Monday morning, I discovered an unsurprising endorsement for Trump in Haaretz by conservative columnist Bethany Mandel, who wrote that she had moved from anti-Trump warrior to full-throttled supporter (I Was a Never Trumper. I Couldn’t Have Been More Wrong).
I say unsurprising because this is the trend of most Orthodox Jews and because, like hard right pundit Ben Shapiro, for four years Mandel has been dangling her allegedly anti-Trump credentials before readers while repeatedly validating the president and his actions.
Like so many Trump supporters, she has consistently peddled the line that she has no choice but to support Trump because of the bad liberals, thereby absolving herself of ownership or responsibility for his behavior.
Like many Orthodox Jews, she credits Trump’s "wonderful" treatment of Jews and Israel as the basis of her support, writing that she had been afraid of antisemitism and the rise of white supremacists under his rule but that her fears had proven, in her words, "hyperbolic nonsense."
She then lists the many (alleged) benefits of Trump, such as his pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement and recognizing the legality of West Bank settlements (against the international legal consensus.) She does not engage with the racist fantasies he has actually realized, preferring to note – against most evidence – that his white nationalist base is disappointed with him.
Setting aside the uncomfortable proximity of this stance to the antisemitic contention that American Jews’ dual loyalty mean they only care about Israel, in truth even Mandel’s brimming confidence about Trump’s benefit to Israel is misplaced.
Iran’s nuclear stockpile has tripled since Trump left the agreement, for example, and American soft power around the world has been eviscerated by Trump’s erratic behavior and betrayal of our allies. That’s why scholars from Dov Waxman to Ambassador Dan Kurtzer have called powerfully for Israel’s supporters to vote for Biden.
- 'In America, Do They Hate Blacks or Jews More?': Terrible Cost of Four Trump Years
- I Was a Never Trumper. I Couldn’t Have Been More Wrong
- Israel’s Self-centered Trump-worship Warrants an Apology to American Jews
- Netanyahu's Complicity With Traitor Trump Has Tainted Israel-U.S. Ties
Equally misplaced is her confidence in Jewish safety in America. While it’s true that Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers felt Trump was insufficiently antisemitic, the rhetoric that drove him to that atrocity – fear of George Soros orchestrating an infiltration of non-white immigrants into America – was precisely what Trump and his media ecosystem had been pushing for weeks.
Trump has likewise called American Jews who don’t vote for him "disloyal," eventually clarifying he meant to Israel (to which he assumes they owe loyalty), and repeatedly promoted the QAnon conspiracy (among others), which includes deeply antisemitic propaganda at its core.
But there is an even bigger problem here.
Mandel ignores four years of hate-mongering racism, misogyny, and rhetorical violence – and the policies and vigilante attacks that this rhetoric has promoted. Her argument essentially comes down to having opposed Trump for fear of his stoking antisemitism, but now loving him because he helps Israeli territorial maximalists.
Her narrative is skewed in the extreme. "Thankfully," Mandel writes, "when [Steve] Bannon left both the White House and Trump’s orbit, things took a turn for the better."
In what way did his departure change anything? A full discussion of the depravity, corruption and destructiveness of Trump’s regime is beyond the scope of this article. Readers might consult summaries like this and this, as well as articles on fascism like this on how far we have already reached into that dystopia and its pernicious effects going forward.
Trump himself has been utterly consistent in his hate-mongering rhetoric, from his opening speech about Mexicans through his recent rallies that praised white Minnesotans’ "good blood" while declaring that Ilhan Omar (an American citizen and member of Congress) was trying to tell us how to run our country, and literally thousands of examples in between and since.
He has likewise stoked vigilante and state violence, attacked the free media as enemies of the people, praised the extra-judicial assassination of a suspect, defended Kyle Rittenhouse (accused of killing two demonstrators in Wisconsin), defended a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan, defended supporters who attempted to ram a Biden bus off the road, and famously told the Proud Boys and other armed far-right supporters to "stand by" and "watch the polls."
All of this in the last month alone, and all happening as the Department of Homeland Security warns that foundationally antisemitic homegrown white supremacists are now the most lethal domestic terror threat to America today.
Mandel’s suggestion that shifting personnel "solved" Trump’s extremism problem is a dodge that distracts from the incredible harm of this administration. Was her intention to say that things would improve for Mandel personally, bearing in mind Bannon was involved in the vicious online attacks on her?
But Bethany, there are other people.
Stephen Miller remains at the White House, for example, and has been one of its most destructive and powerful influences. Just last month we learned how Trump implemented the family separation policy – including infants – at the instigation of Miller along with Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions, leaving 545 children still orphaned. Does Mandel need to learn of the damage to Jewish children separated from their parents to understand the evil of this policy? Are they the only ones that count?
Miller – whom we now know to be an open white nationalist – intends to ramp up these policies should Trump be reelected. As Adam Serwer famously put it two years ago, the cruelty is the point. And Trump remains the same person.
And then we come to COVID-19, which Mandel revealingly fails to mention in her article. Trump’s gross mishandling of the pandemic, with a quarter million Americans dead, and 100,000 more cases a day, blaming healthcare workers while hosting mask-less mass events, has been so severe that a leading medical journal took the unprecedented step of endorsing Joe Biden for the sake of saving our lives.
Early on, Mandel complained about the lockdown: let others stay at home if they’re afraid! She happily took on the moniker "grandma killer," an example of what some are calling "vice signaling." A more recent concern is that teenage boys stuck at home are watching too much porn.
Mandel’s argument comes down to this: she supports Trump because he has supported the Israeli right’s expansionist demands while she remains unconcerned about everyone else.
She reminds me of the Trump voters interviewed by the New York Times’ Patricia Mazzei who complained that his policies are hurting them. "He is not hurting the people he needs to be hurting." For Mandel, he’s not hurting the people she cares about.
On Twitter, she snarkily styles herself a "neo-Nazi and grandma killer," intending some sort of ironic "owning the libs." But it’s actually quite revealing.
Once she established – at least to her own satisfaction – that she personally won’t be hurt by Trump, she’s delighted to drop her previous, presumably principled, opposition, vote for him, and to hell with everyone else.
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the kindness of Abraham, who welcomed strangers into his tent even as he was recovering from his circumcision.
That behavior is contrasted with the evil of the people of Sodom, punished (our sages tell us) for their selfishness, their cruelty to strangers and the poor, and their depraved indifference to human suffering.
How sad, and yet how fitting, that Mandel chose this week to throw in her lot with them, rather than with our forefather Abraham.
Joshua Shanes is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston and Director of its Arnold Center for Israel Studies