The following is being published in French in “Cahiers Bernard Lazare,” the publication of Le Circle Bernard Lazare, a French affiliate of the World Union of Meretz:
The astounding victory of Donald Trump is the most significant of a wave of recent electoral upsets that have been riling the world — beginning with Netanyahu’s triumph in 2015 and continuing in the past year with the British “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, the rejection of a peace deal in Colombia, and the election of the murderous maverick Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines. These results mostly contradicted the polls and confounded widespread expectations.
Like the other disturbances, Trump’s election reflected deeply-felt anxiety, anger and unhappiness with the status quo. And they all targeted scapegoats against whom to vent these feelings.
Most American Jews are uneasy about what to expect. Hillary Clinton earned a clear majority of Jewish votes (about 70%) that usually goes to the Democratic nominee. Neoconservatives, the heavily Jewish Republican-aligned movement of hawkish internationalists and social moderates, deserted the Republican nominee en masse, with most either voting for Clinton, a third party candidate or with a write-in protest ballot.
Trump’s explicit scapegoats were Muslims and illegal immigrants (mostly Hispanics), but antisemitism also showed its face during this campaign in vicious attacks on social media (especially Twitter), by some of his supporters, against Jewish journalists who dared to criticize — or simply honestly report on — Trump’s record as an individual and the conduct of his campaign. Neoconservative views on Trump especially angered his supporters. A report of the Anti-Defamation League counts 2.6 million tweets “containing language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech” from August 2015 to June 2016. These include more than 19,000 “overly anti-Semitic” tweets directed against 800 journalists.
With Trump’s triumph there are reports of increased antisemitic and neo-Nazi graffiti, along with other manifestations of hate against Muslims and other minorities. As an immediate reaction to the situation, the American Jewish Committee — a very staid centrist and pro-Israel organization — has just formed the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council in an alliance with the Islamic Society of North America.
A press release announced that the new group “brings together recognized business, political and religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim American communities to jointly advocate on issues of common concern. . . . [to] develop a coordinated strategy to address anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Semitism in the U.S. . . . [and] protect and expand the rights of religious minorities.” Joseph Lieberman, Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000, is listed among its founders.
Despite the myriad ways that he’s fanned the flames of prejudice, I do not see Trump as personally antisemitic, nor a deep-down hater of anybody. He has spoken out for gays, and has long embraced his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner as part of the family and in playing an important role in his campaign, and now on his transition team as he prepares to take office. In addition, he’s expressed no objection to his daughter Ivanka converting to Judaism and establishing an Orthodox household with Jared.
Yet his tendency to think in crude stereotypic terms was on display about a year ago. When addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition, he referred in his offhand way to the supposed Jewish ability to make shrewd business deals (only nine of its 55 members have reportedly contributed to the Trump campaign).
Most disturbing by far, however, is the high-profile role he has given to Stephen Bannon, the head of Breitbart News, a website favored by white Christian nationalists, and steeped in racist and antisemitic tropes associated with an extreme-right movement known as the “alt-right” (for alternative right). Breitbart writers enjoy being overtly un-PC; Breitbart may be regarded as the provocative but (believe it or not) more acceptable tip of a vile iceberg. Trump was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and a variety of neo-Nazi groups, who all see in him an opening to America’s mainstream.
Bannon was the CEO (chief executive officer) of the Trump campaign during its final months, a co-equal of campaign manager Kellyannne Conway. He has forged personal links with France’s National Front and the UK Independence Party. His boss, Trump, applauded the Brexit vote and has expressed doubt on the value of US participation in NATO.
Having just been named “chief strategist” for the incoming president, Bannon is evidently a co-equal with Reince Preibus, the Republic National Committee chairman who has been chosen as White House chief of staff. Preibus is a conventional conservative Republican; he’s bad enough for progressives to take, but if Bannon overshadows him in the new administration, this will be bad news for everyone but the alt-right.
Nevertheless, the JTA has profiled nine Jews known to be close to Trump, seven other than his daughter and son-in-law. Some are religious and all generally pro-Israel, but basically of the rightwing variety, including skeptics on the wisdom of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister and head of the annexationist right in Netanyahu’s government, has welcomed Trump’s election and proclaimed the two-state solution dead. Early in the campaign, however, the notoriously boastful Trump expressed the wish that he could broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but was not confident that even he could do this. Given his theme of “America first,” plus his obvious lack of diplomatic skill and ignorance of international affairs, no sustained effort to achieve peace is likely.
But what may be worse for his orientation to the Middle East is his complete disdain for Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, which he’s invariably referred to as a “bad deal.” There is speculation that he will pressure Iran to withdraw from the agreement by slapping on new sanctions unrelated to Iran’s compliance with its provisions.
In the end, Trump’s election owes more to deficits in Hillary Clinton’s appeal than to Trump’s charms. Clinton has actually won the national ballot count by approximately two million votes— out of more than 125 million cast — but Trump has won in the Electoral College, the antiquated system that separately totals the results in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, as if they were 51 distinct elections. Trump won by breaking through to take longtime Democratic strongholds in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — called “Rust Belt” states because of the massive decline in manufacturing jobs that has afflicted their economies since the 1990s.
Her team did not detect the sudden defection of masses of traditional working class Democrats to Trump, because of his explicit appeal to them as the agent of change, while viewing Clinton as the status quo candidate. Since many of these same whites workers had voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, they were not primarily attracted to Trump out of racism. At the same time, Clinton did not sufficiently energize many natural supporters to her side; Clinton generally ran behind Obama’s prior percentages among racial minorities and young voters, and even among white women.
Although performing well in the three televised debates with Trump — who could not match her in experience and knowledge on policy matters — she ran a complacent campaign that mostly bashed Trump’s character flaws and tied herself to Obama, but offered no themes of fresh vision persuading enough people she was worth supporting. She was also critically plagued by her own bad judgment on one thing that turned into her Achilles Heel — she had gone against government regulations in using a private email server for State Department communications when she was Secretary of State during Obama’s first term.
With eleven days to go, the director of the FBI suddenly announced they were investigating a new trove of emails for classified material, in connection with an entirely different investigation (that of the disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner’s online activity, briefly deemed relevant because of his marriage to a key Clinton aide). This burst like a bombshell that apparently cut critically into Clinton’s lead, possibly lending new hope to Trump’s legions while discouraging some wavering Clinton supporters. Director Comey exonerated Clinton two days before the election, but the damage was done; the races in those states were so tight that it may well have made the difference.
Furthermore, during her recent years out of government, she earned exorbitantly high fees for speeches to Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs and other venues. Moreover, the Clinton Foundation, the family charity, was involved in some questionable activity (albeit legal) regarding donations from powerful interests seeking favors from the Secretary of State, while Bill Clinton solicited highly lucrative speaking gigs from donors. These embarrassments were revealed by Wikileaks, possibly facilitated by Russian hackers.
So the plutocrat who routinely found ways to shortchange or cheat creditors, swindle customers of his Trump University scheme, and manipulate taxation rules and government subsidies for his projects, came off to many as more clean and upright than “Crooked Hillary” — as Trump repeatedly called her at his rallies.
The Democratic party lies in tatters. The Democrats did win a few new seats in Congress, but remain in the minority in both chambers. And now in losing the Presidency and failing to regain control of the Senate, they will lose the Supreme Court as well; Pres. Trump will immediately appoint a new conservative judge to the current vacancy, and is all but certain to name other conservative judges in the coming years to replace another three sitting justices of advanced age. As if this wasn’t enough, the Republicans have steadily gained governorships and the control of legislatures in two thirds to three quarters of the 50 states, even with Obama inhabiting the White House.
This election ended an extraordinary chain of events promising profound impacts on the world — let alone on the US, Jews and Israel. Unfortunately, we can hardly expect that any of this will be good.