A president loyal only to himself uses my community as a political weapon.
The major debate tearing apart the American Jewish community on this particular Wednesday is whether or not the 45th president of the United States just accused them — us — of disloyalty to Israel and the Jewish people or of disloyalty to the Republican Party and the man who has remade it in his image.
“Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they are defending these two people over the state of Israel?” President Trump said on Tuesday, referring to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, Democratic congresswomen who support the boycott movement against Israel. “And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
As my people say: Nu?
What do you hear in the president’s statement, which, like many things he blurts out, manages to be both opaque and outrageous at once? If you’re pro-Trump or Trump-curious, you’ll generously hear an assertion that Jews should be loyal to Israel. If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but hear echoes of the sinister charge of dual loyalty.
I’ve been around enough tables with pro-Trump Jews to strongly suspect that this is a riff on a theme Mr. Trump himself has overheard at many dinners with Ivanka and Jared, the favorite daughter and dauphin: dismay that even those Jews who have appreciated the president’s Israel policies — moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, cracking down on Iran — will never pull the lever for him.
It’s easy to imagine what they say: Look how much you’ve done. More than any other president. They should be grateful. Why can’t they see that? Why can’t they see that the Democratic Party has abandoned them? Meantime, you’re more pro-Israel than most American Jews! Indeed, on Wednesday afternoon at the White House, Mr. Trump clarified as much: “If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”
Brace yourself for further presidential Twitter rants on the matter because I do not believe that Mr. Trump is capable of higher-order thoughts about loyalty — loyalty to the office in which he sits, loyalty to the Republic, and, above all, loyalty to the idea of keeping America united. Fealty to him is the only litmus test.
Indeed, if we have learned anything about the former host of “The Apprentice,” it is that he looks at the world in the exact way he looked at those contestants. You’re a winner or you’re a loser. You’re for him or you’re a turncoat. In his small mind, if you’re on Team Jew, you vote for his party because Republicans are pro-Israel and, therefore, pro-Jew. If you’re on Team Anti-Semite, well, then you vote for the other guys.
All of which is why I have zero doubt that if the prime minister of Israel criticized Mr. Trump on the wrong day or in the wrong way, the president would dump Israel at that very moment. And it is why anyone with a shred of knowledge about Jewish history should be extremely concerned.
If 2,000 years of diasporic living has taught the Jews anything, it’s that an existence that is contingent upon the kindness of strangers is never too safe or too long lasting. A president with authoritarian tendencies who cares about nothing more than lock-step loyalty is not one American Jews, let alone anyone, can rely on.
More to the point: Will white supremacists, like the one arrested Monday in Ohio, or the one arrested Tuesday in Miami, parse these Talmudic distinctions about who was, in fact, the subject of the disloyalty in that Tuesday sentence? Or will they hear — as they have always heard in this president’s rants against the globalists, the elitists, the invading immigrants organized by George Soros, and all the shady forces keeping the hard-working men and women of America down — the word “Jew”?
The Jews of America are in the midst of a political crisis, sped along at breakneck speed by a president asking us, bluntly, to choose. Vote for a party whose base seems increasingly in thrall with newbie politicians who are unapologetic supporters of the B.D.S. movement, a new face of old anti-Semitism, even as the party’s leadership remains pro-Israel. Or vote for the party led by a man who is loyal to nothing but himself, who actively sets Americans against one other, and, more, genuinely seems to thrill at creating a disunited state of America.
We are increasingly a people apart. Which self-mutilation, so many of us wonder, is worse? Abandon the universal values our community has always championed? Or abandon the particularism without which we cease to be Jews at all?
Our predicament would be entirely familiar to the Jews of Babylon and Berlin and every community that has been erased in between. But that it is facing the greatest diaspora in Jewish history has shocked those who always believed we were the lucky ones.
To preserve all that has ever made American Jews — and America — great, we cannot allow this man to tear us apart.
At the same time that science and technology have vastly improved human lives, they have also given certain visionaries the means to transform entire societies from above. Ominously, what was true of Soviet central planners is true of Big Tech today: namely, the assumption that society can be improved through pure “rationality.”CAMBRIDGE – Digital technology has transformed how we communicate, commute, shop, learn, and entertain ourselves. Soon enough, technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data, and the Internet of Things (IoT), could remake health care, energy, transportation, agriculture, the public sector, the natural environment, and even our minds and bodies.
Applying science to social problems has brought huge dividends in the past. Long before the invention of the silicon chip, medical and technological innovations had already made our lives far more comfortable – and longer. But history is also replete with disasters caused by the power of science and the zeal to improve the human condition.
For example, efforts to boost agricultural yields through scientific or technological augmentation in the context of collectivization in the Soviet Union or Tanzania backfired spectacularly. Sometimes, plans to remake cities through modern urban planning all but destroyed them. The political scientist James Scott has dubbed such efforts to transform others’ lives through science instances of “high modernism.”
An ideology as dangerous as it is dogmatically overconfident, high modernism refuses to recognize that many human practices and behaviors have an inherent logic that is adapted to the complex environment in which they have evolved. When high modernists dismiss such practices in order to institute a more scientific and rational approach, they almost always fail.
Frontier technologies such as AI, Big Data, and IoT are often presented as panaceas for optimizing work, recreation, communication, and health care. The conceit is that we have little to learn from ordinary people and the adaptations they have developed within different social contexts.
The problem is that an unconditional belief that “AI can do everything better,” to take one example, creates a power imbalance between those developing AI technologies and those whose lives will be transformed by them. The latter essentially have no say in how these applications will be designed and deployed.
The current problems afflicting social media are a perfect example of what can happen when uniform rules are imposed with no regard for social context and evolved behaviors. The rich and variegated patterns of communication that exist off-line have been replaced by scripted, standardized, and limited modes of communication on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. As a result, the nuances of face-to-face communication, and of news mediated by trusted outlets, have been obliterated. Efforts to “connect the world” with technology have created a morass of propaganda, disinformation, hate speech, and bullying.
But this characteristically high-modernist path is not preordained. Instead of ignoring social context, those developing new technologies could actually learn something from the experiences and concerns of real people. The technologies themselves could be adaptive rather than hubristic, designed to empower society rather than silence it.
Two forces are likely to push new technologies in this direction. The first is the market, which may act as a barrier against misguided top-down schemes. Once Soviet planners decided to collectivize agriculture, Ukrainian villagers could do little to stop them. Mass starvation ensued. Not so with today’s digital technologies, the success of which will depend on decisions made by billions of consumers and millions of businesses around the world (with the possible exception of those in China).
That said, the power of the market constraint should not be exaggerated. There is no guarantee that the market will select the right technologies for widespread adoption, nor will it internalize the negative effects of some new applications. The fact that Facebook exists and collects information about its 2.5 billion active users in a market environment does not mean we can trust how it will use that data. The market certainly doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be unforeseen consequences from Facebook’s business model and underlying technologies.
For the market constraint to work, it must be bolstered by a second, more powerful check: democratic politics. Every state has a proper role to play in regulating economic activity and the use and spread of new technologies. Democratic politics often drives the demand for such regulation. It is also the best defense against the capture of state policies by rent-seeking businesses attempting to raise their market shares or profits.
Democracy also provides the best mechanism for airing diverse viewpoints and organizing resistance to costly or dangerous high-modernist schemes. By speaking out, we can slow down or even prevent the most pernicious applications of surveillance, monitoring, and digital manipulation. A democratic voice is precisely what was denied to Ukrainian and Tanzanian villagers confronted with collectivization schemes.
But regular elections are not sufficient to prevent Big Tech from creating a high-modernist nightmare. Insofar as new technologies can thwart free speech and political compromise and deepen concentrations of power in government or the private sector, they can frustrate the workings of democratic politics itself, creating a vicious circle. If the tech world chooses the high-modernist path, it may ultimately damage our only reliable defense against its hubris: democratic oversight of how new technologies are developed and deployed. We as consumers, workers, and citizens should all be more cognizant of the threat, for we are the only ones who can stop it.
Historically, high-modernist schemes have been most damaging in the hands of an authoritarian state seeking to transform a prostrate, weak society. In the case of Soviet collectivization, state authoritarianism originated from the self-proclaimed “leading role” of the Communist Party, and pursued its schemes in the absence of any organizations that could effectively resist them or provide protection to peasants crushed by them.
Yet authoritarianism is not solely the preserve of states. It can also originate from any claim to unbridled superior knowledge or ability. Consider contemporary efforts by corporations, entrepreneurs, and others who want to improve our world through digital technologies. Recent innovations have vastly increased productivity in manufacturing, improved communication, and enriched the lives of billions of people. But they could easily devolve into a high-modernist fiasco.
Donald Barr, the controversial and outspoken headmaster of the Dalton School, one of the city’s largest and most selective private schools, has resigned in protest of what he considers the trustee’s interference with his leadership.
“Everyone knows that I am somewhat anachronistic in my views of the educational leadership of a school,” Mr. Barr wrote in a letter yesterday to faculty members and parents. “I am not comfortable with the definition of board‐head relations that I see becoming current in schools everywhere.”
Mr. Barr’s resignation, which the board says was not requested and not expected, comes after 10 frequently stormy years as head of Dalton, which is housed in an 11‐story, brick building at 108 East 89th Street.
Question of Authority
The source of conflict between the strong‐minded Mr. Barr and his 20‐member board seemed to center on the question of where the board’s authority should yield to the headmaster’s judgment. There was apparently no one incident that prompted the resignation, but the confrontation was exacerbated by financial pressures that have forced the school to set priorities.
“The issue is the prerogatives of the board and the headmaster,” said Richard Ravitch, a construction company executive who is president of the board. “My sense of trusteeship and my understanding of the requirements of the state law And the bylaws of the school all say to me that it is the obligation of the trustees of an institution to make all the policies.”
Ironically, the present board of trustees includes many parents who rose to Mr. Barr’s defense when a faction of the former board and some of the parents sought his ouster in 1971. He was accused then of turning a “humanistic, progressive” school into one in which “discipline and authoritarian rule” were the hallmarks.
The issues then had nothing to do with this issue now,” Mr. Ravitch said. “All of us who are now officers of the board were supportive of him in that fight and supported his educational philosophy.”
Since the first time Mitt Romney ran for President, four years ago, he’s been on record reversing his previous support for abortion rights. However, when pressed by George Stephanopoulos in the debate Saturday night, Romney went beyond mere opposition to Roe. He said he thought Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that first made explicit the right to privacy, was also wrong. “I don’t believe they decided that correctly,” Romney said. In this, the front-runner was eagerly seconded by Rick Santorum, who said the Justices “created through a penumbra of rights a new right to privacy that was not in the Constitution.”
In Griswold, the Court ruled that a Connecticut law banning the sale of contraceptives, even to married couples, was unconstitutional.
.. And that is what makes Romney and Santorum’s criticism of Griswold so troubling. Over the years the modern Republican Party has reflected both libertarian and authoritarian tendencies. Both survive, in a way. When it comes to taxes and regulation, the libertarian side of the party is ascendant. Even the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism has faded from view. But with regard to civil liberties, the G.O.P. has embraced state power with a vengeance. Whether it’s the rights of wartime detainees, or abortion rights, or the rights of gay people to marry (or to be free from discrimination), contemporary Republican leaders reflect clear moral disapproval. (Even Ron Paul, who is often described as a libertarian, is a fierce opponent of a woman’s right to choose abortion. And Rick Perry recently announced that he’s against a right to abortion even in cases of rape or incest.) Privacy is often described as “the right to be left alone,” but that’s not a value that seems terribly important in the G.O.P. right now.