Many people throughout the United States and the world are still coming to terms with the reality of a Trump presidency. Some are scratching their heads as to how their predictions could have been off base, while others are taking credit or passing out blame for his election. Many are trying to figure out what, exactly, this will mean for the future. Will President Trump deliver on his promises? Can he deliver on his promises? What happens if he can’t or doesn’t? What if his policies don’t result in a better economy or more job creation? How will world leaders respond to him? To some, the future is bright, while to others it is frightening.
I have been especially intrigued watching the reactions of our chareidi community, both pre- and post-election. I have often found these reactions quite disturbing.
First, let me mention a few facts. This election was won by razor-thin majorities in a few key states. As of this writing, it seems that Mr. Trump will actually lose the popular vote. It is not clear whether Mr. Trump won because he captured more of the “Rust Belt” blue collar vote or because Sec. Clinton underperformed among urban minorities in those key states. It could actually be both or neither of those factors that won him the presidency. Either way, this election does not represent a mandate but, rather, indicates a deeply divided nation.
This presidential campaign was extremely divisive. The rhetoric was mean, highly emotionally charged, and both sides played with the truth. This may be generally true of most presidential campaigns. However this one was unique in that the anti-immigrant and anti-minority rhetoric empowered an anti-Semitic populist right-wing element that has festered under the surface during much of the recent economic downturn and now feels comfortable to come out in the open. At a Trump rally, chants of “Jew.S.A.” were heard and thankfully quashed.
Steve Bannon of Breitbart is a trusted member of the Trump inner circle. Under his leadership, Breitbart has become the go-to website for the “alt-right,” a movement which often pushes white ethnocentric nationalism as a response to political correctness. The Breitbart comment section has turned into a forum for the diatribes of white supremacists against many minorities, including Jews.
Furthermore, the Trump victory has spawned protests and demonstrations from the left, which, if they grow, do not portend well for Jews, either. (Witness the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attacks that came from some in the “Black Lives Matter” movement.) Fox News reports that police in Washington, D.C., are preparing for tens of thousands of protesters on Inauguration Day in January. Cities with large Orthodox Jewish populations such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are seeing building momentum for anti-Trump protests, according to the Los Angeles Times. Historically, we Jews have not done well when populist nationalistic movements that rise out of economic discontent are in control, nor have we escaped blame for supposedly supporting those very same movements.
While today there are many ecstatic Americans who are basking in the glory of victory over the progressive left, there are just as many angry and distraught ones who feel threatened by the conservative right and are beginning to act on their fears. Both sides may look to scapegoat Jews, especially visibly Orthodox Jews, if the new president is not able to bring the country together.
How are we chareidi Jews, in fact, behaving? There are two disturbing phenomena that seem to be occurring. One is a public expression of triumph regarding the Trump candidacy and eventual victory, as if we somehow put President Trump over the top. Americans in Israel proudly proclaim that they all supported Trump. Both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times report excitement in Israel over the Trump victory, and identify Orthodox Jews as having overwhelmingly supported Mr. Trump. Are we not concerned that our adversaries are taking note? Why are we willing to gamble the security of our kehillos by preening publicly about an election? Should we not be concerned about a backlash from the right or the left? It may behoove us to remember that we are still in galus and to lie low — at least until things settle down.
Just as disturbing, however, is what one might call the “religification” of this election. Many within our machaneh have written, emailed or made calls describing a vote for a candidate as a chillul Hashem. Terms like tumah, issur, sheker, etc. are thrown around irresponsibly and indiscriminately. Still others speak of nissim gluyim or the Daas of Hashem as if we have nevuah to know of these things. Gematrios and remazim in pesukim are distributed (I trust in jest) — and are taken seriously. Some have made religious determinations regarding the various indiscretions of the candidates, paskening which ones we should overlook and which ones not. One writer of an excellent Halachah column actually devoted an entire piece to the Jewish law ramifications of sheker with regard to the media, as if anyone involved in this election was completely truthful or whether any of these laws or maamarei Chazal actually applies to non-Jews.
There is no problem with supporting one candidate or another, whether based on one’s personal interests or the community’s interests. It is even fair to use one’s moral compass, whether Torah based or not, to evaluate the trustworthiness of a candidate. There is no problem with making recommendations as to whom to vote for. We should point out the benefits we may receive or concerns we may have about anyone running for office. Attaching religious or halachic obligation to a recommendation is just plain silly and demeaning to our Torah when coming from those with little or no halachic expertise.
While it is unquestionably correct that lev melachim v’sarim b’yad Hashem, and that ultimately it is He who controls history, we have no way of knowing if this election result is a punishment or a reward. Who are we to know Daas Elyon?
As to what we should do, we should take pride in the chassidishe Yid who publicly dedicated his vote to the fallen American soldier of the Moslem faith. Our message should be one of healing, reconciliation and unity. President-elect Trump made a great start in his conciliatory acceptance speech. His first post-election trip to Washington was very encouraging. We should be the ones urging him to reach out to peaceful protesters and reassure them that despite disagreements, he will hear them out. We should be the ones urging him to repudiate the anti-Semites among his supporters and send a clear message that his administration will not tolerate them.
It is also important to note that there are a number of special Jews in President-elect Trump’s inner circle who are eloquent voices of reason and support for the Jewish People and Israel. Their work has resulted in powerfully positive position papers defending Israel and supporting much of our government education funding agenda. These policy statements represent extremely positive benefits that may accrue from a Trump administration.
We, as American Jews, as American chareidi Jews, have an important role to play in the democratic process. Let’s try to play that role intelligently. Let us daven that we will be zocheh to yeshuas Hashem b’karov.