“But he has Jewish friends/family/employees!”
That’s been the refrain since last Saturday (or really, since December) when Donald Trump, or one his campaign surrogates, or one of his adoring fans, makes a questionable comment about Jews. And on Saturday morning, Trump, in attempt to take another shot at “Crooked Hillary,” waded into anti-Semitic waters once again:
The imagery is clearly anti-Semitic: Upon a blood-red Star of David, Hillary Clinton is branded as a crook under the influence of Jewish money, all against a backdrop of hundred dollar bills. It was originally posted on /pol/, a message board home to white supremacists and anti-Semites that’s been a source of Trump tweets before. Trump later deleted the tweet.
The uproar began immediately, as journalists, Twitter users, and Hillary Clinton’s team jumped on the chance to allege straightforward anti-Semitism, sans the vaunted dog-whistle (that’s turned into everyone’s favorite term this cycle; second place: “doubled down”). Dan Scavino, Trump’s social media director, said that he borrowed the image from an “anti-Hillary Twitter user.”
“As the Social Media Director,” he said in a post on the campaign Facebook page, “I would never offend anyone and therefore chose to remove the image.” This, of course, is a confusing stance for a campaign that’s couched a healthy portion of its appeal in the right to offend. Erstwhile Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski decried the charges of anti-Semitism as “political correctness run amok,” accusing critics of the tweet of “reading into something that isn’t there.” The candidate himself accused “the dishonest media” of attempting to “depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff’s Star, or plain star!” Regardless, the tweet was deleted and then replaced with the same image, switching the star for a circle.
How to decipher the latest from the Donald? The easiest route to take is to call him an anti-Semite, which may very well be true, but doesn’t quite get at what makes this so interesting. Mistakes tend to reveal far more about the zeitgeist of a campaign than successes, and this one is no different.
Let’s say it was truly a mistake. Scavino, trolling Twitter for a succinct Hillary takedown, happened upon this image and a) didn’t check the history of the user who posted it, which was virulently racist and anti-Semitic, and b) hastily grabbed the image without realizing the connotations, which should’ve been obvious. The smart thing to do, obviously, would’ve been to disavow the image, acknowledge the mistake, and move on. But contrition isn’t really in the Trump playbook, so instead, we get conflicting apologists. Scavino didn’t really apologize and sort of blamed Microsoft, while Lewandowski and Trump both claim it was misconstrued.
Trump and others have said that the star is supposed to represent a sheriff’s badge, but that doesn’t make an iota of sense: Who is the star supposed to be pinned to? Trump? Why would he wear a star with an insult? And why would he give Hillary, “the most corrupt candidate ever,” the role of sheriff? In any case, anyone who’s every seen Toy Story, let alone seen an actual sheriff’s badge, knows that the points of the star are supposed to be rounded off into little circles. (Go ahead, search “sheriff badge,” see what comes up.)
So, you can make a choice. Either Scavino wasn’t intelligent/thorough enough to know that he was posting something blatantly anti-Semitic, or he did it knowingly. Even after defending Scavino, Trump had the original tweet deleted. Whatever your choice, just know that in the reposted image, you can still see the points of the star poking out from behind the circle. How’s that for a dog-whistle?
Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.