If the best that can be said of Donald Trump is that he’s no worse than the Reverend Al, then among the worst that may be said of him is that he is no better.
Ask the Reverend Al Sharpton about it, and he’ll still tell you that he wasn’t responsible for the massacre at Freddy’s Fashion Mart or the Crown Heights pogrom.
True, the Reverend Sharpton gave a lot of incendiary speeches about “white interlopers” and “blood-sucking” Jews — “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house,” he once said. And he has never been too careful with the truth, has indulged idiotic conspiracy theories and cooked up at least one of his own, furthered the career of the anti-Semitic crank Leonard Jeffries, etc. And, yes, he made one of those Jew-bashing speeches in a venue emblazoned with a banner reading: “Hitler Did Not Do the Job.” But he never actually said: “Go down to Freddy’s Fashion Mart and kill a bunch of people,” or “Kill the Jews!”
(Well, maybe he said, “Kill the Jews!” Sworn testimony from witnesses to the Crown Heights riots says he did. But that happened before our current age of self-imposed panoptic surveillance.)
Consider the body count: Seven dead at Freddy’s Fashion Mart (Angelina Marrero, Cynthia Martinez, Luz Ramos, Mayra Rentas, Olga Garcia, Garnette Ramautar, and Kareem Brunner), a murdered Jew in Crown Heights (Yankel Rosenbaum), and at least one murdered Italian American (Anthony Graziosi) dragged from his car, savagely beaten, and then stabbed to death because his beard made him close enough to Jewish for the mob the Reverend Sharpton had helped whip up.
This, too, will be familiar: During the Crown Heights pogrom, the Reverend Sharpton managed to bully New York City mayor David Dinkins into keeping the police from responding with full force. “I regret not saying to the police brass sooner, ‘Whatever you guys are doing is not working,’” Dinkins later said. “I will forever be accused of holding back the police and permitting blacks to attack Jews.” Dinkins thought he was judged unfairly in the matter and complained that the first line in his obituary would describe him as the mayor who “screwed up Crown Heights.”
Sharpton was fond of using conspiracy theories to stifle the police, e.g. the Tawana Brawley rape hoax, in which he falsely accused a police officer and a prosecutor of abducting, torturing, and raping a black teenager. It was a pretty wild conspiracy theory — alleging, among other things, that the police and prosecutor were being protected by a coverup organized by the joint efforts of the Mafia, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Irish Republican Army — and the famous divine to this day defends his role in the affair.
A habitually dishonest New York loudmouth incites a riot: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as Neil Peart might say.
It is true that President Donald Trump never demanded that the mob he whipped up go ransack the Capitol, attempt a coup d’état, and get some people killed. No, he never said: “Hey, rubes, go break some windows and terrorize some legislators!” He never said, “F**k the police.”
And the Reverend Al Sharpton never said — or probably never said — “Kill the Jews!”
If the best that can be said of President Trump is that he’s no worse than Al Sharpton, then among the worst that may be said of him is that he certainly is no better. And Al Sharpton is an MSNBC host, whereas Donald Trump is, to our shame, president of these United States.
Trump’s dumb act is not entirely an act, but he has enough ordinary reptile cunning to know what kind of game he has been playing. So do the coy would-be revolutionaries on talk radio and other right-wing media outlets. Both require the cooperation of the audience, who must pretend that they do not see and hear what it is they see and hear.
But the nation at large is under no such obligation.