Opinion |

I Was a Never Trumper. I Couldn’t Have Been More Wrong

Four years ago, I wrote here that a win by Trump, courting white supremacists, meant 'the ascendancy of hate.' But my fears about his presidency endangering Jews were hyperbolic nonsense

Bethany Mandel
Bethany Mandel
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Bethany Mandel
Bethany Mandel

In 2016, it was hard to know what to think about Donald Trump, but none of the signs were good.

Some of his biggest fans were white supremacists, and at best he didn’t care, and at worst, he outright courted their support. Trump retweeted their tweets and his son appeared on-air with some of their more popular personalities.

In a piece for Haaretz four years ago (Jews Face a Precarious Future in a Trump America) I didn’t mince words about what I believed a Trump victory would mean:

"[Bill] Kristol was deemed by Breitbart as a "renegade Jew" for opposing Trump. What Kristol and other Jewish conservatives (myself included) are doing by taking on Trump, even if it means a GOP loss in November, is to try to protect the very fabric of the American experiment.

"And as is increasingly clear, our loss would mean the ascendency of hate, and an America as unpalatable for Jews as much of Europe already is."

With the benefit of hindsight, I’m thankful to say those fears weren’t just off-base, they were hyperbolic nonsense.

Was I caught up in the hysteria that Kristol and other establishment Republicans thrown out of the inner circle were fomenting (and would later profit off)?

Was I spooked by the avalanche of hatred sent my family’s way by anti-Semitic troll farms? During the 2016 election, I was one of the top ten most targeted Jewish journalists.

Did I simply not have enough faith in America’s ability to withstand a potentially bad president?

I’m not sure, but I’m just glad to know that four years later, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It didn’t start off great. The president immediately brought on Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, and Trump’s response to the Charlottesville incident was disappointing to non-Jews and frightening to Jews.

From left, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, policy adviser Stephen Miller, and chief strategist Steve Bannon watches as President Donald Trump signs an executive order, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

A great deal of attention has been placed on Trump’s comment’s about "very fine people" on both sides of the conflict in Charlottesville. His defenders say he was talking about good people who tried to defend the statues from being destroyed, who happened to march alongside the alt-right protestors.

What isn’t in dispute, however, is that it took the president a full two days to respond to the incident, out of an abundance of caution to get the full facts before coming out with a statement. The president isn’t known for his restraint, and it was disturbing to see this was one of the few times he exercised it.

Thankfully, when Bannon left both the White House and Trump’s orbit, things took a turn for the better.

Haaretz podcast: If Biden wins, Trump transition could prove very significant for NetanyahuCredit: Haaretz

Last week, The Forward published a piece from two IDF veterans who planned to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden. I don’t begrudge them their votes, but the crux of their argument was laughable on its face.

They wrote: "[A] closer examination of his record reveals something a little more complex: that Trump’s achievements in the Middle East have been largely symbolic, while he’s also presided over a series of dangerous, even disastrous developments that have caused true harm to Israel."

Just on Israel alone, one cannot pretend that the president has done anything less than move mountains.

This is just a partial list of what he accomplished: Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and led other countries to follow, over the opposition of basically the entire foreign policy establishment, finally fulfilling the promise of a long line of U.S. presidents to do just that.

A man waves the Israeli flag during a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu, backdropped by a billboard supporting President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, in Tel Aviv, October 3, 2020. Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

Recently, Trump’s team negotiated peace deals, normalization agreements and explicit recognition of Israel by Arab/Muslim countries (the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, with others likely to follow).

Trump reversed the stance of the State Department that West Bank settlements were illegal and that U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem weren’t born in Israel. The Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, leading to a settlement being named "Trump Heights" in his honor.

Taking big steps to make Israel safer, the Trump administration halted aid to the Palestinians until it stopped funding terrorism, isolated the Palestinians from the rest of the Arab world, and altered the terms for any future negotiations with them that force Palestinians to acknowledge reality.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Washington, September 15, 2020.Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

Trump also made Israel, and the rest of the world safer, by pulling out of the Iran deal and, again over the objections of the entire foreign policy establishment, killed Iranian Quds Force head Qassem Soleimani.

And that’s just what Trump has done on Israel. In December of 2019, the president signed an executive order on campus anti-Semitism that was disingenuously panned at the time of its signing, but proved critical in changing the environment for Jewish students. That executive order set the stage for a complaint filed recently by students at the University of Illinois alleging they "faced an unrelenting campaign of anti-Semitic harassment."

Unlike the president’s dismal reaction to the tragedy in Charlottesville, his response to the tragedy two years ago in the wake of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre was significantly better.

The Washington Post reported at the time that Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers was "pleasantly surprised" to discover a "warm and personal side" to President Trump when he visited the Pittsburgh synagogue with "Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are Jewish," following the deadly shootings. The Post noted the contrast between the warmth of Myers’s comments and criticism aimed at Trump "for a lack of empathy in responding to national tragedies."

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, alongside Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, pay their respects at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 30, 2018.Credit: AFP

Unlike during Trump’s 2016 campaign, white nationalists no longer see a friend in the president. This time around, white nationalist Richard Spencer endorsed his opponent, an endorsement that Joe Biden rightly rejected.

In its reporting on the background of the Tree of Life shooter, the New York Times quoted from the shooter’s social media posts, where he wrote: "Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist. There is no #MAGA as long as there is a [slur for Jews] infestation." In another post, he included a doctored image showing Trump "in conversation with a man wearing a skullcap."

I have one thing in common with the alt-right: We had a drastically different expectation of how the president would perform once in office. That’s why much of his alt-right base have grown "disillusioned" with him, and why I am comfortable celebrating how wrong I was four years ago.

President Trump didn’t just exceed my very low expectations of what his administration would mean for the American Jewish community and Israel, but blew them out of the water.

Four years ago, I was a committed Never Trumper. Now, I’m not – and I have no qualms anticipating Trump's re-election.

Bethany Mandel is a homeschooling mother of four and a widely published writer on politics, culture and Judaism. She is an editor at Ricochet.com and a contributor to the Washington Examiner blog and magazine. Twitter: @BethanyShondark

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