From “All Lives Matter” to Donald Trump’s white nationalism: The politics of fake empathy

How “All Lives Matter” and Trump’s Holocaust “mistake” feed off the old links between racism and anti-Semitism

CHAUNCEY DEVEGA / Salon / February 2, 2017


False empathy is often used to mask bigotry, prejudice and racism.

Established in 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was created by the United Nations “to serve as a date for official commemoration of the victims of the Nazi regime and to promote Holocaust education throughout the world.”

Since its inception, American presidents have issued statements condemning anti-Semitism and calling specific attention to the genocidal violence visited upon the Jewish people by the Nazis.

Last Friday, Donald Trump broke from that tradition and instead issued the following statement:

It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror. Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest.‎ As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent. In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.

To much controversy, the Jewish people were not mentioned in Trump’s statement condemning the Holocaust. This was not an error. It was by design. Trump’s White House then doubled down on its logic:

Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered. It was our honor to issue a statement in remembrance of this important day.

This change is the practical result of having Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller as President Donald Trump’s most senior advisers and confidantes. Both men have demonstrated a deep affinity for white nationalism and white supremacy. It also reflects the extent to which the Trump administration is part of a global right-wing movement that includes white nationalists and white supremacists, two groups that have consistently sought either to minimize the horrors of the Holocaust or to deny that the Nazi genocide ever took place.

Ultimately, Donald Trump’s decision to remove any specific mention of Jews from his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is an act of anti-Semitism because it seeks to deny the specific historical experiences of the Jewish people as the target of a political, social and economic project to eliminate them.

Trump’s decision should not be a surprise. The politics of false empathy were previewed when white America (especially conservatives and the right-wing media, but some liberals and “progressives as well) summoned the slogan “All Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and its rallying cry

Black Lives Matter, whose activists Trump and other Republican elites have sometimes described as “thugs” and “terrorists,” is a multiracial and intergenerational coalition that seeks to end police brutality, murder and other abuse against African-Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement also wants to end institutional racial discrimination and bias against African-Americans. And the Black Lives Matter movement stands in alliance with other marginalized groups with the goal of defending the human rights and dignity of all people who are victims of discrimination in the United States and around the world.

On a fundamental level, the Black Lives Matter wants to ensure that the civil rights of black and brown Americans are respected, the law is equally applied and the United States becomes a more truly democratic and inclusive society. Approximately 150 years since the end of white-on-black chattel slavery, and five decades after the height of the Civil Rights movement, these goals remain radical and controversial in the United States.