After several gross missteps related to Holocaust remembrance in the first 100 days of his administration, President Trump finally struck the right note in his speech at the Capitol today at a ceremony in honor of victims of the Shoah.
The president appropriately recalled the six million Jewish victims of the Nazis during World War II and vowed never to forget their suffering. He promised to combat anti-Semitism today and in the future in all its forms and to fight against attempts by neo-Nazis and anti-Semites to erase the Holocaust from history.
Though the president’s words were a welcome and necessary corrective, they alone are not enough. We have no wish to politicize a somber event of this kind – but the issues raised by the presence in senior White House positions of two individuals with extensive links to extremist groups and ideas cannot be ignored. A speech by President Trump, no matter how well-crafted, moving and appropriate, does not make them go away.
Steve Bannon, who is the president’s top political strategist, was apparently the architect of materials disseminated during Trump’s presidential campaign of images and memes clearly drawn from the history of anti-Semitism, for which the president has yet to apologize.
Sebastian Gorka, who is a senior counterterrorism and cyber warfare adviser to the president, has a long record of blatant Islamophobia and well-documented ties to the Order of Vitez, a Hungarian order founded by a Nazi collaborator whose medal he has worn in public at important ceremonial events.
An investigation by The Forward this week reveals that Gorka, who immigrated to America from Hungary nine years before he landed in the White House, has given contradictory information about his ties to the group, which the State Department labeled as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II.
The newspaper adds that Gorka “has also not responded to questions about his 2007 endorsement, while leading a political party in Hungary, of an extreme right-wing paramilitary militia led by anti-Semites … and that Gorka wrote regularly for a well-known anti-Semitic paper while active in Hungary, and that he co-founded his political party with prominent former members of Jobbik, a party with a long record of anti-Semitism and racism against Hungary’s Roma minority.”
Both Bannon and Gorka also have long histories of peddling hateful stereotypes and conspiracy theories about Muslims, and of advocating for discriminatory and Islamophobic policies. Their demonization of entire populations on the basis of religion and ethnicity shows how much they disregard the lessons of the Holocaust.
President Trump cannot have it both ways. He cannot speak movingly about preserving Holocaust memory and fighting anti-Semitism while tolerating and embracing individuals like Bannon and Gorka at the heart of his administration, nor while enabling the agendas they promote.
If he wants his words to carry conviction, the president should fire both men immediately.