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Ilhan Omar in Arlington, VA, USA on 1/10/2019 © Phil Pasquini / Shutterstock

Democrats and Republicans Agree to “Honor the Tropes”

Washington has fallen in love with a new insult designed to protect the interests of one of their favorite lobbies.

The Daily Devil’s Dictionary has elected the word “trope” as the most abused word of the week. Here is a selection of its repetitive use:

Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders said in a statement: “Congresswoman [Ilhan] Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.” The Forward journalist Batya Ungar-Sargon said: “Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.” Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated: “It’s shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money.'” Senator Chuck Schumer wrote: “No one should invoke anti-Semitic tropes during policy disagreements.” Representative Josh Gottheimer tweeted: “Rep. @IlhanMN has avoided meeting with me to discuss why anti-Semitic tropes like these are hurtful to so many Americans.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Trope:

For the educated, a rhetorical figure. For the political class, a term of insult to ostracize or anathematize people who cross the cultural lines they have drawn, essentially with a view to protecting themselves from scandal.

Contextual note

Most Americans — including politicians — who have never studied literature or philosophy in college have no idea what the word “trope” means. Derived from Aristotle’s thinking on rhetoric and poetics, a trope is a tool of reasoning and persuasion. “The first definition of trope can refer to numerous types of figures of speech,” devices used to develop an argument or endow it with stylistic weight. But because few people have studied the history of rhetoric, once a staple of Western civilization, for the modern world the term has acquired a degraded sense, similar to cliché: the mindlessly repeated expression of an unfounded idea.

This past week, Washington politicians and their acolytes transformed trope into their own cliché designed to disparage the critical observations of Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who challenged two sacred rules. The first — whose infringement is punishable by having to wear the scarlet “A” of anti-Semitism — is that any reference to Israel’s policies must be in the form of unconditional approval. The second is that mentioning the scandal of lobbyist influence in Washington is OK, but suggesting that legislators may actually be corrupted by lobbyists is forbidden. Omar was guilty on both counts.

Now the rest of the nation knows what people in Washington think the word “trope” means. They can add it to their stock of insults. Omar herself has apparently added it to her lexicon, as she confessed: “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”

Zack Stieber of NTD takes the trouble to define the offending trope: “The trope in question is that a cabal of Jews secretly controls all manners of things, including governments and politicians, through secret funding.”

This helps us to understand why the others referred to the trope without explaining it. Nothing Omar said or tweeted suggested that she was evoking a cabal. She focused on the inner workings of Congress itself.

On the other hand, the same Republicans who so indignantly accuse Omar have been known to exploit the trope. The Forward highlights the fact that Representative Kevin McCarthy, the man who initiated the chain of events by calling out Omar, recently expressed a far more transparent anti-Semitic trope in a now deleted tweet: “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election! Get out and vote Republican November 6th.”

Historical note

Making any sense of this issue requires a brief reminder of the history of both anti-Semitism and lobbying in Washington. Although existing for centuries, anti-Semitism in Europe gathered force in the 19th century, reaching its apogee with Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust. Anti-Semitic propaganda coalesced at the beginning of the 20th century as a delusional, widely-circulated conspiracy theory claimed to be an authentic document: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Calling its contents a “trope” makes no sense, since the text more closely resembles a paranoid hallucination. It paints a picture of a cabal of Jews and Freemasons plotting to undermine Christendom with the aim of ruling the world. In other words, it accused Jewish people of doing what the British and French were trying to do and to some extent had successfully achieved.

Like all conspiracy theories, it earned credibility for the willingly gullible by distorting known facts, playing on the impressions people had of both Jews and Freemasons, the latter known for their secrecy. The case against the Jews stems from the fact that during the Middle Ages and Renaissance Christians allowed and even encouraged Jews to play the role of bankers, a privilege denied to Christians, who were forbidden from charging interest on loans. Jewish banking became an important factor in the development of the European economy. By the 19th century, the Rothschild bank became so powerful and influential that historian Niall Ferguson titled a book on modern history, The House of Rothschild: The World’s Banker, 1849-1999.

As colonialists building a maritime empire, the British created modern banking in the 18th century. This provided an opportunity for Jewish families, such as the Rothschilds, Lehmans and Warburgs as well as numerous British and then American clans, to play a key role in providing the banking infrastructure related to colonial and neocolonial exploitation. It also ushered in a new phase of civilization in which money, profit and riches were elevated to the highest criteria of moral worth.

Washington lobbying has been traced back to the 1850s and the informal meetings with lawmakers in the lobby of Willard hotel. It has always been about money and profit and little else. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is just one among many influential lobbies. Because AIPAC represents the interests of a foreign nation to whom members of Congress have a habit of vowing undying loyalty, American voters should be informed of its influence. Rather than demanding and even rejecting an apology, the American people and its politicians should be grateful that Ilhan Omar has opened up the debate.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.] 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.