The USA, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Robert F Kennedy Jr. recently made a statement about COVID that is deeply offensive and appalling. In what appears to be a casual conversation with supporters at a campaign event, Kennedy asserted that there is a theory-and in no way suggested he disagreed with that theory-that “COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.” For what it’s worth, Kennedy mispronounced Ashkenazi so that the first syllable sounded more like “ass.”
Kennedy’s bizarre comments deserve some attention. First, it is obviously both antisemitic and racist against Chinese people, suggesting that Jewish and Chinese Americans are involved in a plot or conspiracy against real America and real Americans. Implicit in that frame is that neither Jewish nor Chinese Americans are real or full Americans.
The belief that Jews are not loyal and are part of an international cabal and out to destroy the good people of whatever country in which we are living has been at the core of antisemitic thinking for centuries. We all know how murderously that belief has resonated throughout history. Kennedy expanded this conspiratorial claptrap to question the loyalty of Chinese Americans as well.
Many have condemned Kennedy for these statements. Those condemnations are good, but unsatisfying because we must also recognize that kind of antisemitic belief that Jews are conspiring against real Americans doesn’t begin with Robert F Kennedy Jr. It is essential to recognize that anti-Jewish conspiracies and efforts to blame the Jews are deeply embedded in the fascist adjacent Maga movement.
Unfortunately, many have been reluctant to say that. I am consistently not shocked but nonetheless saddened by how many people will list off the various bigotries and lies that are so deeply part of the MAGA movement and leave off the antisemitic sentiments which are so central to the MAGA sphere.
Ultimately, if you are righteously condemning Robert F Kennedy and have been silent about the antisemitism that permeates the MAGA movement more broadly, then to some extent you’re also part of the problem.
Robert F Kennedy Jr.’s comments demonstrate that he is trafficking not only in antisemitic conspiracy theories but also in completely debunked racial science. In his comments, he alluded to the “genetic differentials among different races.” That sounds like something from an antiquated science textbook. To believe that there is a genetic difference between races is to believe that there are distinct races with distinct genetic characteristics-a white race, a Black race, a Chinese race, a Jewish race, etc.
Most scientists will tell you that genetic difference between races is abject nonsense and that there is much greater genetic variation within races than between races.
The belief that there are meaningful genetic differences between people due to a construct known as race is the kernel that easily grows into white supremacy which, in turn, is at the core of the MAGA belief system. Kennedy’s dabbling in that kind of thinking resonates with the ugliest elements in American political life, albeit ones with very deep roots. Donald Trump has built his political appeal around that white supremacy, while Kennedy seems to be dressing it up in fake science. In either case, the similarities between the racialist views of these two repo-charlatans are apparent.
It is still an axiom of Kennedy’s campaign for president that if his last name were Smith, Jones, Rodriguez, Lee, Morgan, or almost anything else, he would be ranting to his 250 Twitter followers and the only thing for which he would be running would be a bus. However, Kennedy has one of the most famous names in Democratic Party politics and decided to bring great shame to that name so that he can get some attention and perhaps win a future in the MAGA movement.
One of the great political strengths of the MAGA movement is that, like Donald Trump, and indeed many fascist movements, it is not tied to any one ideology. Instead, the MAGA movement is grounded in a cult-like allegiance to Donald Trump and to a deep catalog of grievances, lies, and conspiracies. That leaves an opening for Kennedy both to find a place in that movement and to help shape its future.
Kennedy is not running for president in the sense of seeking a major party nomination and then becoming a contender in the general election. Rather, like many candidates over the last few cycles, including some of the Republicans currently polling in single digits, Kennedy has other motives. Kennedy is running to raise his name recognition and to build an identity and a following that marries the ugly and dangerous conspiracy fetishization within the MAGA movement to a soupcon of bipartisanship because of his last name.
The primary danger Kennedy represents to Democrats is not that he might beat Biden or that he scares the Democratic establishment, whatever that is, but that he will let MAGA ideas, perhaps with a more left-leaning bent on some economic issues, into the Democratic Party. That would accelerate the crisis of American democracy and the state that has been a constant in the polity since the summer of 2015.