Offering a scathing response to a question that was never asked can backfire. President Donald Trump demonstrated on the bigly screen of national television what it looks like when we jump – or “trump” – to conclusions.
After calling on Jake Turx, a reporter for the Orthodox Jewish publication Ami Magazine, Mr. Trump interrupted Turx on the assumption that the young reporter was going to accuse him of being antisemitic. He told the reporter to sit down and later called him a liar. When the press conference was over, Turx, a staunch supporter of the president, explained that Mr. Trump “clearly misunderstood my question”. Mr. Trump defended himself against a charge that was never made.
Following the conference, neo-Nazi website “Daily Stormer” editor Andrew Anglin wrote in praise of the president, saying “he blasted the media, the Jews, Mexicans, Obama – all of our enemies.” Some who watched and listened to the president saw him claim to be antisemitic while silencing a Jew – probably not the PR Mr. Trump was aiming for.
But the dust did not settled. The plot grew murkier on the Friday after the press conference when Mr. Trump tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media … is the enemy of the American People.” The Washington Posts’s Amanda Erickson parsed the phrase “enemy of the people”, demonstrating how Mr. Trump has knowingly or (more likely) unwittingly and ignorantly stepped into exactly what he said he was determined to avoid.
“Enemy of the people,” writes Erickson, is first associated with the emperor Nero. As Rome crumbled, Nero vacationed in Greece. Upon returning home it was his own Senate who declared him an “enemy of the people”. Historical context is important – a lesson learned if one reads.
“The term fell out of fashion,” writes Erickson, popping up occasionally in literature and art. It returns in full force in Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play called “An Enemy of the People.” The play, writes, Erickson, “features a doctor who’s almost run out of town because of an article he’s written bashing the government.” Vladimir Lenin “used ‘the peoples’ enemies’ as a label to stigmatize anyone who didn’t fall into line when the revolution happened.” Joseph Stalin used the phrase, and to be called an “enemy of the people” was to receive a death sentence. And of course, there was Hitler. Erickson summarizes the terror associated with the phrase: “[Hitler’s] administration deployed this rhetoric to describe Hitler’s main enemy: the Jews. ‘Each Jew is a sworn enemy of the German people,’ Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1941.”
Following the conference, former KKK leader David Duke characterized it as “amazing” and congratulated the president on “berating the press”. “As we all know,” said Duke, “the United States media is an enemy of the great majority of the American people. It is totally part of the Jewish deep state.”
It may be political genius on Mr. Trump’s part that he can have the support of both neo-Nazis and Orthodox Jews. It may also be political suicide to assume one can stand between them and not get burned by the heat of their respective political passions. In any event, the s*#t storms George Castanza steps into are humorous; the ones Mr. Trump creates aren’t funny at all. In fact, they are dangerous and people get hurt.
Let that be a lesson to us all – before you jump to conclusions and venture to offer the genius of your answer, make sure you understand the question.