In an early season episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, the characters were chatting about a Jewish character and garnered some laughs out of the linguistic quirk that the same perfectly acceptable words to describe Jewish people can become derogatory with very little shift in context. “A hard J” as they put it.
This episode comes to mind after seeing Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz appear on his second home, Newsmax (now that Martha’s Vineyard is at best his third home), to assure the audience that it’s perfectly fine to shrug off Trump’s rhetoric about “The Jews.”
Virtually every time! Amazing. As Wonkette — where I first saw this clip — put it, Dershowitz seems to be saying Trump’s antisemitism is just part of his charm.
Dershowitz probably doesn’t think Trump’s homogenization of “The Jews” is really antisemitic. He’s likely due for some pushback on that, but whatever. Even if Dershowitz is willing to write off this rhetoric, taken in the context of Trump’s other statements, both on this subject (his adherence to the idea that “Israel” is the sum total of a Jewish voter’s identity) and in how he discusses other ethnic groups, there’s a pattern here that should raise flags that Trump’s phrasing reflects a less-than innocent naïveté about how a pluralistic society works.
But it’s all part of Dershowitz’s chosen late-career role as LiberalLawProfessor.TM An enduring archetype of talking head on right-wing outlets, Dershowitz and others in this cohort are deployed by the producers of these programs to convince their reactionary audiences that the Overton Window is relatively narrow.
“See,” the MAGA-hatted audience says to themselves at home, “even that guy who doesn’t support Trump” — despite defending him on television constantly and joining his impeachment defense team to make embarrassingly bad constitutional law arguments — “says what Trump did is OK!” With this, Dershowitz stands in for the liberal he plainly isn’t at this point and allows the audience to safely ignore the overwhelming majority of voices to his left (which is, coincidentally, the overwhelming majority of voices in the country based on the last couple decades’ worth of elections) as crazy outliers. Dershowitz is only invited on when he’s able to rubberstamp their perspective, and any cognitive dissonance is resolved, “see, this is a balanced network!” that sliver of the audience can mutter.
Maybe Dershowitz is incapable of critically evaluating his role in the media landscape these days. And if that’s the case, maybe the only way to reach him is to stress this point:
No one at Newsmax cares about his opinion. At all. They care what his opinion gets them — a comforting shot of dopamine for any viewer who might feel distress at watching a one-track propaganda network. Once he sets that viewer at ease, the network moves right along tearing down all the other issues Dershowitz claims to care about.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.