Disloyalty? Ignorance? The Meaning Behind a Tweet
Was President Trump’s tweet about Jewish people and loyalty harmful?
Posted August 22, 2019
President Trump recently tweeted, “And I think that any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Some pundits have argued that the tweet was frustration in response to political polling, which cites low approval ratings for the President among individuals who identify as Jewish. Other pundits have argued that the tweet was in response to Jewish leaders' backlash against the President in relation to Israel’s decision to not admit two U.S. Congressional Representatives into the country. Regardless of the motivation, the President’s words were imbued with nationalism, authoritarianism, and anti-Semitism.
Let’s be clear: The President’s language harkens back to a centuries-old trope, which maintains that somehow Jews are different, cannot be trusted, and are incapable of being patriotic—one cannot be both Jewish and a patriotic American.
Of course, similar hate-based rhetoric has been insinuated against Muslims and other marginalized groups in the U.S. Indeed, in response to the rise of hate in the U.S., the House of Representative on March 7 passed House Resolution 183, which outlines the destructive history of the “dual loyalty” dog whistle. It reads, in part:
Accusations of dual loyalty generally have an insidious and pernicious history, including—
(1) the discriminatory incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II on their basis of race and alleged dual loyalty;
(2) the Dreyfus affair, when Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French artillery captain, was falsely convicted of passing secrets to Germany based on his Jewish background;
(3) when the loyalty of President John F. Kennedy was questioned because of his Catholic faith; and
(4) the post-9/11 conditions faced by Muslim-Americans in the United States, including Islamophobia and false and vicious attacks on and threats to Muslim-Americans for alleged association with terrorism;
So what is the point behind such rhetoric? The purpose is at least three-fold. First, such statements promote nationalism as a worthy value. Bear in mind that patriotism is different than nationalism. Patriotism implies a love of one’s country, which includes critical evaluation of policy, respect for international relationships, and appreciation of democratic dissent. However, nationalism implies that one’s country is superior, exceptional, and more worthy, indeed, more entitled, than other nations. Additionally, as noted by Cottam, Dietz-Uhler, Mastors, and Preston (2016), nationalists “are strongly devoted to the identity of the group . . . and view any perceived contamination of the group, through the imposition of alien values, as extremely threatening” (p. 300). Hence, for nationalists, dissent or alternate views are condemned as disloyalty and a source of danger to the nation. The promotion of nationalism creates the rationalization for hate, discrimination, and potential violence against individuals and groups who hold differing views or who are different. Indeed, the “other” should “just go back to the country they came from.”
Second, the tweet’s rhetoric not only stirred nationalism but also implied that Jews are somehow different, dishonest, and unreliable. The singling out of any marginalized groups based on race, ethnicity, religion gender identity, etc., increases the likelihood that they will be perceived as a potential threat. The outgroup or “other” is identified as less trustworthy and a source of potential harm to one’s identity, family, and community (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Moreover, due to the outgroup homogeneity effect (Park & Rothbart, 1982), the “other” comes to be perceived as similar—i.e., “They are all alike.” President Trump’s tweet, whether intentional or not, implies that Jews who vote for a Democrat are either not very bright or are disloyal—and they are all that way. Fear and prejudice are often intertwined and represent a potent recipe for further dehumanization and violence against the other (Woolf & Hulsizer, 2004, 2005).
Third, such rhetoric has an impact not only on the majority but also on the “other,” who are targeted by the tweet. President Trump’s tweet appeared to be designed to silence the voices of anyone who speaks out against his policies. Any Jewish dissent, and by inference, any member of a Jewish community who disagrees with the President, is labeled as unpatriotic and ignorant—a potential target for “earned” hate. However, if one does as they are told, remains quiet, and votes “appropriately,” they may be safe from vilification. Fear is a powerful motivator and it is a political tool used to obstruct constructive conversations and thwart opposing opinions and policies.
Judaism teaches the importance of Tikkun Olam—acts of kindness aimed at repairing the world. Essential to this concept are ideas of respect for the planet, care for the disadvantaged and strangers, human rights, and social justice. These basic principles also underpin the work of psychologists in their care and respect for the wellbeing of persons and peoples, as well as the planet on which we live. Many of the policies of the Trump administration threaten the rights and wellbeing of those individuals and communities identified as “other.” Refugee children are put in cages, migrants are refused basic health care, transgender individuals are denied fundamental civil rights, resources for the poor are eliminated, protections for the planet are stripped, and the list goes on. As a former mentor of mine, Dr. Seena Kohl, once stated, “Evil exists best in darkness.” It is important to speak out and vote against destructive policies, actions, and hate speech. Such actions are not disloyal but are eminently patriotic.
Cottam, M. L., Dietz-Uhler, B., Mastors, E., & Preston, T. (Eds.). (2016). Introduction to political psychology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Park, B., & Rothbart, M. (1982). Perception of out-group homogeneity and levels of social categorization: Memory for the subordinate attributes of in-group and out-group members. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 1051–1068.
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior, in S. Worchel & W. Austin (Eds.). The psychology of intergroup relations (2nd ed.) (pp. 7-24). Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall.
Woolf, L. M., & Hulsizer, M. R. (2004). Hate groups for dummies: How to build a successful hate group. Humanity and Society, 28, 40-62.
Woolf, L. M., & Hulsizer, M. R. (2005). Psychosocial roots of genocide: Risk, prevention, and intervention, Journal of Genocide Research, 7, 101-128.