Last week, Donald Trump appeared to declare himself the “king of Israel.” In fact, the president was merely quoting evangelical grifter Wayne Allyn Root, a self-described Jew “by birth” who bestowed Trump with that title. Pundits and the mainstream press, as is their habit, immediately sought to divine the import of the president’s words. As is generally the case, he was simply repeating something he had heard on TV.

Just the day before, Trump had told a gaggle of reporters straining to hear him over the whirring of his helicopter that he thought liberal Jews, roughly 75% of whom support Democrats, are stupid and disloyal. His conservative interlocutors and anonymous aides issued sweaty statements that he was in no way implying Jews had, or should have, a dual loyalty to Israel—that being the sort of “anti-Semitic trope” that New York Times columnist Bari Weiss has made a cottage industry accusing Muslims of employing. Trump, in his inimitable way, promptly threw them under the bus, clarifying that he absolutely meant that Jews are disloyal to Israel.

Writing in The Washington Post, Yair Rosenberg tried to explain how the president can simultaneously claim to love Jews and not be able to stop himself from trumpeting the most vile stereotypes about them. “So is Trump a philo-Semite or an anti-Semite?” he asks, rhetorically. “The answer is both. The principle that explains his seemingly contradictory outlook toward Jews is simple: Trump believes all the anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews. But he sees those traits as admirable.”

This is broadly accurate, and it hints at a sharper truth that’s both terribly funny and distressingly terrible: The president does not actually know what a Jew is. This is fairly common in America. I am sure many of my coreligionists—especially those who, like me, spent some of their youth in small towns with even smaller Jewish populations—got hauled to the front of the class every December to explain Hanukkah to a roomful of gawping Christian tweens. But Trump is a New Yorker whose own daughter has converted to the faith; spending a lifetime around Jews without learning something, anything about the religious faith is fairly exceptional. I would say it suggests a strategy of deliberate avoidance, but Trump is far too lazy for that. More likely he found it too inconvenient to pay attention, much less show up on time to the bar mitzvahs of his associates’ children.

Trump’s ignorance is not unique to Judaism, of course. While campaigning for president, he hilariously demurred when asked to name a favorite biblical passage. “The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics,” he intoned. Asked if he was an “Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy,” Trump could only stammer “probably both.” We all laughed at his “Two Corinthians” gaffe, but I would go so far as to suggest it highly unlikely that Trump could conjure even the broadest outlines of the life of Jesus.

The president is just as ignorant of Islam, and here we get to what I think is the crux of the matter. Trump has no actual religious convictions and no religious prejudices. His hierarchies are entirely racial, and his biases are simply racist. Christianity is white; Muslims are Arab. (I suspect he would be shocked to learn that Indonesians are predominantly Muslim and that their country is the most populous Muslim country in the world.)

Although Latinx and African American populations in the U.S. are some of the most religious Christian communities in the country, he likely ascribes no faith identity to them at all. (I wager he’d be similarly shocked to discover that most Latinx people, including his hated migrants and refugees, are Catholic.) About Jews, he is clearly uncertain, vacillating between including them in white Christianity and imagining them as a foreign other in the body politic. Ironically, it is the most American of Jews—liberal, largely urban, Reform—whom he treats as the most foreign.

As tensions ratchet up in the Middle East amid Israel’s incursions into Lebanese airspace and Hezbollah’s claims to have downed a pair of Israeli drones, Israel is likely to remain a fixture in the news cycle for months to come. American politicians of all persuasions are going to fall over themselves to demonize the Lebanese party as a terrorist organization and imply that Lebanon’s self-defense is itself an act of provocation. Some brave politician—Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib or likely both—will point out this hypocrisy, and the same voices who spent all of last week screaming about Trump’s “king of Israel” reference and “I am the chosen one” remark will welcome the opportunity to smear Muslims as anti-Semites anew.

Meanwhile, our addled, inattentive president, who doesn’t know what a Jew is, who treats us with absolute and utter disdain, will grin thinly and say, “We love Israel, folks. Fantastic!” And because our press has no use for American Jews unwilling to toe the line, it will praise him for a “strong statement” supporting one of our oldest and staunchest allies.

Wait, before you go…

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