As the sun goes down today, Yom Kippur comes to an end. Yom Kippur is a day to atone for what you have done wrong in the previous year, and to commit yourself to make an honest attempt to do better next year. If Donald Trump wins, I know I will regret that I didn’t do enough to convince you, so let’s plow through some saved articles about The Donald. In the spirit of the day, these articles explore what might be good for us Jews in this election.
We all know that the Donald has a long long history of sexism and racism and corruption. It is not just isolated incidents (as we have seen from his opponent), but a continual pattern from when he was young to the present day. No indications of repentence, no indications of tshuvah. But what about the Jewish question? Let’s explore that for a bit.
For those of us in Progressive Judaism (i.e., Reform, Reconstructionist, and to some extent Conservative), Donald Trump is anathema to us. He goes against our ideas of social justice, and his solutions for Israel will increase conflict in the region. But for many Orthodox Jews (and a small number of Progressive Jews), Trump is their man. The estimates vary—one Orthodox source consulted for the story just linked says that he expects Trump to win 70 precent of the vote in the Brooklyn orthodox stronghold of Borough Park, while another doubts that the Republican will get more than a third of the Orthodox vote, an estimate roughly in line with the Yeshiva University student poll—but a significant percentage of the Orthodox are still going to vote for him. Why? One rabbi said (according to the story linked) that the Republican candidate is a needed corrective to contemporary liberalism’s vision of “a world without any beauty and any pride and any happiness.” Trump, in his view, is “fighting a battle that we have felt for a long time,” namely the conflict between traditional Jewish life and the spiritual emptiness, and perhaps the inevitable meaninglessness, of the world that he believes the modern-day, Clinton-supporting left envisions. Many support him because of his strong, one-state, pro-Israel stance.
But it’s not a given. An opinion piece in the Forward makes the case that Orthodox Jews should support Hillary. Orthodox Rabbi Menachem Genack notes that, “For the Orthodox community, it comes down to one issue: Israel. And on that issue, during Israel’s most difficult times, Bill and Hillary Clinton were there.” It’s not only Clinton’s personal concern for Israel that makes her the right choice, Genack says, but also her view of America’s place in the world. “What Israel needs more than anything else is a strong America, respected in the world, that protects Israel’s interests — an America engaged in the world. That’s what Hillary represents,” he said. “An isolationist America, which is what Trump advocates — hiding behind a wall, dismantling 70-year-old alliances like NATO — for the Jewish people, that, historically, leads to disaster, just like it did in the 1930s.”
Like the 1930s. What would a Trump win be like for Jews in America? The campaign is giving us a taste — it is awakening millennials to the extent of antisemitism in America. Most millennials have grown up during an unprecedented era of prosperity and assimilation for Jews in America, one in which the struggles endured by an earlier generation is understood as something closer to historical lore than present fact. The early months of 2016 brought in a strange tide of online hate speech aimed largely at Jewish journalists who had published articles critical of Trump or his campaign, with all the old ugly epithets on display. Then in July Trump’s Twitter account posted an image of a six-pointed star next to a picture of Hillary Clinton, with a pile of money in the background. Though he deleted the tweet, afterward Trump walked up to a brightly lit podium and defended the image, bellowing that the Jewish star was not a Jewish star. A dim reality descended on American Jews. Yes: Trump had broadcast the message of a neo-Nazi without apology. In September, the ex-wife of Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, said that Bannon had kept his daughters out of a school because he there were too many “whiny” Jewish brats there; the candidate’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., retweeted someone described as the neo-Nazis’ “favorite academic”; and a Trump advisor was accused of discriminating against Jewish employees (and denying the Holocaust).
It is unclear if Trump himself is antisemitic. But, as this shows, some of his campaign staff is, and some of his followers certainly are. An opinion piece in Ha-aretz relates what is going on. It is a preimium article, but I found some of it reposted. It noted that attacks from his supports began in earnest early in the year, following the February South Carolina primary, when reporter Bethany Mandel was attacked as a “slimy Jewess” and was told she deserved “the oven” for writing about Trump’s relatively large number of antisemitic supporters. The attacks only grew in intensity, scope, and, if alt-right sites are to be believed, in organization of harassment. In April, prominent feature writer Julia Ioffe published a profile of Melania Trump in GQ. Ioffe, who is Jewish, was barraged with death threats and crank callers, one of whom played recorded speeches of Hitler on her phone line, another who told her that her face would look good on a lampshade.
The problem is that white supremacists and American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen and the technology-borne alt-right hear in Trump’s dog-whistles, in his retweets of their filth, and in his belated, disingenuous, or nonexistent disavowals, the sound of a common cause, and a golden opportunity. “Dog Whistles” are code phrases not heard by most people, but signals to various consitiuencies. Want an example? Look no further than the latest debate, and the repeated mentions of “Sydney Blumenthal” — which is a signal about Jews controlling the administration. Two weeks ago, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum wrote a piece titled “In Poland, a preview of what Trump could do to America.” The Breitbart news site – whose on-leave executive chairman is Trump Campaign Chairman Stephen Bannon – then ran an article which said of Applebaum that “hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.” Jew-hating Trump supporters have reserved some of the most toxic of their venom for staunch Republicans and conservatives who happen to be Jewish. They’ve even coined an obscenity just for them: Kikeservatives.
Then again, there is Trump’s relationship with David Duke. In a robocall, the former KKK grand wizard said he and Trump come as a pair in the 2016 elections.
Trump may not be antisemitic. I’m sure that some of his best friends are Jews; his son-in-law certainly is. But he permits and does not denounce antisemitism in his staff and followers. His solution for Israel is not practical, and his solutions for the US will not ensure a strong US is there to defend Israel. Lastly, his plans will not bring the forms of social justice that are a hallmark of Judaism.
ETA: Alas, I must add the following: The day after I posted this, the following appeared on my FB feeds: “Trump just gave an anti-Semitic speech ‘dripping with hatred’ — and the Internet is horrified“. The article, from Raw Story (so I need to confirm), talks about another “dog whistle” from Trump, when in a speech in Palm Beach FL he lashed out at global elites who undermine American sovereignty through “international banks”. He accused Clinton of being “the vessel (of) a corrupt global establishment that’s raiding our country and surrendering the sovereignty of our nation.” The article noted how many Internet readers of the speech felt it had antisemitic undertones. Here’s the transcript of the speech. Here’s one quote: “This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system, and our system is rigged. This is reality, you know it, they know it, I know it, and pretty much the whole world knows it. The establishment and their media enablers will control over this nation through means that are very well known. ” «Global special interests» strikes me as a dog-whistle for the Jewish conspiracy, a common antisemitic trope. Here’s yet another dog-whistle: “Their financial resources are virtually unlimited, their political resources are unlimited, their media resources are unmatched, and most importantly, the depths of their immorality is absolutely unlimited.” This plays to the antisemitic trope about Jewish bankers and Jewish control of the media. Yes, he is not explicit about it, but I think the signals are there. Additionally, he’s telling people they can’t trust the media — I’ve written about the problems of that before. He says: “Let’s be clear on one thing, the corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism. They’re a political special interest no different than any lobbyist or other financial entity with a total political agenda, and the agenda is not for you, it’s for themselves.” Translation: Ignore the media, listen to me and me alone, for only I tell the truth. Think of who else said that, and we should be afraid — and make sure we go out and vote.
P.S.: I’m not saying Trump is all bad. After all, he has done something no one else has been able to do: He has brought the country’s leading Republicans (many of them, at least) and Democrats together, because they have finally found something they can agree upon: They can’t abide Donald Trump. There’s Paul Ryan, of course, and John McCain, and a host of other high-ranking Republicans in Congress. Barack Obama has been anti-Trump from the outset, and is now actively working to persuade Republicans to abandon him. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is on board, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as is much of the right-wing commentariat, among them Erick Erickson and Glenn Beck. There are Republican lions, like George H.W. Bush and Democratic lions, like Al Gore and Jimmy Carter. In short, though he presumably did not mean to do so, Trump has built a remarkable coalition. The reason for this, of course, is that for all of their disagreements, all of these individuals have much in common. They all respect the rule of law, and appropriate limits on government power. They lament sexual violence against women. They also recognize that part of the social contract on which a democracy is founded is abiding by the outcomes of elections, even if those outcomes are disagreeable. In fact, on Tuesday, numerous Republican leaders told Donald Trump and his acolytes in no uncertain terms to stop their talk of a “rigged” election.