Of all the questions asked of President Trump during yesterday’s presser, this one was probably one of the most innocuous, and presented in the most deferential of terms – and Trump still found a way to take offense to it.
In fact, had Trump not been on the defensive as a natural default, and really heard what the young man was asking, this could have been a shining moment for him.
Jake Turx is a young, Hasidic Jew and a correspondent for Ami Magazine, an Orthodox Jewish weekly publication, based out of Brooklyn, New York.
No one from Ami has ever had a seat in the press pool for a presidential press conference, so Mr. Turx was looking at this as a real opportunity.
From the New York Times:
When President Trump called on him at a news conference on Thursday, saying he was looking for a “friendly reporter,” Mr. Turx was prepared. He had spent an hour crafting a question about a recent surge of anti-Semitism, with a preamble that he hoped would convey his supportive disposition toward Mr. Trump.
But the exchange did not go the way he expected. A few hours later, with the clip replaying on social media and Jewish groups issuing news releases, Mr. Turx, 30, was still reeling. He said in a telephone interview, “Regretfully, today was a day I wish we could have done over.”
His editor, Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, watched aghast from the magazine’s offices as his young correspondent received a tongue-lashing from the president: “It was a very disheartening moment for us, to watch him being berated.”
And given the context of the question, nobody watching it can come away without scratching their heads and wondering if Trump is well.
He crawled all over this gentleman, based on his assumption of where the question was going.
Again, this could have been a grand moment for him, and no matter what gushing praise the debacle received from Rush Limbaugh or Trump’s favorite crotch-sniffer, Sean Hannity, the reality resembles something more along the lines of a train wreck, with many casualties.
To set the scene, Turx stood and tried to separate himself and his intentions from some of the media, who, just by their nature, may have been less than “friendly” towards a Republican president, and even less so towards this particular president, as he has drawn very clear battle lines between himself, his administration, and them.
“Despite what some of my colleagues may have been reporting, I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We understand that you have Jewish grandchildren. You are their zayde,” which is Yiddish for “grandfather” and often a word of great affection.
At that Mr. Trump nodded slightly, and said, “thank you.”
“However,” Mr. Turx continued, “what we are concerned about and what we haven’t really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it. There’s been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to——”
At that, Mr. Trump interrupted, saying it was “not a fair question.”
“Sit down,” the president commanded. “I understand the rest of your question.”
As Mr. Turx took his seat, Mr. Trump said, “So here’s the story, folks. No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism, the least racist person.”
Mr. Turx tried to interject, realizing how the encounter had turned. He said he had wanted to clarify that he in no way meant to accuse Mr. Trump of anti-Semitism but instead intended to ask what his administration could do to stop the anti-Semitic incidents.
But Mr. Trump would not let him speak again, saying, “Quiet, quiet, quiet.” As Mr. Turx shook his head with an incredulous look on his face, Mr. Trump accused him of having lied that his question would be straight and simple.
Mr. Trump said, “I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me. …”
Trump went on to point out his recent meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, and the friendliness of that meeting, adding that Netanyahu could vouch for the fact that he, Trump, is no anti-Semite.
Mr. Trump concluded that Mr. Turx should have relied on Mr. Netanyahu’s endorsement, “instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”
“Just shows you about the press, but that’s the way the press is,” Mr. Trump said.
Yes. The press is many things.
One thing they can be counted on to be is a source of information. Were Trump to get out of his echo chamber full of bootlicks and suck-ups, availing himself of what the real media offers, he would know about the rash of bomb threats being called into Jewish synagogues, schools, and community centers, since January.
There have also been incidents of graffiti and vandalism against Jewish institutions. All of these things have resulted in FBI investigations and evacuations, in some instances.
This is what Mr. Turk was asking, and he was giving Trump an opportunity to speak out against the ugliness that prompts such hateful actions.
Trump blew it.
It was the second time in two days that Mr. Trump was asked to denounce anti-Semitism and offer American Jews a dose of reassurance. In his joint news conference with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Trump responded to a question about anti-Semitism by breezily recounting the size of his Electoral College victory and then reminding the reporters that his daughter, Ivanka, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and their three children — Mr. Trump’s grandchildren — are all Jewish.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement on Thursday that said, “It is mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction.”
David Harris, chief executive of the American Jewish Committee, said, “Respectfully, Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit not to bully reporters asking questions potentially affecting millions of fellow Americans, but rather to help solve a problem that, for many, is real and menacing.”
To be very fair, nobody with Ami Magazine feels Trump is an anti-Semite, and they are generally supportive of him, based on his stated support of Israel.
They’re even more willing to assume yesterday’s incident was just a misunderstanding, rather than Trump being a self-absorbed, abusive jerk.
After the news conference, Mr. Turx, a pen name, said that he had had conversations on Thursday evening with White House staff members and that he and members of the Orthodox Jewish community were “extremely confident” that the White House would give “the proper help, guidance and collaboration” on anti-Semitism.
And that is a graceful response to the abuse and derision he was forced to publicly endure.
Let’s hope somebody conveys the message to Trump and that he responds with a bit of uncharacteristic maturity and thoughtfulness.