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3 lessons Jewish leaders can learn from Trump’s victory

Despite a Republican contest that hit new lows of insult and vulgarity, the nominee's conduct offers 3 object lessons

With Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the race, and Mickey Mouse the only other figure in American life that seems to draw consistent unsolicited votes, Donald J Trump has successfully clinched the GOP’s presidential nomination.

This has come to the surprise of much of the country, most of all to those that are in the paid position of anticipating and predicting political outcomes. What is behind the man’s upset victory, and what if anything can we learn from it?

Let me begin with the disclaimer that there’s not much I admire about the Donald. I trust him about as far as I could throw him, and that says more about low confidence that my billionaire throwing prowess. Inasmuch as I understand policy, Trump’s appears incoherent, and he’s about the last person I’d want as a substitute teacher in any Jewish classroom. All that said, here are some key takeaways I believe we can learn.

Know Your People

Based on heaps of research and our own lifetime of experience we know how significant of a role emotions play in decision making. We also know that emotions can be as mercurial as they are powerful, immediate as they are irrational.

Long before Trump was an aspiring politician, he was an entertainer. And long before he was an entertainer, he was a high profile celebrity. He’s been tuned in to the channel of the people, and they in turn have been tuned in to him.

It’s this ability to keep his finger on the beating pulse of the masses that has allowed him to insert himself into the swirling anxiety and rage about jobs, political ineffectiveness, and loss of prestige on the world stage. If you’re mad and helpless, he’s got your back.

It goes without saying that to be effective in Jewish outreach and communal work we need to be personable and natural in forming relationships. What’s harder to do is to allow our personal predispositions to change so that we can meet the Jewish people where they are today.

Organizational programming can often change little in 10 years. Synagogue event, Israel missions, and youth activities can be virtually indistinguishable from their decade old counterparts. Yet we know how much has changed for Americans economically, socially, and ideologically in that same period.

There’s an often heard lament that the Jewish community doesn’t respond to outreach today as it used to in the “good old days”. Can we honestly say that our approaches have changed since those good old nostalgic times nearly as much as have the times themselves?

This is not a criticism of the thousands of idealistic and tireless professional and lay activists who are the driving engines of our spirited and spiritual community. Rather, it’s an opportunity for us to sharpen our focus on how we can more faithfully serve that very community.

If You’re Saying Something Outrageous, Say It with Outrageous Confidence

Donald Trump, has said all sorts of things that would sound unhinged if they came from anybody else. He plans to have a sovereign neighbor build him a wall over which many in this country are at best ambivalent. He’s promised 35%-45% tariffs on Chinese imports and withdrawal of the US from all trade agreements. Finally, he’s let us know that he’ll cut taxes to the tune of a $10 trillion reduction in federal tax receipts over the next 10 years. Wild stuff.

He’s been met with wild success.

While only the Lord can possibly know what the Donald actually believes, what the Donald knows is that people will respect you for saying outrageous things if you say them with confidence and conviction. Time and again, Trump supporters can be heard heaping praise on the only candidate in the political field whom they believe “tells it like it is.”

We, as serious Jews, believe many things that sound outrageous to modern Western ears. We believe in an all-encompassing divine unity. We believe in a personal and revelation relationship with this unseen and forever unseeable Being. We believe in our nation’s responsibility for no less than the welfare of our planet and its global community.

We’ve got practice. Since the very first Jew Abraham, Jews have always believed things that have sounded outrageous to contemporary ears. This hasn’t held us back from maintaining and championing these beliefs, to the infinite benefit of the human race.

Let’s not waiver. Although the tone and tempo of our national conversation has gotten increasingly more shrill and staccato over recent years, we can still stand with confidence by our outrageous beliefs. With confidence we can continue to believe and tell it – like it really is.

Timing Over Tinkering

The Bush family has been involved in politics since 1964. Jeb Bush, with a brother and father that had served in the Oval Office, was waiting in the wings – ready for his turn.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were both freshman senators that had their sights on the presidency from their first days in the chamber. They spent their terms carefully distinguishing themselves from their peers – as outsiders, the “true” conservative republicans.

Donald Trump showed up and crashed the party, pun intended. The southern candidates that had so carefully groomed their positions, personas, and records, were trounced in an end run by a brash upstart New Yorker. Without so much as a day in elected public office, the military, or even public service, Donald decided run. And run he did.

While there’s much to be said about planning, Trump’s win teaches us an important lesson about ignoring caution and doing. Early birds get worms, not because they are birds, but because they are early. I should add, early and present.

How often do we sit on a great idea for a community initiative, an educational event, as service campaign, or a relationship because we’re waiting to get our ducks in line? Donald – the duck – has never quite had things all in line, but now he finds himself at the front of the line.

Where from Here?

Considering how singularly unsuccessful seasoned pundits have been at predicting outcomes in this political season, I’m hardly going to try my hand at guessing the end of this story. I am however most certain that regardless of who wins in November, the Jewish story will long outlast their term.

The haggadah, with its fresh wine stains still drying, reminds us of our responsibility to be mindful of history “Bchol dor vador” — “In every generation.” Only through studying the peculiar expressions of each generation can every generation find the keys to its particular and unique destiny.

In a political contest marked by new lows of shamelessness, insult, and vulgarity, let us take a moment to ponder takeaways that will hopefully return some measure of dignity to ourselves and our nation’s aspirations for capable leadership.

About the Author
Ozzie Burnham is an entrepreneur, corporate trainer, and non-profit growth hacker in Washington, DC.
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