An image of Hillary Clinton that was widely criticized as anti-Semitic after it was tweeted by Donald Trump, the Republican Party's presumptive nominee for president, appears to have originated two weeks ago on a Twitter account devoted to bigoted memes. Trump tweeted the graphic on Saturday attacking Clinton in an image that included what appears to be a Jewish Star of David layered over $100 bills. The tweet calls Clinton "the most corrupt candidate ever." Painting Jews as corrupt money-grubbers out to secretly control the government has been a well-worn anti-Semitic trope since long before World War II.
The list of American constituencies that Donald Trump has alienated during his presidential candidate isn't short. At various points over the last year or so, the Republican candidate and his operation have alienated women, Latinos, African Americans, Muslims, veterans, people with disabilities, and Native Americans, among others.
But let's not leave out Jewish voters.
In December, Trump spoke at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum, where he told attendees, "I'm a negotiator, like you folks. Is there anybody that doesn't renegotiate deals in this room?" The GOP candidate added at the time, "You're not going to support me because I don't want your money."
Over the holiday weekend, however, Trump made matters vastly worse.
Trump deleted his Twitter message on Saturday, and did not comment on the controversy he created until yesterday -- two days after publishing the initial message -- when he complained about the "dishonest media." Trump added that his critics have tried to "depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff's Star, or plain star!" (Last night, Dan Scavino Jr., the campaign's director of social media, said he was responsible for lifting the image without attribution.)
It's difficult to take such a response seriously. We know, for example, that the star of a sheriff's badge has globes on the points, and the image Trump tweeted did not. We also know if Trump's tweet was a harmless symbol connected to law enforcement, he wouldn't have been so quick to delete it on Saturday morning.
But perhaps most important is the fact that the image Trump published had been circulated and promoted by white supremacists. The Washington Post noted the pattern: "For at least the fifth time, Trump's Twitter account had shared a meme from the racist 'alt-right' and offered no explanation why."
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Post, "We've been alarmed that Mr. Trump hasn't spoken out vociferously against these anti-Semites and racists and misogynists who continue to support him. It's been outrageous to see him retweeting and now sourcing material from the website and other online resources from this crowd."
And that broader takeaway is arguably the most important point. Trump and "this crowd" have been ringing alarms for quite a while now, with white supremacists attending Trump rallies, registering as Trump delegates, offering to provide Trump security, and creating content that Trump has, on multiple occasions, been only too pleased to promote through his social-media accounts.
And earlier this year, Trump hedged when asked to denounce support from David Duke and other white supremacists.
The most charitable interpretation is that Trump is blisteringly incompetent. Pro-Trump voters might choose to believe that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his aides saw an anti-Clinton image with an anti-Semitic subtext, they weren't observant enough to recognize why it's offensive, and so they shared it with the world without thinking. Maybe, the argument goes, the GOP candidate has no idea why all of these white supremacists are gravitating towards his candidacy, and isn't deliberately encouraging them.
The uncharitable interpretation is that the Trump campaign is peddling racist and bigoted propaganda on purpose.
Neither of these explanations is reassuring.
Reader M.W. emailed me over the weekend to remind me of something Politico noted a month ago: "To minority voters, Trump's candidacy feels like an existential threat." Every time the Republican candidate promotes a message with white supremacist ties, the severity of that threat intensifies.