Let’s talk about sex: the aftermath of Charlottesville

A solidarity vigil in Minneapolis in response to the recent white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Credit: Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia Commons.
A solidarity vigil in Minneapolis in response to the recent white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Credit: Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ben Cohen/JNS.org

The scene is Paris in the late 19th century. At a glittering ball, a handful of eligible gentilhommes eagerly circled the charming Comtesse de La Rochefoucauld—something of an Ivanka Trump in her day—in the hope of being granted a dance. But when the comtesse finally took to the dance floor, the man on her arm was Arthur Meyer, the scion of a rabbinical family who had risen from modest origins to become a newspaper magnate.

The spectacle of the comtesse dancing with Meyer the Jew was shocking to the anti-Semites in France—and, this being the time of the Dreyfus Trial, there were plenty of those around, as there are now. Their figurehead, the writer and propagandist Edouard Drumont, took pen to paper thusly: “This adorable young woman, this ravishing Aryan, with her proud, virginal figure, whom one would not even dare to look at too intensely for fear of harming the pure bloom on the maturing fruit”—honestly, I’m not making this up—“she gives herself to one of these frightful cosmopolitans, mangy, evil-smelling, a man who used to hawk oranges on the quays of Tunis or Alexandria, or who worked as a waiter in some Russian village inn.”

And then, as an ending, Drumont provided this flourish: “Everything falls to the Jew.”

Now fast forward to Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. Sitting down for an interview with a reporter from Vice, a neo-Nazi activist named Christopher Cantwell worked himself up into a Drumont-esque frenzy of sexual jealousy expressed in the language of anti-Semitism. The reason for his anger was Ivanka Trump’s ongoing marriage to Jared Kushner, and his disgust that Donald Trump—a president he likes, but wishes was “more racist”—had “given his daughter to a Jew.”

Flashing a defiantly adolescent grin at the Vice reporter, Cantwell warmed to this theme even more. “I don’t think you can feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl, okay?” he panted, shortly after informing viewers that he was increasing his “capability for violence” with a pistol in his pocket and regular visits to the gym.

You don’t need to be a Freud or a Jung or a Lacan to figure out what these two stories have in common. While Drumont is indubitably more flowery and eloquent than Cantwell—who became a Nazi after failing spectacularly in his previous careers as a drug dealer and congressional candidate—the underlying psychosis is exactly the same. Just as Drumont was driven into his rage by his unrequited fantasies of the fair comtesse, Cantwell apparently believes that all that stands between him and the fair Ivanka is a pesky Jew. Like Drumont, Cantwell is driven slowly mad by the realization that things just don’t add up: Jews like Kushner are weak, selfish, grasping and oily—all the things he is convinced, as a proud “Aryan,” that he isn’t—and yet it’s the same Kushner who is taking Ivanka to the prom.

For Nazis as for all totalitarian ideologies, the notion that life is sometimes unfair, that you don’t always land the girl of your dreams, that you might lose your job or your home because of bad debts, and all the other day-to-day miseries of modern existence, is too hard to bear. That is—as Edouard Drumont noted many times—the simple elegance of anti-Semitism: it gives you both an answer and a target as to why the world is such a dreadful place without demanding that you consider your own weaknesses, failings and idiocies first. From this psychic matter are such emasculated individuals as Cantwell created.

Many scholars of anti-Semitism—such as Stephen Wilson, whose excellent book “Ideology and Experience” includes the above quote from Drumont—have closely examined the threads that link anti-Semitism with unfulfilled sexual desire. The great paradox that the Jew represents—a racial and political polluter, and yet successful in winning the affections of “Aryan” women—is never resolved, but only exacerbated with words like “bestial” and “lustful” that are soaked in sexual envy. Indeed, this very theme was the driving force behind the lurid propaganda of the Nazi rag “Der Sturmer,” edited by Julius Streicher—a close friend of Hitler’s well before the Nazi leader became Fuhrer.

Today’s American racists are similarly obsessed, which is why they pepper their ravings with words like “cuck”—a reference to a man whose wife indulges in extra-marital sex, often with black men. That they can be so transparent and yet still win supporters tells us that there are plenty of other angry white men out there who share Cantwell’s neurosis. More than a century separates them from Edouard Drumont, and still we haven’t found a cure.

Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.

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