Henry Ford is celebrated today not just for founding the automobile company that bears his name, but also for paying his factory workers a living wage — one that allowed them to purchase the Model T cars they manufactured.

But Ford also left another, darker legacy. The manufacturer used a portion of the vast fortune he earned making cars for the masses to sell them on his own rabid anti-Semitism. He talked up the idea that Jews were part of a vast, international conspiracy, promoting the fraudulent “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” as well as a four-part volume called “The International Jew.” Adolf Hitler was a fan of Ford, and, as late as 1940, Ford blamed World War II on “Jewish bankers.”

Trust President Trump to make this all relevant to the present.

When the (maskless) Trump toured a Ford factory in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Thursday, he veered off his prepared remarks to discuss the founder. “The company [was] founded by a man named Henry Ford,” Trump told the assembled executives, factory workers and media. “Good bloodlines, good bloodlines. If you believe in that stuff, you got good blood.”

On the one hand, it’s quite possible that Trump did not know Ford’s dubious anti-Semitic history — the man is not exactly well-informed, no matter how many times he assures us he’s “smart” and a “stable genius.” On the other, you don’t need to be a genius to know that referring to people’s “bloodlines” in a way reminiscent of eugenics is a serious no-no, even when you are not talking about a rank anti-Semite.

Normally, we would expect a well-intentioned person who accidentally said something this potentially offensive to apologize. But after more than three years of this, we’re burned out. And this works to Trump’s benefit. He gets away with saying another thoroughly unacceptable thing. Moreover, comments about the high-quality bloodlines of anti-Semites, whether deliberate or accidental, serve as both incitements and validation to the dark underbelly of his base — a group Trump needs now more than ever.

Trump, thanks to his shambolic, indifferent, mean-spirited and out-and-out incompetent response to the global novel coronavirus pandemic, is bleeding support. Seniors — a formerly solid base of support — are beginning to abandon him. A Quinnipiac Poll released the day before the Ford Factory visit found former vice president Joe Biden holding a commanding lead over Trump in the presidential race.

So Trump has turned to his greatest hits of grievance, insults and conspiracy theories in an attempt to rally the base. Crooked Hillary is back on rotation. So is voter fraud. Why not anti-Semitism, too?

The pandemic is already leading to a rise in global anti-Semitism. And Trump has long winked at it, in the same way he incites hatred against Mexicans and Muslims. In 2016, he aired a campaign ad claiming that George Soros, then-Federal Reserve chair Janet L. Yellen and then-Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein were part of a “global power structure,” a reference Henry Ford would no doubt have endorsed.

Soros, whose name features in many an anti-Semitic rant, made a major reappearance during the fight over Brett M. Kavanaugh, when Soros was accused by Trump and Republicans of paying for protesters. Less than three weeks later, a man would enter Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue to murder 11 men and women attending Saturday morning services.

Then, as now, we are living in an environment that feels increasingly out of control. There have been shootings and violence over refusals to wear protective masks, a public safety item that Trump has openly disdained. Asians are reporting an increasing number of hate crimes, an uptick no doubt related to Trump and Republican insistence on calling covid-19 “the Chinese virus.” The pandemic is viewed by the public in increasingly political terms.

We need a president who can rise to the occasion and unite us as a people. Instead we’ve got Donald Trump, a man who achieved power by appealing to his supporters’ basest divisions, and is doing so again in an attempt to remain in office. Whether Trump meant the anti-Semitism he veered into Thursday is almost beside the point. The anti-Semitic elements of his base will likely believe he did. And unless Trump himself tells them they are wrong, that’s all that matters.

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