The question of rebuking anti-Semitism should be a hanging slider that any president could hit out of the park.
So the moment yesterday when a reporter quizzed President Donald Trump about threats against Jewish institutions — last months’ bomb scare at Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, for example — should have been easily handled.
Here’s the transcript of that:
QUESTION: So first of all, my name is (Inaudible) from (Inaudible) Magazine. I (inaudible). I haven’t seen anybody in my community, including yourself or any of the — anyone on your staff of being (OFF-MIKE).
Because (OFF-MIKE). However, what we’ve already heard about and what we (OFF-MIKE) is (OFF-MIKE) so you’re general forecast (ph) like 48 (OFF-MIKE). There are people who are everything (ph) happens through their packs (ph) is one of the (OFF-MIKE)…
TRUMP:…he said he was gonna ask a very simple, easy question. And it’s not, its not, not — not a simple question, not a fair question. OK sit down, I understand the rest of your question.
So here’s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti- Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican — quiet, quiet, quiet.
See, he lied about — he was gonna get up and ask a very straight, simple question, so you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge, I find it repulsive.
I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the prime minister, you heard Ben Netanyahu (ph) yesterday, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time and then he said, forget it.
So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.
TRUMP: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, I’m Lisa (ph) from the…
TRUMP: See, it just shows you about the press, but that’s the way the press is.
The answer came a day after the president deflected a somewhat similar question during an appearance with the Israeli prime minister.
“Condemn the behavior and make a sincere pledge to do everything possible to stop it,” the New York Times’ editorial said today, offering a Politics 101 guide to how to answer such a question.
It was as if his brain had short-circuited or someone had hit some internal replay button in his brain.
Mr. Trump went on to promise to “have peace in this country” and to “stop crime,” which could mean stopping hate crimes, but could just as easily mean a crackdown on speeding. As for racism and anti-Semitism, he said “bad things” have happened “over a long period of time” and gave no hint of appreciating how his nationalistic, anti-immigrant policies and fear-mongering have been a dog whistle for the alt-right.
Once again, he exploited the Jewish members of his family to bolster his credibility, noting “as far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law; and three beautiful grandchildren.” His bottom line: “You’re going to see a lot of love.”
This is the same man whose White House recently issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that said nothing about the six million Jews who perished under the Nazis.
The Atlantic today called it the most bizarre moment from yesterday’s bizarre news conference.
The problem isn’t that Trump is anti-Semitic. It’s that he’s more upset by the charge than by the actual anti-Semitism growing around the country, some of which his supporters are perpetrating. He’s like the Breitbart-types who think whites suffer more from being accused of racism than African-Americans do from actually experiencing it.
Presidents are supposed to show empathy for their anxious constituents. But when it comes to anti-Semitism, the only person Trump shows empathy for is himself.
Related: Trump’s Thursday Press Conference, Annotated (NPR)