Now banned from Twitter for nearly two years, former president and putschist Donald Trump took to his Truth Social account this weekend to launch a rant about American Jews. Unsurprisingly, the episode rode the news cycle in the style of past Trump outrages. There was initial bewilderment over the political aims of the post, which assailed Jews in the United States for their failure to conform to Trump’s pro-Israel policies, as “our wonderful evangelicals” have done. Noting that Israeli Jews are much more firmly pro-Trump – so much so that he proclaimed he “could easily be prime minister!” what they have in Israel, before it’s too late!
On Tuesday, the White House denounced the post as anti-Semitic, citing Trump’s longstanding alliances with “extremist and anti-Semitic figures.” Trump’s sentiments were indeed straight out of the ugly playbook of anti-Jewish slander, insisting that America’s Jews harbor dual loyalties and therefore count as an untrustworthy class of citizens. What Trump Called American Jews for Supposedly insufficient loyalty to hardline Israeli policies — as opposed to former anti-Semites like Trump precursor Pat Buchanan, who suggested that pro-Israel stances discredited Jewish American bona fide — didn’t matter much. After all, Trump sought to subsume US-Israeli relations, like all other forces in the world, under the dominance of his own ego, leaving real geopolitical alignments something of an afterthought.
Amid the initial uproar, however, it was easy to ignore Trump’s other broadside overture — to those “wonderful evangelicals.” Christian nationalists remain the most ironclad element of the Trump coalition, and they loudly announce their own love of Israel for instrumental and prophetic reasons of their own: the central role assigned to the state of Israel in the Book of Revelation. From the origins of the modern religious right, evangelical activists have rushed to the forefront of pro-Israel politics because of their belief that a strong Israel will bring the end times to pass as predestined by Scripture. As longtime Israeli political and religious commentator Gershom Gorenberg notes, “the cause of supporting right-wing politicians in Israel for instrumental ends, tracing back to moral majority, has been on the agenda of Christian politics” . The American right is eagerly courting this fervent pro-Likud constituency. “It is clear that all warmongering movements in Israeli politics, not just under Trump, have worked more in tune with at least some parts of the Christian right than they have with the majority of American Jews,” says Gorenberg.
This prophetic covenant covers up the Christian right’s reckless flirtations with the irredentist occupation in Israel, while allowing its main promoters to pose as true scriptural friends of Israel. Gorenberg observes that the best-selling evangelical thriller series Left over has a host of Israeli and Jewish characters steeped in crude and offensive stereotypes – yet its co-author, right-wing evangelist Tim LaHaye, had loudly disavowed claims of anti-Semitism, citing his support for Israel as irrefutable proof to the contrary. “He was an überhawk about Israel in a way that I think hurts the Jewish people,” Gorenberg says. “And for him, the terrible consequences of this position are marvelous, because they will bring about the Second Coming.” Trump, for his part, “doesn’t have the same beliefs as the apostolic wing of the Christian right – that’s far too sophisticated for him – but he’s following a parallel path.”
JRump’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 Case of Christian nationalism won the approval of the Trumpian right, even though he attacks benign practices such as inter-ethnic marriage in his blood-soil-and-cross vision of righteous American biblical rule. Anti-Semitism, too, has grown in popularity thanks to Elon Musk’s silly promotion of Kanye West’s demented rantings posing an outsized and sinister Jewish influence in American life.
This backdrop makes Trump’s swaggering post anything but the peripheral ego crisis it might have seemed at first glance. “It’s a mixture of right-wing populist and fascist messages,” says Federico Finchelstein, chair of the history department at the New School for Social Research and most recent author of A Brief History of Fascist Lies. “To right-wing American Jews, he says, ‘You are with me,’ and to other Jews, ‘You have to follow me or else.’ Now you have radical fascists following him, and they hear what he says, it’s that these “bad Jews” aren’t American.” In this ambiguous message, he says different things to different audiences, and they understand him differently.
Trump’s tightly modulated ambiguity, intentional or not, is another classic rhetorical move in fascist discourse, Finchelstein argues. “Here, Trump is sharing things with Mussolini. Mussolini looked more like Trump than Hitler. At one point, before race laws in Italy, Mussolini supported the idea of a Palestinian homeland for Jews. In both cases, the distinction was that there are good Jews who are not our challenge, and then there are bad Jews. This perspective, too, can easily encompass the elective and instrumental endorsement of radical 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 revered the Israeli army.
Finchelstein says it’s important, in the face of such seemingly muddled thinking, to heed the multi-faceted message in Trump’s hectoral outbursts: “He’s said things like this all along — he has extreme supporters, even fascists . So this idea that all of these meanings are mutually exclusive, because they defy our own logic, just doesn’t apply. These are all multilevel meanings; they mean several things at once.
Gorenberg also points out that amid all the chaos and noise surrounding all of Trump’s statements, the basic meaning is now crystal clear: “It’s not a dog whistle; it is a cry. It’s completely there.