A Response to R. Kornblau’s ‘Why (Orthodox) Jews Must Vote for Joe Biden’

Rabbi Barry Kornblau just published an essay called Why (Orthodox) Jews Must Vote for Joe Biden.  Ordinarily, I’d simply respond on the Facebook thread where he posted the link, but I have a feeling this may end up being long, and I may even feel the need to use italics, so I’m creating a post of my own.

First, I was surprised by the title. Of course R. Kornblau is sincere in this belief, and backs it up in the essay itself, but it still strikes me as overly aggressive — as is the essay. I think the country is much better served by an attitude of “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” (from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, which I recommend to everyone).

There is a widespread — almost ubiquitous — and unfortunate tendency today to decide whether to consider someone’s arguments based on what one thinks about that someone. To avoid supporting that, I tend to leave my own beliefs unspoken when they’re not relevant to my point. For the same reason, I try to not relate to anyone’s reasons for arguing as they do, but in this case there’s an interplay between people’s attitudes (see, I did use italics) and their arguments. One sees this, for instance, in the Democratic platform, where some positions are stated explicitly as being in opposition to Trump’s. I’m concerned that by taking a “Trump = bad” attitude, some babies will go the way of the bathwater. But to frame R. Kornblau’s essay in a way that makes sense to me, I’m going to break with my standard practice.

So: I didn’t vote for Trump and wouldn’t vote for Trump, for the simple reason that he early-on revealed himself to be mean. There are other good reasons, like the lying and the seeming lack of interest in the work of governing, that became prominent later, but I didn’t need them. (And, by the way, I’m trying to word this carefully: The lying is demonstrable; the lack of interest is based on inference and the reports of people who worked in the administration, so it’s just “seeming.”)

What I have seen, though, from many Trump detractors over the years is an attitude of “Kol hamarbeh harei zeh meshubach” (all who increase — it is praiseworthy). It’s like reading the Haggada: “He did 10 things wrong.  No!  He did 50 things wrong!  No!  He did 250 things wrong!” I’ve heard good explanations for that section of the Haggada, but none for the obsession with heaping on more examples of Trump’s misbehavior. More than the Haggada, in fact, it reminds me of the Two Minutes Hate.

Not voting for Trump, then. Don’t think anybody should. But: I think America would survive four more years of him. I also think it would survive four years of Biden — even if the Democrats take back the Senate too. There’ll be things I’ll be unhappy about, and I think it’ll be bad — though hopefully not catastrophic — for Israel, but we’ll get through.

On to the specifics. I’ll be relating to R. Kornblau’s essay section-by-section, largely without quoting from it, so if you haven’t read it, some of this won’t mean much:

Science and Reality

Though I don’t disagree with R. Kornblau’s description of Trump, I do disagree with the wording about Biden “embrac[ing] science, technical expertise and reality.” Stick with “reality,” because the other two promote the canard that Trump voters, and possibly Republicans, and possible conservatives in general, are “science-deniers.” This is part of the current tendency to portray one’s sociopolitical opponents as being not merely wrong, but damaged — either stupid (or, in the best case, ignorant) or evil. I know many people who believe this (though not a statistically significant number).

And because “Science” is not in danger of falling out of favor with the American people, Scientific American’s endorsement of Biden is not due to some emergency on that front, but is — I assume — of a piece with The Lancet’s anti-Israel statements and the woke pronouncements from many corporations on issues about which nobody asked their opinion:  a combination of self-aggrandizement and virtue-signaling.

The Pandemic

I’ll give this a pass. There’s room to quibble, but to what end? I’d be interested to know, though, how R. Kornblau knows that the Haredi behavior in Boro Park is a result of “Trumpism.” Or is anything bad now just “Trumpism”?

Climate Change

I’ve gone 15 rounds with R. Kornblau about this already.  I’ll just point out the echo of what I wrote earlier in his statement that “many conservatives have yet to come to terms with climate change.”

Trump and Israel

Here too I’ll put in my personal view, which is that several of Trump’s moves have been good for Israel, but I’ve never thought his support could be counted on and don’t now.  I assume, and hope, that Biden will take the traditional Democratic attitude, which is more good than bad.  We’re likely to notice the bad more than the good, but that’s just how people are.

Faulting Trump, though, for not making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians?  Really? This statement of Trump’s he took seriously? It’s worth mentioning, while we’re here, that Trump’s support for Israel in contravention of previous policy has probably brought us closer to real negotiations than we’ve been, and that that will probably be set back when the Democrats return to the old if-only-Israel-gave-up-the-settlements policy.

As far as the UAE and others, I have to admit that Obama deserves a lot of the credit:  Pivoting toward Iran scared the hell out of the Gulf states, making Israel look a lot more attractive to them.  It was unintentional, but still.

Trump’s Weakened America Weakens Israel

Agreed.

Biden and Israel

Agreed (though I’m not sure how the US can square any financial support for the PA with the Taylor Force Act, since money is fungible and the PA refuses to stop paying murderers).

Iran and Beyond

I’ve written to R. Kornblau elsewhere about why I oppose the JCPOA – my argument largely amounts to Iran’s irreducible malevolence.  That Time reports that Nimrod Novik says that practically the whole Israeli security establishment prefers the JCPOA to the current situation doesn’t overwhelm me.  Maybe he’s correct, maybe he isn’t, and if he is, well, that has to be taken seriously but it’s not dispositive – I’d want to hear an explanation.  But maybe that’s just my conservatism, not trusting experts.

Antisemitism…

Nothing against Biden on this count, but nothing against Trump either – despite the “gotcha!” quotes.

…Immigration and Xenophobia

I don’t know Biden’s position on immigration.  I think it was mishandled under Obama, but I don’t hold that against Biden if he says he’ll actually enforce the laws.

The Squad on the Left and QAnon on the Right

I’ve read that The Squad is not consequential among Democrats, and I’ve read (I think it was a Pew survey) that about three times as many New York Times readers as Fox viewers have heard of QAnon, so I’m inclined to ignore both as evidence of their respective sides’ beliefs.

Torah Values and the American Economy

This is hard to take seriously.  What is The Economy?  Jobs?  GDP?  The Dow?  How do we associate it with one party or the other, and do we go by the Executive, Congress or both?  How does the government – whichever branch – determine the economy?  And what about the time lag ‘til results show up?  Is this supposed to prove that it’s against Judaism to vote for any Republican, since it will clearly increase poverty?  And what are the causes?  Is it school vouchers that stall the economy and Drag Queen Story Hour that spurs it on?

Also, by this reasoning one can’t vote for Democrats in municipal elections, since all the ills of the major cities can be laid at their doorstep.

Health Care

The ACA isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, by all indications.  Not in Congress and not in the Supreme Court, so this is like a “Joe Biden is coming for your guns!” claim.

Destruction of American Democratic Norms

As has been stipulated, Trump says terrible things.  I see him as a symptom, though, more than a cause of the erosion of norms, and I think that if people believe that if only Trump – or perhaps the Republicans – can be soundly trounced then things will be better, they’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

(And I don’t see any chance of Trump digging his heels into the Oval Office or of it making any difference if he did; he’d be escorted out by the Secret Service.)

The Question of Character

Once again, nolo contendere on that, though again I’d disagree with hyperbolic statements like “millions of children already growing up under Trump who never knew American political culture before he debased it.”

Frankly, and this is why I bothered to write this whole long screed, I think that R. Kornblau’s essay is more part of the problem than part of the solution.  The problem – the main problem – being that each half of the populace is afraid of what the other half will do to it, given the power, since it feels not only contended with but despised.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who actually changed his vote (or decided to vote) after reading R. Kornblau’s essay.

About the Author
Michael and family moved from NYC to Alon Shvut in 1986. He works in Software; blogs sporadically on education, public policy and whatever else comes to mind; chairs the boards of two educational institutions and practices philosophy in the ancient tradition of corrupting the minds of youth.
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