the national interest

Report: Trump Said Jews Are ‘Only in It for Themselves’

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Washington Post reporter Greg Miller has a long, detailed, measured overview of Donald Trump’s long history of public and private racism. It begins with an explosive, previously unreported anecdote: “After phone calls with Jewish lawmakers, Trump has muttered that Jews ‘are only in it for themselves’ and ‘stick together’ in an ethnic allegiance that exceeds other loyalties, officials said.” (Note that, while the sources for this anecdote have not been named, there are more than one.)

There is nothing that can make the majority of conservatives who have embraced Trump admit he is a racist. (The exception being the openly white-nationalist extremists who explicitly adore Trump because he’s a racist.) Racism is a taboo trait, and conceding that they are endorsing the reelection of a racist forfeits too much moral credibility. And so they will respond with the usual litany of deflections. If the evidence comes from officials speaking off the record, it can’t be trusted. If they are speaking on the record, they will either have left the administration or be fired immediately, which means they are disgruntled. Failing either of those methods, they can simply ignore the evidence or point to some outrage committed by a Democrat or some left-winger with a social-media account.

But what gives these private accounts added credibility is that they line up closely with Trump’s public statements. He has repeatedly depicted American Jews as having dual loyalty. In 2019, he described Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to a group of American Jews as “your prime minister.” In 2018 and 2020, he referred to Israel as “your country.”

Anti-Semitism comes in many forms. Trump is absolutely not an eliminationist anti-Semite, like Hitler. In some ways he admires Jews and attributes to them traits of selfishness and shrewdness that recommend them as underlings and partners. Like Richard Nixon, he is able to combine personal anti-Semitism with a public record of support for Israel. What can’t be plausibly denied, however, is that he is an anti-Semite.

Miller’s reporting contains far more detail about Trump’s racism, nearly all of it already known publicly. It is revealing, though, that new evidence continues pouring out faster than he could keep track of it. Last night, Trump delivered a riff about Representative Ilhan Omar that was ugly even by Trumpian standards.

“She’s telling us how to run our country,” he announced. “How did you do where you came from? How’s your country doing? She’s going to tell us — she’s telling us how to run our country.” Omar immigrated as a child from Somalia. She obviously has no responsibility for civil strife in a country she fled as a child. But Trump is casually insisting that an immigrant who became a U.S. citizen cannot be an American. (Last year, he led crowds in chants of “Send her back!”)

If Trump officials confirmed off the record that Trump said this in the White House, his supporters would angrily deny it. But he said it on a stage in front of television cameras.

The semi-official explanation for Trump’s beliefs is that he abuses minorities for reasons other than bigotry. “He does it to everyone. Not everything is about race,” explained former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. “I think he’s just combative,” said Rick Santorum.

A former senior White House official makes a version of this defense to Miller: “This is a guy who abuses people in his cabinet, abuses four-star generals, abuses people who gave their life for this country, abuses civil servants. It’s not like he doesn’t abuse people that are White as well.” Does it require saying that racists — even the most extreme racists — sometimes behave abusively toward members of their own racial group? If so, there is a well-known clip from Downfall that dramatizes the point.

A related version of this defense is that Trump merely appreciates his supporters and lashes out at opponents, and so he refuses to denounce Nazis and lashes out at minorities as an impulsive act of political tribalism. “I don’t think Donald Trump is in any way a white supremacist, a neo-Nazi or anything of the sort,” another former senior administration official tells Miller. “But I think he has a general awareness that one component of his base includes factions that trend in that direction.”

But this ignores the long history of Trump’s racism, which Miller runs through, long predating his political career, dating back at least to his refusal to rent rooms in his father’s apartments to black people. As Miller notes, there are different forms of racism, and Trump’s variety of it allows him to posture as a friend of Black people and to work closely with Jews. And yet the undeniable fact is that Trump is a racist. His racism shapes his public rhetoric and his political program. And it implicates anybody who supports him.

Report: Trump Said Jews Are ‘Only in It for Themselves’