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.
We need an uprising of decency.
If only …
If only Donald Trump were not president, we could have an interesting debate over whether private health insurance should be illegal. If only Trump were not president, we could have an interesting debate over who was softest on crime in the 1990s. If only Trump were not president, we could have a nice argument about the pros and cons of NAFTA.
But Trump is president, and this election is not about those things. This election is about who we are as a people, our national character. This election is about the moral atmosphere in which we raise our children.
Trump is a cultural revolutionary, not a policy revolutionary. He operates and is subtly changing America at a much deeper level. He’s operating at the level of dominance and submission, at the level of the person where fear stalks and contempt emerges.
He’s redefining what you can say and how a leader can act. He’s reasserting an old version of what sort of masculinity deserves to be followed and obeyed. In Freudian terms, he’s operating on the level of the id. In Thomistic terms, he is instigating a degradation of America’s soul.
The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a “sucker” in world affairs all defined his presidency down.
It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.
.. In a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 84 percent of people in Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Sweden believed the American president would “do the right thing in world affairs.” One year later, that number had fallen to 16 percent.
.. This comes at a very unfortunate time. Several allies in Europe are experiencing political upheaval. Several former Soviet satellite states are rethinking their commitment to democracy. Some Asian nations, such as the Philippines, lean increasingly toward China, which advances to rival our economy and our military. The alternative to U.S. world leadership offered by China and Russia is autocratic, corrupt and brutal.
.. The world needs American leadership, and it is in America’s interest to provide it. A world led by authoritarian regimes is a world — and an America — with less prosperity, less freedom, less peace.
To reassume our leadership in world politics, we must repair failings in our politics at home. That project begins, of course, with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us. It includes political parties promoting policies that strengthen us rather than promote tribalism by exploiting fear and resentment. Our leaders must defend our vital institutions despite their inevitable failings: a free press, the rule of law, strong churches, and responsible corporations and unions.
.. Furthermore, I will act as I would with any president, in or out of my party: I will support policies that I believe are in the best interest of the country and my state, and oppose those that are not. I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault. But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.
Before long the Right will need to reunify, so let’s not burn any bridges.
How is the Right going to work together as a coalition after Trump?
In short: If you want to win, you need allies. And if you want to survive losses, you need friends. You always will.
The second group for whom there is a rational explanation is those who emerged for the first time as voices in the Trump era, and fear that they won’t be able to continue if a New Normal sets in. Trump was the first leader of the Republican party in my lifetime that a large segment of the conservative commentariat could not stomach at all. Driving a lot of established and talented people into opposition, or at least personal opposition of the party leader, created a vacuum: There were still pro-Trump messages to be carried, and too few people to carry them. As in any era, some of the people who jumped on those opportunities are shrewd folks with something worthwhile to say. But others just got jobs because jobs needed doing, like the NFL replacement players in 1987 who found themselves out of work again when the strike ended.