Earlier this week, Donald Trump Jr., a key coordinator of his father’s presidential campaign, sparked controversy when he retweeted a notorious anti-Semite to his 631,000 followers on Twitter. The comment itself was not anti-Semitic, but a criticism of Hillary Clinton, which is probably how the younger Trump was taken in:
Kevin McDonald is not some random political commentator, however. He has been dubbed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic,” thanks to his authorship of “a trilogy that supposedly ‘proves’ that Jews are genetically driven to destroy Western societies.” He also edits The Occidental Observer, a white-supremacist and anti-Semitic journal. As a rather fringe racist, McDonald usually gets only a handful of retweets from his Twitter account. But with the help of Donald Trump Jr., the neo-Nazi was not only introduced to over half a million readers, but his tweet received more than 600 retweets.
This is not the first time a top Trump surrogate has effectively mainstreamed anti-Semites on social media. Trump himself infamously shared an anti-Semitic meme featuring a Star of David that had been produced by a white supremacist. Lt. General Mike Flynn, a Trump backer who spoke at the Republican National Convention and was on Trump’s VP shortlist, retweeted an anti-Semite who implied Jews were manipulating world governments.
Trump deleted his tweet and Flynn apologized for his mistake. Donald Trump Jr. has done neither. It is doubtful that any of them are personally prejudiced toward Jews. Trump’s daughter—and his son’s sister—Ivanka is an Orthodox Jewish convert. Flynn has collaborated on books with pro-Israel Jewish writers. But the personal prejudices of Trump and his team are not really the point, and they are not why this repeated conduct is so disturbing.
The problem, rather, is that Donald Trump’s campaign attracts and is dependent on a hardcore base of anti-Semites. Which means his administration will be as well. Pro-Trump discourse, memes, and advocacy are disproportionately produced by racists, from Kevin McDonald to David Duke to the alt-right, and it is impossible to support the candidate without amplifying these bigoted boosters and their influence. To be sure, all political campaigns—left and right—inevitably attract fringe nuts, and it would be wrong to discredit a cause simply because some racists have attached themselves to it. But the bigots aren’t ancillary to Trump’s campaign; in many respects, they are his campaign.
This is not a hypothesis or supposition. It is a fact. A data-analytics firm has found that 62 percent of Donald Trump’s retweets come from white supremacists praising him. The campaign inadvertently selected an anti-Semitic white supremacist leader as one of its delegates in California, before media reports compelled them to withdraw him. At the time, the bigot, William Johnson, explained why he felt Trump’s rise to be so liberating: “For many, many years, when I would say these things, other white people would call me names: ‘Oh, you’re a hatemonger, you’re a Nazi, you’re like Hitler,’ ” he said. “Now they come in and say, ‘Oh, you’re like Donald Trump.’ ”
This, in a nutshell, is who Trump is normalizing during this election, and his team isn’t shy about it. Indeed, Trump’s new campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, has unashamedly boasted that under his stewardship, his site Breitbart News became “the platform for the alt-right.” This is the same alt-right whose members enjoy harassing Jewish journalists, photoshopping them into gas chambers and concentration camps, and posting Nazi propaganda.
Precisely because Trump repels so many Republican political professionals—many former GOP officials have signed letters denouncing him—he is unusually reliant on his enthusiastic internet backers to produce propaganda for him and staff his operation. And these internet backers, as has been well documented, have little love for Jews. No other candidate, from Hillary Clinton to libertarian Gary Johnson to conservative Evan McMullin, has such a problem. And unsurprisingly, none of them or their staff have been accidentally retweeting anti-Semites on a regular basis.
The elevation of these hateful voices has been disturbing enough during the campaign. But should Trump be elected, these are the people who will inevitably end up filling many of the hundreds of positions in his White House, given that most traditional Republican operatives refuse to work for him.
This is who will ride to power with a Trump victory.
And this, in a nutshell, is what you are voting for if you vote for Donald Trump: the mainstreaming of anti-Jewish and anti-minority bigotry into the American government and the country’s political discourse.