So is he or isn’t he?
The Jewish world is in a tizzy, trying to work out whether the President of America (!) is an antisemite, or, in his words, “the least antisemitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life”.
The confusion is understandable because Mr Trump’s messages are distinctly mixed.
On the one hand, he has declared himself a great friend of Israel, announced that he is going to move Israel’s embassy to Jerusalem (although apparently not quite yet…), and appointed a very right-wing ambassador. He is also father to a convert to Judaism and Zaida to three Jewish grandchildren, a fact which, for many, automatically absolves him of any possibility of antisemitism.
On the other hand, he has racists in his inner circle, has tolerated overt antisemitism in his fans, released a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that neglected to mention the Jews, and responded angrily to questions about bomb threats to Jewish community centres, demanding that the Charedi reporter sit down and calling the question “insulting”. On Tuesday, reading a previously crafted statement, he finally called antisemitism “horrible” and “painful”.
The debate, however, misses the point. What Trump actually understands, knows and believes on any given subject seems to be hazy. This president is consistently inconsistent on a whole slew of subjects, from his attitudes to China and America’s armed forces to his plans for Obamacare and Mexican immigrants, and virtually every other issue he’s ever addressed. This man is not, nor is he ever likely to be, guided by a coherent philosophy.
It’s more than likely that when it comes to Jews, as well, he has no defined set of beliefs or really strong opinions either way — Ivanka and his Jewish grandchildren notwithstanding.
How then are we to understand Donald Trump, and his attitude to our community and to Israel?
Through the lens of his extreme narcissism.
Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who originally defined the term, denies Trump suffers from full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but even he agrees that Trump is “a world-class narcissist”. Narcissistic traits include a grandiose sense of self-importance, requiring constant admiration, lack of empathy, taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends, and a strong aversion to criticism, making excuses and blaming others when things go wrong.
When such people, who are often initially very charismatic, become abusive, they “gaslight” their victims — engaging in behaviour designed to make their victims question their own memories, perceptions and sanity. Criticism can trigger rage.
Trump displays every single one of these behaviours on an almost daily basis, explaining exactly how he operates. It certainly explains his relationship with the Jewish community. On the surface, he claims to be our best friend — and indeed many Jews, including the Prime Minister of Israel, appear to concur. This is the charisma, the need for admiration and acceptance at play. Possibly taking advantage of others, too.
Yet he lacks even basic empathy with the community, denying the Jewish nature of the Holocaust and going to extraordinary lengths to avoid criticising antisemitism. When confronted, he responds with rage, and steers the conversation back to his favourite topic: Donald Trump.
Unfortunately, those in our community who have put their trust in him will regret it. People who enter into relationships with narcissists often emerge mentally and emotionally battered, as they are used, manipulated and blamed when things go wrong.
The reality is that Trump can’t really be a friend of the Jews or of Israel, not because he doesn’t care for us, but because he can’t be a friend of anyone at all — except himself. It’s not in this narcissist’s nature.