Jews and Politics: How a Trump Presidency Is Changing American Jewry

Grass roots organizing is being matched by national agencies that have been launching a series of public statements and commentaries in reaction to Mr. Trumps policies and personnel choices. This represents the largest Jewish mobilization in decades.

Photo: White House Press Office

By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

The emergence of the Trump Presidency has led to a renewed debate over the definition of America. For Mr. Trump’s supporters these early days of his Presidency have fulfilled their expectations. However, for many other citizens, including large segments of Jewish Americans, are experiencing total disbelief, angst, and even anger. Words such as “unbelievable” and “disaster” might best define the current social climate for large numbers of Americans. The policy directions introduced by our new President are seen as a radical departure from his predecessors.

Indeed, this is a new age in American politics. President Trump’s emersion into the Presidency has produced a different and at times alarming set of outcomes for many of this nation’s citizens. Acting without any measure of accountability, President Trump and his White House team appear to be undermining some of the inherent Constitutional guarantees of this nation and in the process are changing the country’s core political culture, while eroding our global image. Donald Trump is no ordinary politician; rather he was able to capture the Republican Party for his brand of populism and nationalism, marginalizing the core interests of that party to fit his political interests.

Indeed, many Americans are not only worried about the implications of his policies but are particularly concerned about this President’s political mindset, his distorted notions in connection with “truth” and “reality” have been called out on a number of occasions. As others intimated during the campaign, the question remains for many citizens “does Donald Trump have the demeanor and temperament to be our Commander and Chief”?

Even for Jews who supported our new President, the recent glaring absence of a distinctive Jewish reference to the Statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day along with his overt attention to Christian refugees in connection with his restrictions on Muslims entering this nation dramatically calls into question two of the President’s key advisers, Steven Miller and Stephen Bannon; the later with his alt-right credentials and the former with his ultra-nationalism and prejudicial orientation.

Moving forward, our nation will require leaders from all different dimensions of this society to be prepared to push back against the over reach of this White House. One can disagree with policy, but as Americans we need to affirm the central tenants of our democracy that are now being dismissed or marginalized by this Administration. Republicans, more than Democrats, must now articulate the case for securing this nation’s wellbeing. The political agenda ahead requires the GOP leadership to challenge the White House not only on behalf of the interests and principles of the Republican Party but also in connection with American civic values. These political elites represent the last defenders, as they emerge as the essential actors who most directly might influence and alter this President’s focus and message.

In the end we are reminded that our new President does not feel bound to or compelled by the traditional notions of political practice, as he claims to be a candidate who is responsive to those who embraced his distinctive campaign message. Upending all of their accepted notions of American values and the established principles of political behavior, this President will continue to embrace positions that radically separate him from the interests and positions of previous administrations. From his dismissal of climate change to his undoing of the Affordable Health Care Act, the nation will be witnessing the reformulation of policy in many areas of governance. But his rejection of the political order transcends specific actions as he is fundamentally seeking to change America’s role in the world from one as a global partner to a nation committed singularly to its own interests, bypassing international bodies, regional commitments and alliances, and bi-national agreements. Of particular concern to many, is his readiness to advance his messages by permitting groups to be targeted, the press to be attacked, and politicians to be minimized, tearing apart the political fabric of this democracy in the process.

There appears to be a new spirit of activism that defines and drives the American body politic in general. For Jewish Americans this moment in time is galvanizing their political energies in response to this President’s statements and actions. Whether at airports, through the women’s demonstrations across the nation, or in synagogue settings, Jews are mobilizing. Their Facebook, email and tweeter messages are focused on both their reactions to the political events occurring around them and their pro-active commitment to enter the fray on behalf of their fellow citizens and the future of this democracy.

This reborn activism is not framed around one issue rather it is a response to the overall tenor of Trump Presidency. Grass roots organizing is being matched by national agencies that have been launching a series of public statements and commentaries in reaction to Mr. Trump’s policies and personnel choices. This represents the largest Jewish mobilization in decades. Advocacy organizations are reporting increased giving and identifying significant new “hits” on their websites. This new political reality is creating a profound Jewish reaction on the national scene and within communities, as it is generating similar responses across religious, ethnic, and racial lines.

The primacy of debate around the issues that divide this country ought to define how as a society we process our politics. This President’s effort at every turn has been to intimidate and ridicule his opponents rather than to encourage or create a conversation of substance. A dictatorial mindset of executive orders has replaced the introduction of policy proposals, legislative initiatives, and Congressional hearings.

In this age of Trump, a new national opposition is being formed, a part of which includes large elements of America’s Jews. Their social justice passions have been aroused, designed to challenge the existing political order. We are witnessing an extraordinary effort by citizenry to raise political awareness and to build a movement that will seek to alter the present course of our country’s politics.

Dr. Steven Windmueller on behalf of the Wind Group, Consulting for the Jewish Future.