The trouble with politics in the social media age is that the need to take fullest advantage of this massive, free platform for connecting and promoting ideas becomes so powerful that it often obscures good common sense.
Just as the broadcast soundbite gaffe can’t be unrecorded, today’s tweets, even when deleted, can’t be truly un-tweeted, and they can easily undo the gains a campaign has made by creating distractions.
A candidate who is not Donald Trump, with his temperament and spontaneity, would have been undone by this a long time ago. I won’t list all of his controversial tweets here, but suffice it to say he’s an equal opportunity and bipartisan offender with remarks about Hillary Clinton, his Republican opponents, climate change, immigrants, fellow celebrities and more. Even when he tries to say something positive, as in the case of his Cinco de Mayo message featuring a taco bowl, he gets hammered.
But Trump seems to eat bad publicity for breakfast, a larger than life figure who somehow defies convention by taking hits from the media and numerous other public critics and emerging politically stronger.
That will likely be the case following the recent dust-up, in which an anti-Hillary meme, reportedly tied to a neo-Nazi message board, found its way into the Donald’s Twitter feed. It features, as you have undoubtedly heard, a Magen David star with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever,” superimposed over a picture of cash.
Yes, the tweet is may be offensive, and yes it may have been intended as a subliminal message that the Democratic nominee, former New York senator and former secretary of state is a tool of Jewish money as the source of her corruption. It may have been bad judgment to use it rather than a campaign generated attack on Hillary, but the ironically low-budget campaign seems to be strapped for talent these days.
Trump at first deleted the Tweet, replacing it with a doctored starless image, but later doubled down and said the original could easily have been a sheriff’s star rather than a religious symbol. And then silly season really began, when the campaign showed a Disney book with a similar star on the cover. If they’re not anti-Semitic, he argued, neither am I.
As having done business with the Donald, I am certain he is not even close to being anti-Semitic. There were more Jewish religious individuals around his office than in a local synagogue.
Throughout his meteoric rise in this election cycle Trump has evoked comparisons to Hitler. Google their names and you’ll find pages of discussion on this topic, with most saying the comparison is egregious (I agree), even if his tactics may evoke elements of Third Reich populism. So it was only a matter of time before he was accused of anti-Semitism.
The shoe does not fit. It’s not just that Trump has a Jewish son-in-law and a daughter who converted, and Jewish members of his campaign. The guy responsible for the tweet, he declared, has a Jewish wife.
Trump has built his success in a city in which it’s pretty difficult to navigate the business landscape without dealing with Jewish peers, and in all the decades he’s been on the real estate scene none has ever publicly accused him of prejudice. I recall an episode of “The Apprentice,” Trump’s signature NBC reality show, in which he defended the right of an Orthodox Jewish contestant to observe a Jewish holiday rather than participate in a scheduled group project. He counseled the other contestants to accept that this was a reality of the business world and they should learn to adapt.
Many of Trump’s critics in this matter are sincere, understandably offended by the tweet and his ambiguity about its message that is so clear to others. The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt scoffed at the Disney comparison. ““Connecting the Star of David to money and politicians is intended to invoke anti-Semitic stereotypes,” he told Buzzfeed News.
“I wish he would bring the same firmness to his rejection of anti-Semites and racists as he brings to members of the media and other candidates.”
Fair. But let’s accept that some of the people co-opting the right to be indignant over this matter are motivated by politics. They see that, given Hillary Clinton’s complicated relationship with Israel in her various public roles and the significant questions about her trustworthiness, the Jewish vote in large part could go either way in this election, straining the traditional Democratic loyalty.
Those critics, angered and worried about his position on Muslims and immigration would like to see Jews drawn into the fray. Not just the liberal Jews who have already steadily denounced him, but the mainstream, middle of the road leaders in swing state communities.
Donald Trump’s campaign made a mistake sending that Tweet, and I hope he makes up for it in the final stretch of the election by being more careful and denouncing bigotry in all its forms, including the people supporting him who practice it. But there are more than enough real anti-Semites and real would-be Hitlers out there. Trying to label Trump as one of them for political reasons based on one Tweet also takes our national discourse in a bad direction.
After this dies down, maybe we can actually talk about some of the serious issues facing the country, and what the candidates plan to do about them.
About the author:
Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. In his Philanthropy, Mr. Verschleiser is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, Co-Founder of Magenu.org, & President of OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. Mr. Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters.