George Soros was foiled again. Or at least that’s what President Trump would have you believe. The protests that occurred over the Brett M. Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court were not the protests of an enraged majority, dismayed that the Senate was poised to confirm a longtime Republican activist to a seat on the Supreme Court despite a less-than-thorough investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against him. No, the protesters were actors, paid to make mischief by Hungarian-born Jewish financier Soros.
Let me be clear. This was not a dog whistle. This was a car alarm going off at 4 a.m. underneath your bedroom window.
It’s not just that Trump is denying the legitimacy of people opposed to a decision he made. He’s also using anti-Semitic tropes to single out the group as different and as an other — not American, not committed to good, old-fashioned American values. This is the language of authoritarians, or would-be authoritarians.
The motivation is obvious. Kavanaugh’s appointment was forced through by a minority. Polls found more people opposed to Kavanaugh than in support. The 5o senators who voted to confirm his nomination represent 44 percent of the population. Trump himself is a minority president. He received less of popular vote than Hillary Clinton and found himself moving into the White House only because of the undemocratic electoral college. His signature achievement — a tax overhaul that showers goodies on the tippy-top of the 1 percent — remains widely unpopular.
So what to do? Turn to a tried-and-true dynamic, the place where gaslighting meets racism. Trump’s a champ at this game, and statements that reek of anti-Semitism are hardly the only ones he uses. While running for president, he attacked Mexican immigrants and claimed Muslims in New Jersey cheered when the World Trade Center collapsed, a claim literally no one has ever been able to corroborate. Shortly before the election, he ran a commercial featuring Soros, then-Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen and then-Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, along with Hillary Clinton, replete with references to “global special interests” and a “global power structure.” (I doubt you need me to tell you that intimations of a global conspiracy, especially one that has much to do with banking and money, are a longtime anti-Semitic trope.)
Since his election, Trump has moved to ban people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, and carried out a heinous policy of separating children from their undocumented-migrant parents at the southern border. Last year he retweeted three anti-Muslim tweets, including one ever so subtly titled “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” More than one commentator has noted Trump’s fondness for the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” Trump has used phrases such as “animals” to describe undocumented people living in the United States and claimed Democrats would like to see them “infest” the country.
As for Soros, his name has regularly floated around the alt-right online cesspool. But in this case, let’s give credit where credit is due to Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last Friday (as first flagged by Dave Brown at the Washington Examiner), Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, in a discussion about the ongoing Kavanaugh protests on Capitol Hill, asked Grassley, “First off, do you believe George Soros is behind all of this, paying these people to get you or your colleagues in elevators or wherever they can get in your face?” And Grassley backed her up. “I have heard so many people believe that. I tend to believe it.”
Trump took to Twitter less than two hours later — while Kavanaugh’s nomination was still in doubt. Yet Trump has not stopped with Kavanaugh’s success. On Tuesday morning, Trump made claims about paid protesters yet again, this time about the protesters being stiffed, though he managed to avoid mentioning Soros. He repeated the lie at his Tuesday evening rally in Iowa.
It’s easy to say Trump and the Republicans are keeping it up because they are sore winners, but there’s likely more going on. There are midterm elections in four weeks, races where polls show many voters leaning toward the Democratic Party. What better way to rile up Republican voters — and, hopefully, some Republican-leaning fence sitters — than to keep them engaged with the thought of outsiders who are threatening our good American republic? These appeals push an us-vs.-them narrative that rallies the base by the basest means possible.
It’s a “heads we win, tails you lose” scenario. If, due to gerrymandering, the Republicans keep control of Congress even if Democrats gain more votes, Trump can continue to claim opponents are fakes. If Republicans lose control, Trump can say they lost it, in part, through fraudulent means. My prediction? Expect to hear a lot more about Soros and his dastardly plots between now and Nov. 6. And don’t be surprised if criminal immigrants and Muslim terrorists get a bunch of mentions, too. This is how wannabe authoritarians roll. And that goes double when they rule by minority will.