti-Semitism. Or if Marjorie Taylor Greene — who, oddly, for the moment at least, says she denounces Fuentes — comes to say that she does too. I just want them and their ilk (and especially far left wing Democrats too) to denounce it loudly, hoping for a level of trickle down to their followers. The more public figures who feel obliged — or even forced — to publicly condemn the event and its participants the better off we are and will be in the long run. This, irrespective of the questionable sincerity of their rebukes. I lack any interest in discovering the real truth that hovers, for example, inside Greene’s brain  — a surely inhospitable venue. Instead: just utter the magic words, damn it!

Trump himself, notedly, hasn’t managed to do that. Presumably, he’s still got a moistened finger to the breeze designed to ascertain whether condemning it will greatly trouble the right wing of his base.

And, on the other hand, the ex-president’s continued reticence on this score should help persuade his Jewish supporters, especially ones that focus on the lessons of history, precisely who Trump really is in terms of his relationship with us.

About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Stroock in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School and Cardozo Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and his latest book, "I Swear: The Meaning of an Oath," as well as works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Stroock firm or its lawyers.
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