Confronting the Trump Presidency: A Game Plan for Jewish Political Engagement
By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
The election of Donald Trump represents a different moment in American history. What does this election mean for American Jewry? More directly, the political climate in the United States has spawned a new wave of racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric. The imprint of social media on the political and cultural environment warrants further consideration. This country has not seen such deep class and racial divisions since the period of the Great Depression. This election campaign has left a level of political discomfort and fear within this nation, and most certainly within our own community.
Nearly fifty percent of eligible American voters in this election failed to cast their ballots, continuing a pattern of political disengagement that has been present within the electorate for decades. Their absence should represent a warning signal about our citizen’s loss of confidence and connection with the democratic process.
Many American Jews are troubled both by the outcome of this election and the nature of the political discourse that has been unfolding. Beyond our concern over managing our political priorities, the health of our democracy must remain the primary focus. If this environment of distrust and hate is allowed to fester, we face a potential scenario of civil disorder and the threat of violence.
For some this election has come to symbolize the end of the American Exceptionalism. Conspiracy theories and platforms promoting misinformation have replaced the commitment to seeking truth and promoting responsible political action.
Elsewhere this author has framed an agenda for action that incorporated the core values and political interests of our community, while promoting the essential features of American democracy.
At this time Jewish leadership ought to consider a national consultation on the state of American politics and its implications for our nation and our community. Our intention here must not be to undermine the new administration but rather to work with the instruments of government in fostering the respect for our civic traditions while reasserting the core interests of our community and those of our allies.
Eight steps ought to define our political pathway:
Educating Constituencies: the task of political organizing begins with civic education and voter registration;
Organizing from the Bottom Up and from the Outside in: this must be seen as a campaign that begins within our communities and embraces the voice of our citizenry;
Re–learning Community Advocacy and Organizing Tactics: the art of mobilizing requires us to master the tools of political engagement;
Building Coalitions: the history of American Jewish advocacy has involved the development of alliances among ethnic, religious and racial groups who share a common agenda;
Embracing Funders and Key Stakeholders: without the financial support of key donors and foundations and absent the engagement of community elites, the momentum and credibility required for this campaign will not be present;
Putting Forward an Agenda for Action: the goal here is not to be “in opposition” but to propose a proactive program defining our vision for America’s future;
Being Strategic and Focused: this must be a campaign that is carefully orchestrated and calibrated, where goals are defined and strategies are measured;
Evaluating Outcomes: as with any campaign, the commitment to self-assessment is an essential component.
Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. His writings can be found on his website, www.thewindreport.com