This Fourth of July weekend, in between grilling up some rare Trump Steaks they bought on eBay and performing elaborate rhythmic dance routines to audiobooks of Trump: The Art of the Deal, or whatever it is that Donald Trump’s social media team did to celebrate, Trump’s Twitter account sent out a bad tweet. Trump’s Twitter brand is Offensive White Man Shouting Insults, but this tweet was exceptional. It superimposed an image of Hillary Clinton onto piles of money and a Star of David with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” written inside it. If you missed the tweet, congratulations on having a better holiday weekend than I did. But now it’s time to talk about the nonapology that followed, because it functions as an explanation of Trump’s popularity — and his toxicity.
The Star of David is a symbol, yes, but it requires only a rudimentary baseline knowledge of history to decode. Knowing what the Star of David symbolizes is like knowing what a cross symbolizes, or a stop sign. This wasn’t a subtle political dog whistle, like the parentheses used by neo-Nazis to identify Jewish people online. It was an air horn.
Clinton’s campaign called the tweet “blatantly anti-Semitic,” and Trump’s team deleted it, hastily sending out an altered, starless version. (Remember, this is the same team that thought it was cool to leave a retweeted Mussolini quote and a retweeted quote from a user named @WhiteGenocideTM up on Trump’s account.)
After the quick edit, we all waited for Trump to issue an apology. In hindsight, this was stupid — like waiting hours for a horse to speak Catalan. Trump didn’t apologize. Instead, he attacked:
“Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff’s Star, or plain star!” Trump tweeted.
His director of social media, Dan Scavino Jr., was similarly uncontrite.
“For the MSM to suggest that I am antisemite [sic] is AWFUL. I proudly celebrate holidays w/ my wife’s amazing Jewish family for the past 16 years,” Scavino tweeted.
Scavino then released a statement saying that the image was “lifted from an anti-Hillary Twitter user” and not an “anti-Semitic site,” as though the two are mutually exclusive. Hope those in-law holidays are fun!
(I tried to call Scavino to ask him about the bad tweet using a number listed online from when he worked for the Eric Trump Foundation. The woman who answered there explained that it wasn’t his number anymore, but that she’d been fielding calls all day.)
Let’s say Scavino and Trump are telling the truth, and they thought it was a “plain star” or a sheriff’s star in the image — in that case, this is evidence that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his campaign are willfully, flamboyantly ignorant and careless. In this scenario, the absence of an apology for this tweet is as striking as the tweet itself. It’s proof that Trump will not own up to mistakes.
In the scenario that tweeting a ham-handed collage of anti-Semitic imagery and Clinton’s face was deliberate, the tweet is (more) proof that Trump’s campaign is directly pandering to anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. The absence of apology in that case is also just as striking as the tweet. It means Trump is a leading candidate who doesn’t feel the need to apologize for directly pandering to anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists.
Trump’s general refusal to apologize is already notorious; in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last year, he admitted that he can’t remember the last time he said sorry. He’s the post-apology candidate. Apologies are liabilities for a politician whose appeal is rooted in transgression.
Whether the tweet was a mistake or a nod to a group of supporters, this particular lack of apology is revealing. It shows that the Trump campaign would rather be labeled as bigots by many than admit to its base that it did something wrong, even as it heads into the general election.