The holidays are approaching, and a number of my Israeli friends have asked me, "How are you doing?"
I tell them that I am thinking about buying a gun.
To say the least, they are surprised. After all, I am a 73-year-old Jewish liberal and activist with no fondness for weapons of any sort. And I am not given to alarmism or apocalyptic fantasies.
But it is simply no longer possible to ignore what is happening in my country.
We have a criminal president who has no loyalty to the law or to the Constitution, and may very well have ties to the Russian mob. He once had a few advisors and Cabinet members who were patriotic and principled, but they have long since been fired or departed in disgust. And they have been replaced by sleaze merchants, toadies, and political lowlifes.
And this is the key: With his presidency threatened and his poll numbers low, he will not hesitate for a second to promote violence in order to hang on to his job.
"Impossible," my Israeli friends say. "It can’t be that bad."
- Trump blasted for praising QAnon conspiracists deemed domestic terrorism threat by the FBI
- How the fascist-friendly pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory led to insurrection
- GOP candidate Trump praised as a 'Republican Star' shared antisemitic and Islamophobic video
- A California state senator is facing antisemitic and homophobic attacks — as well as death threats
But it is.
Donald Trump has prepared the way for civil violence on a grand scale by claiming for four years that the federal law enforcement system – the FBI, the federal court system, and the DOJ prior to the Barr take-over – is a corrupt "Deep State." It is rigged against him, he proclaims, and is even prepared to steal the election that – absent cheating and trickery from the Democrats and the "elites" – he could not possibly lose.
And now that these Trumpian assaults have stoked the anger of his base and delegitimized the political system in their eyes, Trump is ready for the pay-off.
If the outcome is anything other than a landslide for Joe Biden, on the day after the voting Trump will accuse the phantom "swamp" of engineering election fraud. And he will call on his base to take to the streets and demand that he be given what is rightfully his.
And many will oblige.
Who will be the first to do so? The "very fine people" that we saw at the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA, will be at the front of the line, along with the militias, the white supremacists, and a variety of other armed, pro-Trump supporters who are most inclined toward violence.
One would hope that large numbers of peaceful demonstrators would also take to the streets, demanding respect for law, the courts, and the Constitution, and that may very well happen. But a small number of radicals on the left might also be anxious for a fight and might respond to or initiate violence.
And whatever occurs, Trump can be counted on to incite the most radical elements of the pro-Trump mob, trying to stoke the conflict and encourage the collapse of public order. If he succeeds at all, he could then send in federal forces to restore public safety, and also to assure his reelection.
For example, having proclaimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent, he could seize uncounted ballots and prevent them from being tabulated. Or he could put armed forces in states where the vote is undecided, perhaps to encourage vote-counters and legislatures to submit to Congress a list of Trump-supporting electors.
Or he could simply delay the final count past the constitutionally set deadline and throw the election to the House of Representatives, where — given the process set by the Constitution, which gives each state delegation one vote — he would be assured victory.
Far-fetched? Dystopian? Just plain nonsensical?
And what is most interesting about all of these analyses is that hardly any serious expert or commentator considers such a scenario out of the question, or even especially unlikely. While presenting himself as the law-and-order candidate, never in our history has a president flouted the law with such consistency and contempt.
And what is surprising is not that Trump would break the rules of the game, but that, after four years of would-be autocracy, anyone would think that a Trump presidency and the rule of law are in any way consistent.
And what does all of this have to do with the Jews? Everything.
What pushed me over the edge was QAnon.
QAnon, as Professor Gregory Stanton has written convincingly, is a cult based on a rebranded Nazi conspiracy theory modeled on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It rests on the premise that a satan-worshiping "cabal," led by pedophiles who kidnap white children, is taking over the world. The Jewish associations of this cabal are sometimes hinted at and at other times are mentioned openly.
QAnon believers think that Donald Trump will rescue America from this cabal, and at the time of "The Storm," its supporters will be rounded up and executed.
Some leading Republicans have spoken out against QAnon, but as Stanton notes, the Texas Republican party has adopted its mantra, "We Are the Storm" as its new slogan.
President Trump has praised Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a Republican candidate for Congress who endorses QAnon’s views, backs the also-antisemitic "Great Replacement" theory and who has posed with neo-Nazis, as a "future Republican star."
The Republican National Convention pulled a speaker from its program only after the Daily Beast reported her endorsement of a blatantly antisemitic tweet describing "malevolent Jewish forces in the banking industry [who] are out to enslave non-Jews and promote world wars," citing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as back-up.
A week ago, Vice-President Mike Pence backed out of a Trump fundraiser with a couple who are longtime public supporters of the QAnon conspiracy, and who had shared antisemitic posts about the nefarious reach of the Rothschilds and their "global cabal."
And the president refuses to condemn QAnon, telling reporters that the theory is "gaining in popularity" and that its supporters "like me very much, which I appreciate."
This is absolute madness, of course. Yes, President Trump has done some good things for Israel, and I acknowledge those contributions and thank him for them.
But how can it be good for Israel or American Jews when an American president will not speak out instinctively, emphatically, and immediately against a lunatic conspiracy theory dripping with racism and with clearly anti-Semitic overtones? Should we not be entitled to expect at least a modicum of moral clarity from our president?
Should we not be able to rely, as a matter of course, on his embrace of democratic norms and his rejection of violence and vile rhetoric following the upcoming election?
Having always depended on those norms, I was shocked last week when a man with QAnon views led a small march in Westfield, NJ, the upper-middle-class suburb where I live.
The march organizer told a reporter that QAnon exposes a "certain satanic element" in America involved in child trafficking, whose perpetrators kidnap children to drink their blood. QAnon’s return to the medieval antisemitic blood libel couldn’t be clearer.
That was the moment at which I began to think about the gun.
What should we do now? Politicians, of course, must allocate dollars and pass legislation to protect the security of our election process.
Beyond that, I agree with David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, who wrote that if Trump loses and refuses to leave, the best answer is tens of millions of people gathering in public squares throughout America.
And what they must do there is reject violence in any form, but demand, with fiery patriotism, the preservation of constitutional order.
Am I buying that gun? Almost certainly not. It doesn’t sit right with me. But I’m not taking anything off the table.
Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Twitter: @EricYoffie