Learning Curves: The Trump Victory, the Jewish Responses
By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
The November elections would deliver a number of messages to our community, including the framing of a new type of American politics that has been unleashed:
Feeling Tones: Tears and Triumph Mark the Jewish Responses to the Results of November 8th: Two distinctive responses would emerge from the Jewish electorate on the morning after: For Hillary’s Jews there would be a mood of despondency and fear, followed by anger and uncertainty. For Donald’s Jewish supporters a triumphal affirmation would follow word of his victory. Two communities moving in opposite directions!
Assessing the “Fall Out”: Where Jews are Today: Again, depending on the Jewish political camp one finds oneself, there are two distinctive reactions to this election. The liberal Jewish community is in mobilization mode, traumatized by the outcome but resolved to push back in what they will describe as a responsible but strategic approach in seeking to protect and maintain core social gains while resisting Republican efforts to erode long term political interests.
For Jewish Republicans who embraced the Trump campaign, there is a high degree of optimism, especially in connection with their pro-Israel agenda and the foreign policy tenets that seem to define this Administration’s intentions, disconnecting this nation from the Iranian Nuclear Deal while pressing President Trump to grow the Jerusalem-Washington connection.
Recognizing Those Jews Who Did Not Vote: A new phenomenon would occur in 2016; for the first time, a segment of traditional Jewish voters would absent themselves from the polling booth. We believe a fairly significant number of voters elected not to vote or expressed their displeasure with their choices by voting “third party” or possibly “writing in” alternative choices. Some Jewish Millennials, for example, opted to sit out this campaign, as once Bernie Sanders was out of the presidential sweepstakes, these potential voters decided to pass on this election. Some Jewish Republicans and Independents made similar choices, expressing their unhappiness with the major party nominees, by opting to sit this one out or voting an alternative ballot.
Framing the New Politics: What America’s Jews Can Learn from this Campaign? This was the first campaign that was defined and orchestrated through social media. In this campaign often innuendo and myths would replace facts. The use of this technology fundamentally changed how campaigns in the future will be conducted. The idea of “truth” and the place of “facts” would give way to impressions, misrepresentations, and assertions, all offered by individuals and groups as their version of “reality.” Political “garbage” would substitute for accuracy. Indeed, one of the outcomes associated with this new model of campaigning would be a corresponding rise in anti-Semitism.
Moving Forward, Will American Jews Have a Political Home? Two Possible Scenarios:
As one possible outcome associated with the 2016 campaign, one might expect for the first time in American Jewish history that our community might find itself bereft a political base. Two factors have the potential to drive Jews from their traditional political connections. On the Republican side we note the emergence of the alt-Right as a dominant voice within the new administration as symbolized by the role and influence of Steve Bannon. How will this political mindset influence the future of GOP policies and politics?
Democrats are possibly about to turn over their party’s leadership to Congressman Keith Ellison, whose uneven pronouncements on Israel and the BDS movement will cause consternation for Jewish Democrats. What will be the long term impact for the Democrat Party in holding its Jewish supporters?
Creating New Definitions of “anti-Semitism”: Can You be an anti-Semite, yet be Pro-Israel? In the controversy surrounding the credibility of Steve Bannon, we have seen prominent American Jews embrace Mr. Bannon’s pro-Israel credentials, yet we have seen other leaders and some institutions attack him for his anti-Semitic journalistic record. This matter has seemingly produced for our consideration a new scenario, can one be a pro-Israel advocate, and yet be described as anti-Semitic?
Understanding that Jewish Political Influence is Shifting: If the “Jewish vote” defined the political behavior of our community for the past 80 years, in 2016 however Jewish financial clout would seem to have a more profound impact on our political parties, their candidates and policies than our community’s traditional, longstanding voting power.
Unpacking Donald Trump’s Voters: In assessing the voters who delivered the Trump victory, what ought American Jews to understand? Overwhelmingly, the working class and rural alignment that Trump would mobilize delivered a rejectionist message. Feeling uncomfortable and threatened by the social changes occurring within this nation and disconnected from the economic trends taking place, this class of voters was seen as pushing back against “establishment” politicians and the existing political order. The election would remind us of the deep geo-political and social divide that defines America in 2016. For the Trumpians, Jews are identified as an integral part of the world of political elites. There is little that our community shares with this sector of the electorate, presenting a particular challenge in breaking down stereo-types and perceptions that currently operate on both sides of the political spectrum.
Moving on: As this article is being crafted, Mr. Trump is in the process of building his Cabinet and making his administrative appointments. Indeed, over the weeks to come, we will have a “better read” of the Trump Presidency, and we will also have a more exact impression on how the Jewish community will respond. As is readily apparent, Donald Trump has “his house Jews” beginning with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
No doubt, as this new political scenario becomes more apparent, we are about to see the multi-voices that will emerge to define the various, divided Jewish responses to this Administration’s policy directions.
Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Los Angeles. His writings can be found on his website, www.thewindreport.com.