Analysis

Trump’s Triumph Is Bitter Pill for American Jews

If this was Russia or Poland a century or two ago, Jewish mothers would be telling their kids to stay off the streets for a while.

A Jewish man watches voting results come in at Hillary Clinton's election night event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, New York City, U.S., November 8, 2016.
Win McNamee, AFP

In March 2016, I published a “nightmarish fantasy” about Donald Trump winning the elections after a campaign of escalating racism and anti-Semitic rhetoric, precipitating mass migration of liberal American Jews to Israel. I am not citing this article now as evidence of my foresight, but on the contrary, as proof that even scenarios that seem outlandish, ludicrous and completely unthinkable when they are concocted can turn out to be true. The first part of my imaginary projection is already history.

I don’t think the second part is about to follow suit, at least not yet. I don’t see thousands or even hundreds of Jews waiting in line at Israeli embassies and consulates clamoring to be allowed into Zion. It will take much more hostility towards Jews to even get them to consider the notion of leaving America. Even if they do, I am not sure that Israel would seem to be the most desired or even welcoming place on the planet for liberal Jews to move to. It certainly doesn’t act that way.

Nonetheless, make no mistake: the election of Donald Trump is a harsh blow for many American Jews, a bitter pill for them to swallow. It’s no coincidence that Jewish Americans gave Trump only 25% of their vote, five percent less than Mitt Romney, despite the growth of Orthodox Jewry, where he enjoys more support, despite his supposedly warmer support for Israel and notwithstanding the sizeable chunks in the community that identify with Trump’s business success and financial outlook. Trump, Jews can sense instinctively, is not our guy.

More than Trump’s slightly-less-than-isolated incidents and disturbing slips of tongue – from the little guys with yarmulkes who count his money to the international cabal of global financiers out to take over America – it is the baggage that Trump brings with him that is bound to disturb and even frighten American Jews. Even if he hadn’t displayed shocking tolerance for the Jew haters sprouting under his wings or supposedly speaking in his name, when neo-Nazis jump for joy, Ku Klux Klansmen celebrate redemption and garden variety anti-Semites declare that their time has come, Jews have valid historical reasons to get concerned. If this were a century or two ago in Poland or Russia, Jewish mothers would be telling their children to stay off the streets for a while.

And it’s not only anti-Semites who are prominent on Trump’s bandwagon that Jews will find unsettling. Even though Trump himself may not be the archconservative ideologue that some of his followers are pining for, he was enthusiastically embraced by the most fanatical abortion-opposing, civil-rights-disdaining, gay-marriage-abhorring, fusion-of-church-and-state-crusading right-wingers in America. 81% of Evangelicals, whom Jews are not enamored with despite their warm support for Israel, stood up for Trump, according to exit polls, despite his proven history of adultery, wife-swapping and grabbing women by their you-know-what. Thus, Trump’s victory does not only embolden haters who threaten the Jewish community directly, it empowers the most forceful advocates of the values that Jews have traditionally opposed.

Among white Americans who identify with a religion, Jews are consistently the most secular and the most liberal group, supporting liberal agendas in far greater numbers than all others. Despite the right wing propaganda that tried to tar both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as enemies of Israel, both are among the Jewish community’s most admired politicians. Their repudiation and humiliation in Tuesday’s election is a blow for Jews, both personally and ideologically.

And even if Trump had not skirted perilously close to peddling anti-Semitic stereotypes, even if he had not refrained from distancing himself sufficiently from the haters under his wings, Jews know full well that they are often the epitome and the stereotypes that many of Trump’s establishment-defying, elites-hating admirers are thinking of when they vent. Whether it’s New York values, east coast snobs, secular fanatics, Hollywood moguls, media titans, Wall Street fat cats, hi-tech billionaires, Saul Alinsky organizers, gay rights activists, black power lawyers, blood sucking bankers, civil rights panderers, church-hating intellectuals, knee jerk academics or any other group that so many of Trump’s supporters detest, their image of Jews is never far from the surface, consciously or not.

An America that is ruled by a partnership of the uncouth Donald Trump, fundamentalist crusaders and what may seem to many Jews as potential torch-bearing mobs, is the antithesis of the America that Jews admire and even worship. An America that disdains pluralism, despises immigration, opposes free trade, curtails voting rights and yearns for days when white people ruled supreme is an America in which Jews are bound to feel decidedly less comfortable than the one they thought they lived in only a few days ago.  

President-elect Trump can go a long way to allaying their fears, though he hasn’t shown any inclination to do so until now and may be even less enthusiastic given the meager support he enjoyed from the Jews in the elections. If he doesn’t, if Washington is taken over by the kind of reactionary axis that Jews fear and loathe, well then, the second part of my article from eight months ago might turn out be grounded in reality as well.