Damage control: How does Donald Trump convince Americans he's not an anti-Semite when he's surrounded by them?

A reputation expert says that merely pointing out Trump's Jewish son-in-law doesn't defend him

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 19, 2017 3:00PM (EDT)

 (AP/Max Becherer/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Getty/Alex Wong)
(AP/Max Becherer/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Getty/Alex Wong)

White House adviser Sebastian Gorka's ties to Hungarian anti-Semitic groups have existed since February, and it wasn't until earlier this week that it came out that Gorka had sworn a lifetime loyalty oath to Vitézi Rend, a Hungarian far-right organization with Nazi ties.

But, given that President Donald Trump has been accused of dog whistle anti-Semitism in the past — from taking specific mentioning of Jews out of a statement commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day to staying silent on acts of anti-Semitic vandalism for a disturbingly long time — it begs wondering why he's not doing more to actually show that he cares about Jewish people.

According to Eric Schiffer, CEO of The Patriarch Organization and chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, the president may be focused on his image, but is surrounding himself with people who aren't concerned with theirs.

"The biggest problems for Trump are his relationships with political characters tied to anti-Semitic behavior, and his periods of proactive omission and relative silence in response to anti-Semitic incidences which call for presidential leadership to target and condemn," Schiffer explained. "We had Trump at first not want to condemn support from David Duke, a famous anti-Semite. Then there was the reference to Hillary Clinton’s meetings 'in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty to enrich global financial powers.' The retweeted messages sent by white supremacists including the image of Clinton next to a Jewish star and hundred dollars bills with the moniker of 'Most Corrupt Candidate.'"

Inevitably, when someone points out that these things suggest a strain of anti-Semitism, Trump's defenders will point to the president's pro-Israel stances or the fact that his son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka are Jewish. That will mean nothing in the long run. "The problem with the defenses is that they don't address the times he has made what appears to be anti-Semitic signals to the alt-right in tweets, retweets and administration hirings," Schiffer pointed out. "It also doesn't explain how he kept radio silent in the face of blatant anti-Semitism, or how he failed to give respect to the  Jewish people who suffered in the Holocaust."

The next big question, of course, is why Trump is pandering to anti-Semitism — whether he is simply behaving ignorantly or if he is motivated by a deeper, perhaps more sinister agenda.

"Trump is a political animal that personifies a modern Machiavellian model thrust into 2017," Schiffer explained. "Trump's solid base is well below 40 percent and to alienate a not insignificant portion that can't be easily replaced with ardent supporters would not only go against the tactic that brought him into power, but would be political self-sabotage under the same Machiavellian model."

This doesn't mean that Trump can't — in his own highly cynical way — be a friend to Jewish people.

"On a purely political and practical level, and seen through Trump's modern Machiavellian lens, he can," Schiffer said. "Trump makes his decisions, compartmentalizes relationships, and is Machiavellian and won’t relinquish the benefits of being a friend to Jews, the loyalty to his family who are Jews, and to the State of Israel that supersedes even Jews but goes to his friendship to Christians as well."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Anti-semitism Donald Trump Eric Schiffer Sebastian Gorka