On June 24, Al Jazeera’s reporter at the White House attempted to determine President Donald Trump’s position on the Israeli plan to begin illegally annexing occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised to begin operations on July 1.
On the White House lawn, Al Jazeera reporter Chris Sheridan asked Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, this simple question: “Does the president support the annexation?” Every observer of the Middle East knows that annexation is one of the principal provisions of the administration’s peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They also know that Trump has consistently aligned his policies with regard to Israel on those of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. Despite the fact that the obvious answer could only be that Trump supports annexation, Conway found a way of avoiding that simple truth.
Conway has become famous for surreal conversations with the media that skirt around obvious facts. It began shortly after Trump took office in 2017 when she invented the idea of “alternative facts” to justify the new president’s claim about the record-breaking crowd at his inauguration. This time, in response to the reporter’s question about whether Trump supported annexation, Conway avoided the question altogether. Instead, she focused on what Sheridan had said in his preface to the question when he mentioned the meetings on the subject that had taken place within the White House. Like a schoolteacher approvingly acknowledging the accuracy of a pupil’s knowledge, she replied, “You’re right, there are conversations.”
What’s Annexed on Netanyahu’s July Agenda?
She then deviated to an anecdote about an unnamed Israeli she spoke to that morning who appeared to congratulate the administration on the fact that conversations about annexation could now exist due to, in Conway’s words, “three and a half years of President Trump being the best friend to Israel — to quote Mr. Netanyahu — that Israel’s ever had.”
Just in case the reporter’s attention had drifted away after she cited Trump’s major accomplishments — without mentioning that all were achieved largely in violation of international law — she added this scoop: “He also has tried to bring peace to the Middle in many different ways.”
Undaunted, Al Jazeera’s reporter assumed that the interminable detour listing Trump’s sycophantic granting of Netanyahu’s whims meant that her answer was yes to his question about annexation. Sheridan then followed up with this more probing question: “Is he not concerned about the reaction from Arab countries and Palestinians to this move?”
This gave Conway the opportunity to demonstrate the height of her skill at delivering what appeared to be an answer, but to a question the reporter hadn’t asked. “He’s concerned about the fact that we’ve had thousands and thousands of years of turmoil there,” she said.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The confusion that results from allowing people who fail to respect the principles established by the US government and its allies to have their way, a state of affairs that, unfortunately, existed for thousands of years before the United States was even founded
Conway’s statement would appear to confirm Trump’s contention, doubted by many commentators, that he has read the Bible, a book that effectively recounts “thousands of years of turmoil.” Whether Trump learned about the Holy Land’s history through reading or watching movies starring Charlton Heston is immaterial. The multi-millennial turmoil of that particular region of the Middle East should be common knowledge to any educated person in the West and — thanks to evangelical preachers — to a lot of the uneducated as well.
If Trump is truly “concerned about” the fact of that turmoil, it would also tend to confirm his apparent claim to the title of “King of Israel” and “the second coming of God.” When Conway says “we’ve had thousands and thousands of years of turmoil,” her use of “we” seems to justify the claim Trump once made in a tweet. How else could a man who for only three and a half years has been president of the US — a nation that was founded just over 200 years ago — be the “we” who has seen thousands of years of turmoil?
Commenting on the president’s delight at being thought of as Rex Ivdæorvm (King of the Jews, John 19.19), Bess Levin, writing for Vanity Fair, observes that “Trump, incredibly, seems to believe that he’s going to win over Jewish voters by telling them they don’t know what’s good for them (‘They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore!’).”
Trump’s claim last year to the throne over the Jews and to speak in their name appears to have started a trend. In May 2020, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden adopted the same type of thinking when he offered this advice to Charlamagne Tha God in an interview on the black rapper’s program, “The Breakfast Club:” “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Trump delivers divine political wisdom on behalf of Jews, while Biden does so on behalf of black Americans.
For many Americans, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May served as a kind of epiphany. It appeared to confirm the fact that white supremacy, traditionally dismissed as fanciful radical propaganda, was a real and substantial feature of contemporary US culture. Black lives finally did matter; kneeling during the national anthem suddenly became an alternate version of patriotic expression; and monuments erected to politicians and military heroes who, during their lifetimes, had made remarks indicating their failure to acknowledge the pervasive racism of US culture had to be torn down.
Before the hippie turmoil of the 1960s, Americans widely accepted the idea that US culture conformed to a WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) norm. Those who weren’t ethnically and religiously WASP could either aspire to embrace and reflect WASP culture or accept to belong to a marginal community that, nevertheless, was expected to show deference to the norm.
White Catholics and Jews were actively discriminated against in many institutions. But because they were white, it was relatively easy for them to take on all the trappings and assimilate most of the values of WASP culture. For blacks, Latinos and other people of color, however, it wasn’t quite as easy. They were expected to choose an attitude of deference. Poorly-paid black jazz musicians, for example, donned expensive Brooks Brothers suits, white shirts and ties that they wore while at the same time creating a powerful, alternative artistic culture that clearly broke away from WASP values.
The 1960s marked a turning point, throwing WASP culture into disarray. A Catholic, John F. Kennedy was elected president. The hippie revolution imposed fashions in clothing and hairstyles inspired by ethnic diversity and informality. This constituted a frontal challenge to WASP culture, provoking a vociferous reaction from its members.
But the hippies’ challenge focused on style and image rather than ideas or values. Rock musicians indulged in fantasy outfits often inspired by cowboys and Indians — two mythical groups deemed to be closer to nature and liberated from hyper-civilized constraints. Jazz musicians began shedding their Brooks Brothers suits and replacing them with African dashikis and kofias. At the same time, President Richard Nixon and then Ronald Reagan reaffirmed the reign of the “silent majority” (i.e., WASP majority).
Donald Trump and Joe Biden were born and raised in a nation dominated by WASP culture. They both reflect the culture they grew up in. And, whether or not they admit it, they both project WASP values, which have more recently been rebranded as “Judeo-Christian values.” Trump eagerly promotes an extremely aggressive version of those values, to the point of imagining himself the messiah and king of the Jews, even without being Jewish.
Biden’s less solid WASP credentials but totally assimilated WASP culture allow him to think of himself as the benevolent master that African Americans need to rule over them. As vice president under Barack Obama, he accepted to play second fiddle to a black man, who defeated him in the Democratic primaries in 2008. Biden clearly respects Obama and other members of the black elite. But the egregiously paternalistic attitude he expressed on the Breakfast Club defines him as a true representative of WASP culture.
In their way, Trump and Biden, the two presidential candidates for the November election, sum up and even represent the severe cultural turmoil the US finds itself in today.
*[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. Click here to read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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