The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion President Trump’s ignorant attack on George Soros

President Trump at the White House on Sept. 5. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

To paraphrase Michelle Obama, when the Republicans go low, Donald Trump goes lower. Earlier today, the president may have reached a personal worst, by tweeting that the women who confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in a Senate elevator, were “professionals” who were “paid by (George) Soros and others.”

If it was anyone else, this would seem to be base anti-Semitism. Soros is both rich and Jewish, and is officially and incessantly reviled in his native Hungary by the right-wing, authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The campaign there against Soros, who survived the Holocaust through guile and luck, could be called vaguely anti-Semitic, but there is nothing vague about it. Soros is the representation of the rich Jew, an anti-Semitic stereotype which, in Hungary at least, endures.

One might think Trump is appealing to a similar mob. But the president is clearly no anti-Semite. Two of his lawyers over the years — Roy Cohn and Michael Cohen — were Jewish, as have been many of his other associates. His daughter converted to Judaism and his grandchildren have been raised in that faith.

So what you have is not anti-Semitism by intent, but it is anti-Semitism nonetheless. The president, I guarantee you, knows nothing about Hungary’s history, nor that Adolf Eichmann managed to round up the country’s Jewish population and have about 437,000 of them murdered at Auschwitz. Trump probably knows little about Soros, either, because he knows little about almost everything. He is a genius at ignorance.

But the impulse is there. He is forever scapegoating. Instead of the cosmopolitan, rootless Jew, he has the cosmopolitan rootless media. Its members supposedly have the same values, the same unaccountability, the same hidden power, the same allegiance to nothing of value and the same contempt for those who do. This is anti-Semitism without Jews.

Trump should know better. But he knows so little. (Maybe his daughter could alert him.) He invokes the anti-Semitic stereotype of Soros probably for the same reason Orban does. Soros fits the bill; he looks the part. Just as Trump indulges in racist tropes without realizing they — and he — are racist, so he indulges in anti-Semitism without having Jews in mind. It matters not. Others do.