First Donald Trump said that Mexican immigrants were all rapists and murderers. This shot him immediately into front-runner status, with him polling at poll numbers that rivaled the other thirteen or fourteen candidates combined.
Not to be outdone, the candidates had to get in on the prejudice act.
When Kentucky clerk and anti-LGBT bigot Kim Davis became a folk hero for defying the Supreme Court and refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz ran to her side in order to try to “me too” their way into the prejudice vote. Huckabee’s effort mostly took. Cruz’s effort didn’t.
So the prejudice ball was back in Trump’s court, and at a rally, a supporter began a question with, “There’s a problem in this country and it’s called Muslims. The president is one,” and all Trump responded with was a promise to “look into it.” This was a fail on two fronts. First, Trump failed to correct the questioner on his assertion that we have a national problem called “Muslims.” Second, Trump failed to correct the questioner on his assertion that President Obama is a Muslim— as if that would be a bad thing— which he is not. The Constitution, by the way, says that we cannot have any religious tests for office holders. How inconvenient.
But Constitution be damned. Ben Carson doubled down on the anti-Muslim sentiment by proclaiming that Muslims would not be qualified to be president. Carson failed to notice the inherent risk that comes with stoking racist flames when he is, you know, a black guy trying to court the votes of an ardently racist base. Good luck with that, doc.
“Jeb!” saw his numbers slipping away as the Trump Train and the Carson Caboose rolled on, so he tried the old-fashioned Republican approach by dog-whistling his racism. He came out against multiculturalism. Let me say that again. “Jeb!” issued his opposition to “multiculturalism,” which is a seven-syllable word. He didn’t see any kind of bump in the polls.
So “Jeb!” tried again, this time being more explicit, pulling a (failed) play from Mitt Romney’s playbook, and maintained that black people just want a bunch of free stuff from the government, this time promulgating a much more overt and virulently racist meme about the laziness of black people.
But this still hasn’t translated into much of a bump for “Jeb!” so “Jeb!” has been scrambling around looking for some other ethnic minority to pick on, maybe one that no other presidential candidate has picked on yet. Aha! Nobody’s pissed off Native Americans in the presidential cycle lately, so “Jeb!” publicly maintained his deep abiding conviction that the name of Washington’s football team— “Redskins”— is not actually racist. Plus, “Jeb!” gets bonus points for this since the Redskins owner is a contributor to one of “Jeb!”‘s SuperPACs. Whether “Jeb!” gets a bump out of kicking Native Americans in the teeth remains to be seen, but at least he knows how to keep his donors happy. (I mean, in ways other than actually going out and winning the nomination or whatever.)
But you know that candidates are starting to get desperate to get in on the prejudice pump priming when they start going after the Jews. That is actually a little risky since there is practically only one lobbying organization in Washington more powerful than the god-almighty NRA, and that’s AIPAC. But what’s a far-right candidate to do when the base is screaming for red meat and all the good marginalized minorities have already been thrown under the bus by the other candidates?
So that’s why Marco Rubio held a fundraiser at a mansion of a Nazi memorabilia collector on Yom Kippur. Screw dog-whistles. Rubio wasn’t farting around and taking any chances with subtlety. Plus, like Ben Carson, a guy named Marco Rubio really has to fight extra hard for the far-right hateful bigot vote, and, he’s got his very own mentor (that would be “Jeb!”) to outpoint here.
But the crowning achievement came yesterday. Not from any particular presidential candidate— none of them would dare go this far. Yet. Yesterday, right-wing A.M. Hate Radio talk show host Michael “Savage” Weiner called Bernie Sanders a “liberal weasel Jew” who hates Christians and hates America.
Yes. It’s a bad thing to be a Jew, and that’s why you should be against Bernie Sanders. Because he’s a Jew.
I should not have to remind anyone why anti-Semitism is so much the taboo it is anyway. But for those who need a refresher course, I invite everyone to listen to Stars in the Dust, an oratorio by the great Jewish-American composer Samuel Adler, who was my teacher, on the historical subject of Krystallnacht. The piece is not short, but everyone needs to listen to at least a little bit of it. Adler was nine years old during Krystallnacht and his family was incredibly fortunate and able to emigrate to the United States.
No doubt MIchael “Savage” Weiner is giving political cover by saying something that the candidates themselves would dearly love to say, but feel they cannot, because it would cross a line. But here’s the thing. Every other line has been eroded. It is only a matter of time before this line is eroded too. Expect at least one candidate before it’s through to take a potshot himself or herself at Bernie Sanders for being a Jew. Savage is just the stalking horse. The candidates, and the Republicans writ large, want to see if there is any mass resistance to this overt, ugly anti-Semitism.
Well, is there?