I have been accused of being a provocateur all my life – when I was a leftist in the ’60s proclaiming (God help me) that Vietnam was the fulfillment of the American dream; when I left the left declaring that, “the beginning of political morality is anti-Communism;” when I said that identity politics “owed more to Mussolini than to Marx;” when I opposed reparations for slavery 137 years after the fact because it was “bad for blacks and racist too;” and when I organized “Islamo-fascism Awareness Weeks” on a hundred college campuses across the country. Now I have provoked a firestorm on the Internet through a Breitbart article that called Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew.”
According to the Internet, Webster synonyms for renegade are “defector” and “deserter.” I applied the term to Kristol because of his efforts to launch a third-party campaign to block the nominee of his party, split the conservative vote, and ensure the election of a Democrat whose party had provided a path to nuclear weapons to the Jews’ mortal enemy (and America’s as well). I picked the emotional term “renegade” because I wanted to shock Kristol and his co-conspirators into realizing the gravity of their actions.
However, I had no idea that this would provoke the reaction it did. A veritable tsunami of attacks were directed at Breitbart and myself from Kristol’s supporters on the “neo-conservative” right and from die-hard enemies of the Republican nominee in all political quarters. Even the Anti-Defamation League (which had once attacked me over my anti-reparations campaign) chimed in, calling the title of my piece “inappropriate and offensive.” This was actually pretty mild, considering others were denouncing it as “disgraceful” and “an anti-Semitic slur.”
How, by the way, is the characterization “anti-Semitic slur” even possible? Are Jews immune to defecting from causes? When I publicly repudiated the radical cause, thirty years ago, the first attack on me appeared in the Village Voice under the title, “The Intellectual Life and the Renegade Horowitz.” It was written by Paul Berman, who years later became a somewhat chastened radical himself.
Berman’s attack stung me – as I hoped my charge would sting Kristol and cause him to reconsider his course. But the epithet didn’t bother anybody but me. My current critics would stigmatize me not only as a defector from the conservative cause but as a double agent who never really left the left. After my Breitbart article appeared, Commentary editor (and Kristol relative) John Podhoretz sent me a one-line email: “Once a Stalinist always a Stalinist,” while Commentary writer Jonathan Tobin in a piece titled “Breitbart’s ‘Renegade Jew’ Disgrace,” suggested: “You can take the boy out of the Bolsheviks but you can’t take the Bolshevik out of the boy.”
Like many of the attacks on Trump, these squalid responses with their flimsy intellectual content call to mind a famous remark of Lionel Trilling’s, made more than 60 years ago. Conservatives, he wrote, did not “express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures that seek to resemble ideas.” It is not that Kristol or his defender Tobin haven’t had worthy and defensible ideas. They have. But this makes it even sadder to see the flimsy arguments they trot out to discredit Trump and to defend Kristol’s indefensible campaign. Criticisms of Trump’s personal attacks on his Republican rivals are reasonable. But not when they fail to take into account the 60,000 political ads that were aired by those same rivals whose purpose was to destroy him (the ads were not, should anybody have missed them, about policies and issues).
I have no quarrel with people who have doubts about what Trump would do if elected. It is the task of the candidate to allay those doubts. For reasonable critics, Trump’s announcement of his prospective Supreme Court nominees should be an important step along the way. These names are not Trump cronies and would therefore provide an independent check on a crucial governmental function.
My quarrel is not with Trump skeptics, but with the effort to nullify the vote of the Republican electorate – a politically active and informed, and conservative segment of that electorate. Kristol’s third-party effort exudes an elitist contempt for the will of the people, which is particularly unbecoming in a crowd that prides itself on being “constitutional conservatives.”
Finally, I am disturbed by the failure of the nullifiers to consider the perils of the choices our country now faces. For the life of me, I cannot understand how my friends in the conservative movement can not have qualms about derailing the candidacy of the Republican Party’s pro-Israel, pro-military, pro-American nominee, and electing the candidate of a party that has built its foreign policy around making Islamist Iran the number one power in the Middle East, providing its jihadists with a path to nuclear weapons, putting $150 billion into their terrorist war chest, and turning a blind eye to their circumvention of international restrictions so that they can build ballistic missiles capable of destroying the Jewish state and causing incalculable damage to the United States.