I owe fellow CJN columnist Michael Taube a dinner. We had a friendly wager on the outcome of the U.S. election. I lost.
Like so many others, I’m shell-shocked. How could it possibly be that millions of otherwise good and decent people could choose a carnival barker as their next president? And frankly, not just a carnival barker, but a loudmouth narcissist whose un-endearingly negative qualities include, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia and near the end of the campaign, as some like the Anti-Defamation League have argued, anti-Semitism.
There’s no need to regurgitate the long list of ugliness acted out by Donald Trump. We all know it by now. What I do want to dissect, however, is why a significant number of people in our own community fell so strongly in lockstep behind Trump.
Never before in the history of modern American electoral politics has a candidate for one of the two major parties exhibited such dreadfully un-Jewish behaviour. Never before has a candidate even passively accepted the embrace of the worst elements of American extremism – the American Nazi Party, the KKK, the White Nationalist Party and so many more.
Trump has dishonoured values that the Jewish community holds dear: honouring and respecting women, standing with the victim against the victimizer, welcoming the stranger – these are all values common to every stream of Judaism.
Most strangely, I’ve observed that a disproportionate number of Orthodox and pious Jews were Trump’s strongest cheerleaders in our community.
But nobody can say they didn’t know. In virtually every major Jewish newspaper and magazine, there were articles exhorting us to remember our own history.
Lee Cooper wrote in Tablet: “Donald Trump and others call for things such as: poor treatment of immigrants; religious discrimination; rejection of refugees; and deliberate political polarization. How can we, Jews who were once slaves, stand idle amidst the xenophobic cries?”
In a recent interview, David Nirenberg one of America’s leading scholars of anti-Semitism, was asked about the anti-Semitic tweets emanating from the Trump camp during the campaign. Nirenberg, referencing a story about the tweets in the Washington Post, explained in his view, he was “seeing the normalization of anti-Semitic tropes, as the article put it, on a massive scale. That has effects and consequences and legitimizes certain uses of language.”
Ron Kampeas of JTA wrote: “Donald Trump, the Republican nominee who has made broadsides against Muslims, Hispanics and other minorities a part of his campaign – recklessly, say his critics; unintentionally, say his defenders – has drawn into the light racists and anti-Semites who once occupied the margins of American life.”
And Dana Milbank, a columnist for the Washington Post, claimed in a widely read piece that “Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody.”
Milbank went on to write: “On Oct. 25, Trump supporter Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and radio host Trump has praised and echoed during the campaign, went on a diatribe about ‘the Jewish mafia in the United States.’”
Trump himself has been raising the anti-Semitic ante, Milbank wrote, noting that on Oct. 2, he spoke about the “bloodsuckers” who back international trade, while on Oct. 13, he referred to the secretly scheming “global power structure,” a theme embraced by Jones and Steve Bannon, former CEO of the alt-right Breibart news agency and a key Trump adviser.
The day after the election, former KKK grand wizard David Duke tweeted: “This is one of the most exciting nights of my life – make no mistake about it, our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!”
Those in our community who chose to close their eyes to Trump’s anti-Jewish tropes will undoubtedly come up with many reasons. Most notable, I suggest, will be Trump’s support for Israel, as though that makes his behaviour acceptable.
I have no idea what the future holds. I’m only glad I live in Canada, where we chose light over darkness.