A section of Dana Milbank’s account of a Trump rally at the start of the GOP convention: “Dozens of attendees wore ‘Hillary for Prison’ T-shirts. One sign that said ‘Latinos for Trump’ featured a bumper sticker declaring ‘9/11 was an inside job.’ The flip side had the message ‘Hillary for Prison’ (the first ‘i’ was dotted with a Jewish star and Muslim crescent) and a bumper sticker declaring fluoride ‘poison in the tap water.’”
Milbank’s general point is that the Trump campaign supports, and at the convention the campaign features, fringe loonies such as Alex Jones and their bizarre conspiracy theories. Trump himself has actually appeared on Jones’ show many times to promote the idea that President Obama is not an American citizen. A prominent Trump’s consigliere who appeared at this very rally, Stone, recited the list of the “greatest hits” of American political paranoia, from calling the 9/11 attack an “inside job” perpetrated by the US government to the conspiracy to undermine America through the introduction of fluoride into the nation’s drinking water. This latter has been a favorite of the John Birch Society since 1953.
The presence of such mentally destructive high jinks should give us pause when it shapes a presidential campaign, and is not disavowed but promoted by the candidate himself. And the connection of this mishegas to anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiment should not be surprising: in the 1920s the nascent Nazi party was ideologically influenced by extreme “nationalist” groups such as the Thule Society. Taken together these groups promoted a strange but powerful mixture of conspiracy theory, twisted anthropology, nativism, pseudo-science and occult thinking, characteristics which mark the groups that have come together to shape and support the emerging GOP under Trump. Add to this the cult of personality Trump projects and you have the very witches’ brew that once gave rise to Hitler and now gives rise to Trump.
The argument that Trump can’t be held responsible for every insane expression or immoral act by his supporters is fatuous. Was a naive German nation simply cleverly seduced and manipulated by Hitler, or did the German volk find in Hitler an ingenious, perfect tool for exploiting their fears, prejudices, cultural vulnerabilities and national characteristics? Perhaps Hitler did not prey upon a passive German population; rather, perhaps the German people and Hitler found in each other the perfect partner in the pursuit of mutually assured destruction. Perhaps this is why we are so unsettled and disturbed by Trump’s candidacy and the prospect of a Trump victory. If Trump projected resonances of the buffoon Mussolini, we would give any of this a second thought. —Rabbi Kerry Baker