Learning From Learning From Trump

There has been so much written in conservative media trying to explain what, exactly, the cause of “Trumpism” is. Various pundits, from all different sides of the political center-right, have taken a shot at trying to make sense of the nonsensical.

The explanations vary from blaming the somewhat mythical “establishment” to the fed-up base. Others blame talk radio, while still others blame the media.

The options are endless.

And there definitely is more than enough blame to go around. The fact that Trump can command the support he does is definitely emblematic of something. That something, it seems to me, is not any one thing. If it were, it would have been corrected in the time between when he took off, and now, when he has rallied a big enough base of support to give him the inside track to the nomination. It obviously is not any single thing, and so it has not been fixed.

Political journal editor Yuval Levin, appearing on a radio program, had a very interesting point in his introduction to comments he made about Trump. He said: “Everyone who talks about this anger, everyone who talks about Donald Trump, ends up basically saying that it confirms what they always thought, which should worry us a little bit.”

He does not explain why people only have theories about Trumpism that confirm previous issues they have had with the GOP. He only points out that it is that way. That, in and of itself, is a question worth exploring.

If someone has been voicing a critique of the Republican Party for a while, you can usually make a safe bet that it is about something someone else is doing wrong. Even if it is something s/he is involved in, it would be something that is out of his or her control to change. The advantage of the first option is that it is a combination of both.

And that is why the natural inclination throughout conservative circles has been to point the finger of blame. In doing so, the people who have been writing analyses of Trumpism have been free to abdicate any personal responsibility for this phenomenon, while there is culpability to be had on so many levels.

Skirting responsibility is not only about avoiding blame. It is also about resisting the need to change. If there is something you have done that is (even partly) responsible for creating the circumstances within which Trumpism can be born, grow stronger, and even be a threat to take over (and ultimately kill) the Republican Party as we know it, then it is your responsibility to change that. Change is hard.

Who wants to have to do that?

We know this to be true in our lives as well. When we see something that we perceive as having gone wrong in Klal Yisrael, we can immediately cluck our tongues and assign the blame for it. And when there is a tzarah (chas veshalom) of any sort, whether it is in a community or an entire segment of the Jewish world, we point our fingers at the people we just know are the causes of that tragedy.

But what about ourselves? How often do we train our critical eyes on ourselves and do what we are supposed to do when we are faced with challenges — conduct a cheshbon hanefesh? The sad truth is that we hardly ever do. The question we ought to ask is, why?

The reason is quite simple. The yetzer hara won’t allow us to. Life is easier if we discuss the big changes we need made to our way of life if all our problems are going to be solved. It is easier because it demands nothing of us other than talking about it.

That is not to say there are not any big changes that might need to be made. Just like (l’havdil) with Trump, who has shined light on the fact that there are undoubtedly many big changes which need to be made to the way the Republican Party does business. But the idea that just talking about it changes anything and/or allows one to skirt one’s own responsibilities is just preposterous.

Let us leave the questions of institutional change to our leaders. They are, after all, the only ones who have the ability to effect any change on that level. Let us be constructive, and make the changes we have the ability to make. And if we each make those little improvements, instead of ignoring those things about us we know we need to change, we can have a bigger impact on the world collectively than any one single “big” change.