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Just prior to Trump’s inauguration, I travelled to the United States and met Gord, a man who represents the backbone of the 45th Presidency. Desperate for change. Desperate to be right.
“Steve Bannon’s not an anti-Semite,” Gord said to me. “How is he an anti-Semite?”
This is a conversation I had to have with a long-time family friend who lives in a deep red state, South Carolina. My family and I were visiting over Christmas and, as much as we enjoy spending (brief) time with Gord, he can be a handful. He and my parents have been friends for almost 40 years. In that time, he went from being a relative Canadian Conservative living in Montreal, to a full-on Tea-Party Republican living in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Unlike other family friends who moved from Canada to the South and became Republicans, Gord doesn’t own nor carry a gun. This is, of course, in direct opposition to equally long-time family friend Todd*, who not only has a concealed carry permit, but travelled with weapons across the North-South Carolina border when he was meeting us several Christmases ago.
“I travel with at least two guns,” he said. “And a go-bag at all times. In case the world goes to shit and I need to hoof it into the woods.”
But Todd’s a different story. This story is about Gord.
We were travelling through the USA just prior to Trump’s January 20 inauguration. It was lucky that we were avoiding that date, because we knew things were going to get a little hairy over there. This, incidentally, was the first time I was genuinely afraid travelling to the USA. I never had been before. I had always felt perfectly safe.
But now, being Jewish, I didn’t.
I remember after Trump was elected, I was speaking to a Jewish friend of mine, and she said that she was trying to figure out how she could “pass as white” so that she wouldn’t get assaulted. Anti-Semitic attacks were on the rise.
“I guess I’m going to straighten my hair and stop saying ‘oy’,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to know. I’ll have to stop wearing my .”
I stopped wearing mine when I was travelling in the US as well.
We had already experienced a few political interactions with people in the USA before we got to South Carolina. Until then, all we’d really had to deal with were some minor-league sign-holding protesters out the front of Trump Tower in New York; the building, and several streets, all cordoned off, armoured police guarding the area. Traffic was all backed up. One scraggly guy was standing amongst all the picture-snapping tourists holding a small cardboard sign that read, “Not My President”.
What hurts here is not just the frightful ignorance, but the hypocrisy. Some Israelis aren’t Jews. Some Jews don’t support the Israeli government. I support Israel’s fundamental right to exist as a nation, but I don’t support pretty much anything the government does due to their far-Right leanings.
When we got down to Hilton Head, however, all of that sort of shifted. Now, that’s not just because we were in a social situation and so people talk about politics – although Americans love to bring politics up at every available opportunity – it also had to do with the fact that a) we weren’t from there, and b) they knew we were Lefties.
“What to you guys in Australia think of Donald Trump?” I remember one guest asking. Naturally, I didn’t want to say much. These were my parents’ friends, as much as they may differ politically, and I didn’t want to make things awkward for them.
But I gave her my two cents and, mostly, she seemed to agree. Her husband was all on the media-bashing bandwagon, though.
“They’re lying all the time,” he said. “And not just the mainstreams. All of them. You can’t trust any media at all.”
Another guest said that he, a long-time Republican, “held his nose” and voted for the Democrat this time.
“I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him,” he said. “He’s not a Republican. He doesn’t represent Republican values. He’s a crazy person.”
Now, interacting with all these Republicans, there is something important to note. In America, it is quite common – I would say, quite unlike Australia – for Republicans and Democrats to be friends, even when they disagree with each other. I met some good people – people I like and respect – who are Republicans, who may have even voted for Trump, and they listened with care and respect to my views and opinions on why I was so afraid and why I disagreed with every fibre of my being with the Trump administration. And this was before any executive orders were signed.
Gord is not one of those people.
I knew our meeting would be trying because, on top of being an aggressive Republican, he’s also kind of a shit-stirrer. Or, in today’s common parlance, a troll. I knew he was going to try and push my and my mother’s buttons because we were “liberal snowflakes”. I had already cut ties with Todd for tweeting victory statistics at me on election day, and calling me a “snowflake” who needs to understand “the real world”.
I had made it clear to my parents that I didn’t want to get into a shouting match with anyone about politics because a) I didn’t want to make everything awkward with their friends and b) I was on holiday.
Here are some things to know about Gord going into this:
- He is a highly educated man.
- He’s a OB/GYN.
- He’s very wealthy.
- He’s Jewish.
- He’s in his sixties.
- He volunteers at a free clinic for people who have no health insurance.
- He is the child of Holocaust survivors.
“Shouldn’t you call Mark Zuckerberg an anti-Semite because he allows anti-Semitic memes to be passed around Facebook?” he said, that damn smirk crossing his face. “I mean, if you call Bannon one because he hosts anti-Semitic material on Breitbart.”
“Well,” I said. “I think you’re fundamentally misunderstanding the difference here. Facebook isn’t a news website. It doesn’t advertise itself as a real and truthful news source. People can share news there, but it’s not a news website. Breitbart call itself a news website, and when you host stories with anti-Semitic messages, then you are delivering it to a different audience.”
“Bernie Sanders isn’t Jewish,” Gord said.
“Yes, he is,” I said. “He’s as Jewish as I am.”
“No he isn’t,” Gord said. “Why is he Jewish? Just because his mother’s Jewish?”
What hurts here is not just the frightful ignorance of this whole conversation, but the hypocrisy in it. Judaism is based on the idea that, if your mother is Jewish, you’re Jewish. That’s how it works. As a Jewish person, you just accept that.
Not Gord. What Gord means is, because Sanders is occasionally critical of Israel and the things Israel does, he isn’t Jewish, which is a very dangerous standard to set. It firmly places “Jewish” and “Israeli” in the same box, which is not always the case. Some Israelis aren’t Jews. Some Jews don’t support the Israeli government.
I support Israel’s fundamental right to exist as a nation, but I don’t support pretty much anything the government does due to their far-Right leanings. Now, there’s a whole different essay in the potential double-standard to which the international community holds Israel – but that’s another issue for another time.
These are the people that America is trying to reason with right now. Fact-avoidant, desperate for change, desperate to be right. And they only care about looking after themselves.
Gord is a one-issue voter. He’s the type of American Jew who votes for what’s best for Israel. And while I can understand that, coming from the familial background he does, that’s problematic because it inherently means he will not do what’s best for America. Like how an OB/GYN who volunteers at a free clinic sees no problem in voting for people who want to repeal Obamacare with no viable replacement.
One of the issues at play here is that Gord is convinced that another Holocaust is inevitable. He thinks there are people waiting in the wings to put the Jewish people back into camps and finish what Hitler started.
When we were discussing predominantly Muslim or Arab areas in Sydney, he said, “Let me buy you a Star of David, and you can wear it around there and see what happens.”
I have one, thanks. I’ve worn it in those areas. I lived with a Lebanese/Turkish Muslim housemate. I’m fine. But I don’t feel safe wearing it in America where there is an increase in bomb threats to Jewish centres because the racists and anti-Semites feel emboldened to act because “their man is in the White House”.
But I didn’t say any of that. I was fuming by this point. So, I just said, “I would feel fine, thanks.”
He’s also the kind of man who doesn’t realise how privileged he is. Specifically, a white one. And I can see in my mind’s eye that goddamn eye roll he did whenever we would bring up “white people” in any context other than “aren’t they super”.
“I don’t feel privileged,” he said. “I was in the minority in my field. Nobody wanted a male OB/GYN. That’s prejudiced!”
“But you are privileged,” I said. “I’m privileged, too. People don’t know I’m Jewish, so they just see a straight, white guy. I’m more likely to be promoted at work, to be paid more, and to get hired in the first place than my female counterparts.”
“That’s just not true,” he started.
But my mum cut in. “He’s right,” she said. “Women have to work harder for the same recognition that men get.”
“I’m a Libertarian!” he said. “I think that’s wrong!”
“Did you vote for Johnson then if you’re a Libertarian?” I asked.
“I did,” he said. “But I’m not unhappy about Trump.”
“I think people should be allowed to say whatever they want,” he went on. “Political correctness has gone crazy. Like, how come there are words that black people can say that I can’t?”
I know which word he meant. We all did.
Also on The Big Smoke
- The lies and slippery slope of Trump’s presidency
- Get it while it’s schlock: The return of fake news
- “Oh, you’re a Jew?” – My experiences facing Antisemitism
- Israel, Palestine and the clash of extremes
“Because white people have lost their privileges to say that word,” I said. “We haven’t always used it correctly in the past.”
That’s a quote from a comedian but I can’t for the life of me remember who, so I’m sorry to whoever you are, comedian with excellent phrasing.
“Like, okay, I’ve been reported at the hospital a couple of times,” he said to a chorus of completely shocked faces. “This one time, you know what Ebonics is?” he said, turning to my girlfriend. She shakes her head.
“Ebonics is the language of black people on the street,” he said, oversimplifying an anthropological and linguistic concept. “They teach it as a language at one of the universities.”
I found no evidence of this later.
“I was explaining something medical to this black couple and they just weren’t getting it,” he continued. “So I said, ‘Would you like me to translate it into Ebonics for you?’ And they reported me!”
Now, we really were aghast. “You didn’t really say that,” my mother said, kind of whispering.
“Oh, Jesus, Gord,” she said. “Of course you got reported.”
“Why?” he said, shocked. “If you’re doctor knew you were Jewish and said, ‘Do you want me to translate that into Yiddish for you?’ wouldn’t you laugh it off?”
“Kind of depends on the relationship you have with your doctor,” I said. “Mum might laugh because she’s on good terms with her GP, who she’s been seeing for almost 20 years.”
Trump has convinced these people to avoid facts, to revel in this “post-truth era”. All the things they believe are being “proved” true, because any time the President – their President – comes out and does anything, the media attacks him.
“I’d ask him he wanted me to reply in Italian,” mum said, still obviously angry. “But that doesn’t mean him saying it would be okay.”
“Especially if he was just some schmuck she was only seeing once,” I said. “Like at a hospital.”
He didn’t get it.
Later in the evening, he told me that the real anti-Semite was Hillary and how a former head of the KKK had donated money and endorsed her. This was, of course, in response to me asking if he had any problem with a candidate supported by David Duke.
I told him I didn’t believe that she had been. So, he pulled out his phone to show me. All the sources were Infowars-esque dangerously fake news sites. Snopes had an article disproving the news, which I pointed him to.
“Well, I don’t know that source,” he said, mimicking my response to his sources. And then he put his phone away. He gave me this smile, you know that troll smile, the one that you can just see plastered across someone’s face when they want to say, “I don’t care what you think, I’m always going to be more right than you because I’m not a liberal cuck.”
These are the people that America is trying to reason with right now. These are the people who we all have to try and reason with. They are fact-avoidant. They are desperate for change. They are desperate to be right. And they only care about looking after themselves, or some other single issue.
Trump has convinced these people to avoid facts, to revel in this “post-truth era”. All the things they believe are being “proved” true, because any time the President – their President – comes out and does anything, the media attacks him. Whether that attack is warranted or not, they see it as being because he is merely speaking the truth, speaking common sense, and so the media must be biased.
All the fears, the crude hopes, that these voters hold – the voters who have only to wait their turn before Trump’s thoughtless policies begin to negatively affect them – are embodied by a man who only looks after Number One, and who speaks lies so confidently, they create their own truth.
There is an army of Gords out there, armed to the teeth with assumption, ready to dismiss any facts, to dismiss any single person or group, as long as it helps them look after Number One. America talked a good game of inclusivity and unity, but it now, in South Carolina at least, they speak the language of exclusion, the fear of the other taking hold.
Liberal cucks and all.