Now banned from Twitter for almost two years, former president and coup-plotter Donald Trump took to his Truth Social account over the weekend to launch a diatribe about American Jews. The episode unsurprisingly toured through the news cycle in the fashion of past Trump outrages. There was initial puzzlement over the political aims of the post, which assailed Jews in the US for their failure to fall in line with Trump’s pro-Israel policies, as “our wonderful Evangelicals” have done. Noting that Israeli Jews are far more firmly pro-Trump—so much so that he proclaimed he “could easily be P.M.!”—Trump wound down his outburst with a quasi-prophetic warning: “U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel—Before it is too late!”
By Tuesday, the White House had denounced the post as anti-Semitic, citing Trump’s longtime alliances with “extremist and anti-Semitic figures.” Trump’s sentiments were indeed straight out of the ugly playbook of anti-Jewish slander, harping on the notion that Jews in America harbor dual loyalties, and thus count as an untrustworthy category of citizen. That Trump was calling out American Jews for allegedly insufficient loyalty to hard-line Israeli policies—as opposed to past anti-Semites like Trump forerunner Pat Buchanan, who suggested that pro-Israel positions discredited the American bona fides of Jews—didn’t much matter. Trump was, after all, seeking to subsume Israeli-US relations, like every other force on the globe, to the dominion of his own ego, leaving actual geopolitical alignments something of an afterthought.
Amid the initial uproar, though, it was easy to overlook the other overture in Trump’s broadside—to those “wonderful Evangelicals.” Christian nationalists remain the most ironclad element of the Trump coalition, and they loudly advertise their own love of Israel for instrumental and prophetic reasons of their own: the central role that the state of Israel is assigned in the Book of Revelation. Since the origin of the modern religious right, evangelical activists have rushed to the vanguard of pro-Israel politics because of their conviction that a strong Israel will bring the end-time to pass as foreordained by scripture. As longtime Israeli political and religious commentator Gershom Gorenberg notes, “the cause of supporting right-wing politicians in Israel for instrumental purposes, going back to the Moral Majority, has been the agenda in Christian politics.” The American right has eagerly courted this fervid pro-Likud constituency. “It’s clear that all the hawkish moves in Israeli policy, not just under Trump, have been operating more in line with at least parts of the Christian right than they have been with the majority of American Jews,” Gorenberg says.
This prophetically driven alliance gives cover to the Christian right’s reckless flirtations with the irredentist occupation in Israel—while also permitting its lead promoters to disingenuously pose as true scriptural friends of Israel. Gorenberg observes that the best-selling evangelical thriller series Left Behind has a bevy of Isreali and Jewish characters steeped in crude and offensive stereotypes—yet its coauthor, right-wing evangelist Tim LaHaye, had loudly disavowed allegations of anti-Semitism, citing his support for Israel as incontrovertible proof to the contrary. “He was an überhawk about Israel in a way that, in my view, harms the Jewish people,” says Gorenberg. “And for him, the terrible consequences of that position are wonderful, because they’ll bring the Second Coming.” Trump, for his part, “does not have the same beliefs as the apostolic wing of the Christian right—that’s far too sophisticated for him—but he follows a parallel track.”
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Trump’s comments indeed coincide with a moment of heightened influence for the militant Christian nationalist wing of the evangelical movement. Presbyterian theologian and culture warrior Stephen Wolfe’s Case for Christian Nationalism has won approbation across the Trumpian right, even as he assails benign practices like interethnic marriage in his blood-soil-and-cross vision of righteous American biblical rule. Anti-Semitism, too, has gained increased mainstream traction, thanks to Elon Musk’s idiotic promotion of Kanye West’s demented rantings positing an outsize and sinister Jewish influence in American life.
This backdrop renders Trump’s blustering post anything but the outlying ego tantrum it might have seemed on first blush. “It’s a mix of right-wing populist and fascist messages,” says Federico Finchelstein, chair of the history department at The New School for Social Research and author most recently of A Brief History of Fascist Lies. “To American Jews on the right, he’s saying, ‘You’re with me,’ and to other Jews, ‘You have to follow me or else.’ Now, you have radical fascists who are following him, and they hear what he’s saying is that these ‘bad Jews’ are not Americans. In this ambiguous messaging, he’s saying different things to different audiences, and they understand it differently.”
Trump’s closely modulated ambiguity, intentional or not, is another classic rhetorical move in fascist discourse, Finchelstein argues. “Here, Trump shares things with Mussolini. Mussolini was more like Trump than Hitler was. At some point, before the racial laws in Italy, Mussolini had supported the idea of the Palestinian homeland for the Jews. In both cases, the distinction was that there are the good Jews who are not our challenge, and then there are the bad Jews.” This outlook, too, can easily encompass elective and instrumental approval of hard-line Israeli policies, Finchelstein notes: “In my country, in Argentina, you have these fascist generals who were highly anti-Semitic. The number of Jews killed in the dirty wars was much higher than the general population, and yet the generals also worshiped the Israeli military.”
Finchelstein says it’s important, in the face of such seemingly scrambled thinking, to heed the multivalent messaging in Trump’s hectoring outbursts: “He has been saying stuff like this throughout—he has extreme followers, even fascists. So then this idea that all these meanings are mutually exclusive, because they defy our own logic, just doesn’t apply. These are all meanings on multiple levels; they mean several things all at once.”
Gorenberg likewise stresses that amid all the chaos and noise surrounding all pronouncements from Trump, the core meaning is now crystal clear: “It’s not a dog whistle; it’s a shout. It’s completely out there.”