For those who missed the story, Kanye West has recently become the most prominent antisemite in the United States. This dark turn has led the rapper into an odd friendship with Nick Fuentes, who has made a name for himself by espousing a litany of despicable beliefs, including white nationalism, antisemitism, and Holocaust denialism.
It goes without saying that Donald Trump—a former president, Republican Party leader, and 2024 candidate—should not have dined with a character like Fuentes on November 22. But he did, and the backlash was immense. Former Vice President Mike Pence summed up many Republicans’ critiques when he said, “President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table. I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”
Joe Biden also weighed in. The president tweeted:
The Holocaust was evil. Hitler was a monster, and hundreds of thousands of brave American soldiers died to defeat Nazism. Political leaders should indeed refuse to lend their platforms and credibility to antisemites.
Biden’s tweet seems to send the right message, but it contains a curious statement: “Silence is complicity.”
“Silence is complicity” is a typical representation of the righteous indignation that has come to define much of leftist political rhetoric. It makes the speaker feel good and ostensibly puts them on a moral pedestal. The message is simple: I’m a good person because I criticized a bad thing, and unless you follow my lead, you're complicit in that bad thing.
While it is sometimes the case that being silent, especially as a political leader, could make one complicit in nefarious deeds, in most cases—and for most people—it simply does not.
Is it reasonable to expect leaders to proactively condemn every depraved idea or malicious ideologue any time something iniquitous happens, anywhere in the world? Is it productive to demand a statement from every governor, senator, congressman, and party leader whenever a hateful outrage influencer gets a little attention? If silence is actually complicity, does this mean Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is complicit in Holocaust denial and Hitlerism for not issuing his own statement in response to Trump’s dinner with Fuentes? Of course not.
“Silence is complicity” is empty political rhetoric. Republican leaders, who could reasonably be expected to weigh in on the matter, roundly criticized Fuentes and his abhorrent ideas. Instead of making a statement that everyone could agree with, the president tried to use the opportunity to score cheap political points.
For his part, Trump said he had the dinner to “help a seriously troubled man,” referring to West, with whom the former president has a longstanding relationship. Trump further claimed that he did not invite Fuentes and had no idea who he was. One can certainly ding the Trump team for sloppiness, but it seems clear that Trump’s intentions were not to mainstream hateful antisemitic beliefs.
Instead of ending his statement with a call for “rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides,” Biden turned what should be a nonpartisan issue into a political one. And that’s a shame.