You must be having a blast.”
If I had a nickel for every time somebody said this to me during this election, I could close Donald Trump’s fundraising gap with Hillary Clinton.
But I’m not having a blast.
As someone who delights in the absurd in politics, I should celebrate Trump: an orange buffoon who flies to Scotland in the middle of the Brexit crisis and boasts about his golf resort, who brags about his penis size in a televised debate, lies about his charitable giving, fights with the pope, talks at a third-grade level, bastardizes Yiddish and bungles New Testament verses alike, calls 9/11 7-Eleven and believes global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese.
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The preposterous Trump is, from this perspective, an embarrassment of riches. But I see him as just an embarrassment. For all of us.
My journalistic training gave me a sense of ironic detachment: Though my sympathies are with the center-left, my instinct is to find fault and hypocrisy on both sides. But this is different. This feels personal.
Far-right nationalism is supposed to be a product of other countries. Austria last month came within a whisker of electing the first ultranationalist head of state in Europe since the World War II. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front has an unsettling appeal. In Britain, a xenophobic strain empowered the Brexit disaster.
But here in pluralistic America, you weren’t supposed to be able to win by attacking immigrants, racial minorities and the disabled — or by proposing to ban immigration by members of a religious minority and to force those already here to register.
Some say that my family and I, as Jews, are safe from Trump’s hatred; his daughter married a Jew, after all. But Trump has trafficked in anti-Semitic stereotypes before, and the bigots Trump has unleashed in this campaign include legions of anti-Semites.
“If Trump stays on Message he will beat that whore and you will have to take your ass to Israel,” one emailer informed me in a badly spelled message last week. That follows many others via email and social media (“more of that, Jew … had you pegged as a Jewish shill … you’re garbage”), and my experience is hardly the worst.
My friend Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times wrote last month about the “anti-Semitic hate, much of it from self-identified Donald J. Trump supporters,” he has received. “[Twitter user] Trump God Emperor sent me the Nazi iconography of the shiftless, hook-nosed Jew. I was served an image of the gates of Auschwitz, the famous words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ replaced without irony with ‘Machen Amerika Great.’ Holocaust taunts, like a path of dollar bills leading into an oven, were followed by Holocaust denial. The Jew as leftist puppet master from @DonaldTrumpLA was joined by the Jew as conservative fifth columnist, orchestrating war for Israel.”
Bethany Mandel, a conservative who is Jewish, wrote that her “anti-Trump tweets have been met with such terrifying and profound anti-Semitism that I bought a gun earlier this month.”
And after Julia Ioffe wrote a tough profile of would-be first lady Melania Trump in GQ, she was called a “filthy Russian k---,” among many other obscene taunts, and subjected to death threats and likenesses of her photo-shopped onto Holocaust images. Melania Trump’s response to the anti-Semitic barrage against Ioffe? “She provoked them.”
Donald Trump, pressed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the anti-Semitic assault by his supporters, replied: “You'll have to talk to them about it … I don’t have a message to the fans.” He then attacked Ioffe’s article.
It’s gratifying now to see that the American public appears to be rejecting, resoundingly, Trump’s bigotry. It confirms what I argued last year, that Trump is a “sure loser” in November, because “Americans, in a general election, will never choose a candidate who expresses the bigotry and misogyny that Trump has, regardless of his attributes.”
Now, I fear, Democrats have grown too confident — cocky, almost — about Trump’s inevitable defeat. I worry that a major terrorist attack before the election would benefit Trump, and what terrorist group wouldn’t want to boost Trump? He’s the best recruitment tool they’ve ever had.
Looking back at my columns of the last couple of months, it seems 90 percent of them have been about Trump in some form. I wonder: Have I lost my sense of humor? My ironic detachment?
But ironic detachment is a luxury of a stable democracy. Ours is not that — and it won’t be until we’re rid of this poison.
© 2016, Washington Post Writers Group