So, to get to the point, just a few days ago, on what is now one of my infrequent trips to New York City, I found myself, standing at the DeKalb Avenue station in Brooklyn, waiting for an R train, going to my brother’s house.
It was about 10:30 at night, and there were only a few persons on the platform, and as a veteran of New York City of the 70s and 80s, I immediately started to scan the passengers on the platform. And then, from the other end of the platform, a man started to shout. A white dude, about 40-50 years old, shabbily dressed, powerfully built. His rant went something like this: “F–ing kikes, goddam f–ing kikes, I hate f–ing kikes, f–ing kikes, Hitler was right, we need to put them in the ovens. I went to Bellevue ten times, and every time the f–ing kikes took my money and robbed me. F–ing kikes, Donald Trump will know how to take care of the f–ing kikes.”
Needless to say, in the great tradition of Jewish pusillanimity, I did nothing, and looked to see if there was perhaps a police officer on the platform. (There wasn’t.) Most of the other people on the platform were African Americans, and I said to myself, “Hey, black people. I suspect if this guy was raving about ‘f—ing N-words’, there might have been more of a response.” But then I decided that this was unfair, and that all of us were operating under a standard principle of riding the subways—when you see a crazy guy, especially an angry crazy guy, saying crazy things, leave him alone, and look the other way. Your train is bound to come soon. And that it what I and everyone else did.
I can’t say that this left me shaken, exactly, but I was certainly startled. I lived in New York City until I was forty, and I don’t remember ever hearing or witnessing such an open expression of Antisemitism. Sure, it was obvious even if the guy hadn’t mentioned his times in Bellevue that he was deranged, but no one is ever barred from participating in the open democracy of New York City’s streets and public spaces because of mental illness. Besides, over the years I had heard myriad persons of similar mental capacity express themselves on all manner of topics, and never had I heard a similar rant against the Jews. Over the next few days I asked a number of lifetime New Yorkers—all Jewish, I think—whether they had ever heard anything similar. Responses were about evenly split, though many expressed some surprise that things like this were still happening.
There has been much talk recently about whether Antisemitism is on the rise. There is always a lot of talk on whether Antisemitism is on the rise. I guess it is. Most of the attention has been paid to the Antisemitism on the strident anti-Zionist left, and among radical Jihadists and their abettors, and both phenomena are certainly troubling. But as long as Israel and Palestine continue to sizzle, so will intemperate opinions on all sides. But I don’t think the guy on the subway platform was concerned about settler-colonialism or intersectionality. This was just good old fashioned Jew hatred.
In this regard, the guy ranting on the subway platform most pertinent comments were not about Adolf Hitler, but about Donald Trump. I don’t think that Trump is in any way an Antisemite. He has Jewish friends, Jewish in-laws, Jewish grandchildren, and has lived his entire life in a very Jewish city, working in a very Jewish profession. Indeed, there’s some indication that the German-Scottish American Trump is a Jew manqué—he told an interviewer in 1976, apropos of winning an award from a Jewish organization “I’m not even Jewish, I’m Swedish [a bald faced lie; he didn’t want to say that he was German, maybe not to offend his Jewish friends.] Most people think my family is Jewish because we own so many buildings in Brooklyn.”
No Donald Trump doesn’t hate the Jews. But his racism directed against immigrants, against Muslims, his blatant misogyny has encouraged white men to publicly air their spleen against any group they dislike, including, for some, Jews. And Trump has encouraged his followers to think that his presidency will restore white men to their former dominance. His attacks on “political correctness” is a signal for his supporters longing for the good old days when you could make fun of minorities, women, or gays without expecting any adverse consequences. By making the man on the subway platform think that he has a friend in high places, Trump and Trumpism has already won, regardless of the outcome of the election.
Americans may have to go back to 1860, the presidential election before the Civil War, to find an election in which the choice between freedom or oppression, equality or racism, inclusion or exclusion was as stark. American ideals will be tested this year as they have not been in a century and a half. Perhaps the man ranting on the subway platform is an indication of the stakes of this election.