Last week, President Trump, meeting with US lawmakers, called Haiti and El Salvador “shithole countries” and asked why America can’t get more immigrants from Norway. (Later some attendees disputed this, saying that the word he really used was “shithouse,” which is of course much better. Or maybe he said nothing at all. Or maybe pigs have wings. Whatever.)
According to press reports, Trump’s remarks left the lawmakers who heard him “alarmed and mystified.”
Pious nonsense. Nothing mystifying about it. Why feign surprise? What did they expect?
Most American Jews despise Donald Trump, with the exception of one group.
Orthodox Jews. My people. I am so proud.
The other week an Orthodox New York acquaintance showed me an article in the moderate Haredi press celebrating Trump’s commutation of the jail sentence of Aaron Rubashkin, the former Agriprocessors magnate. “This article tells you what you need to know about my community,” he said. “If it’s good for us, that all that matters.”
Nothing novel or mysterious about that either. “Is it good for the Jews?” was the punchline of countless old jokes.
Nor is this attitude limited to Jews; you can find it among insular, beleaguered communities from Alabama to Ukraine.
Remember Roy Moore? When asked if he dated underage women, Moore said, “Not generally,” adding that he first got permission from their mothers.
“Sure he’s a sonofabitch,” said one supporter. But he’s our sonofabitch.”
Two men who gleam in the Ukrainian pantheon are Symon Petliura and Bogdan Chmelnitsky; the former fought Bolsheviks in the 1920s, the latter ousted Polish nobles in the 1640s.
We Jews remember them too: as cruel, murderous anti-Semites. But that’s OK with Ukrainians. Petliura and Chmelnitsky are their murderous anti-Semites.
My grandparents came from two shithole countries: Poland and Belarus. I asked my Polish zeyde if he wanted to go back to visit his shtetl, and he said, “For what? The mud?”
When my grandparents got to America a century ago, real Americans, led by their Social Darwinist patrician thought leaders, were disturbed. Look who America was getting infested by (their term): puny Jews, swarthy Slavs, oily Italians. One look at those types and you could see they were going to degenerate (their eugenic term) the American germ plasm.
“Have more children,” Teddy Roosevelt admonished affluent white matrons. “They’re outbreeding us!”
Why America couldn’t we get tall, blonde, hardy Nordic types like Germans and Scandinavians.
Of course — Norwegians!
That’s what real Americans thought of Jews, our parents and grandparents among them, back then. But now? Hey, we’re all right, Jack. We’re the real Americans now. Who needs people from shitholes (shithouses?) like Haiti and El Salvador, or Nigerians crawling out of their huts? Haitians care for our elderly in many nursing homes, but why should that matter?
After all, Trump is good for the Jews. He recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He shoved through tax legislation (a big win!) that may help Day Schools. Hooray for our champion.
An Israeli minister has floated the idea of naming a high-speed rail station in Jerusalem’s Old City after Trump. Another reason to walk there.
When we educate our children, Orthodox Jews pride ourselves on emphasizing midos, principles of high moral behavior: kindness, generosity, modesty, respect for scholars, benevolent chesed for the needy and handicapped. To paraphrase Pirkei Avot: v’chilupheihen b’Trump: to a thorough and almost comical extent, Trump inverts every one of them.
But that’s OK. He’s good for the Jews.
I spoke with an Evangelical Christian, whose community shows similar exuberant, self-interested hypocrisy in this regard. “How do your people support a man who lives the opposite of what you claim to be Christian values?” I asked him.
“Easy,” he said. “We say he does what we want done. And then we say his opponents are worse.”
As the old saying has it: As the Christians go, so do the Jews. Or some of them.
Donald Trump is a crude, arrogant, ignorant bigot. But hey, he’s our bigot.
Jewish tradition has something to say about acknowledging our humble origins, about loving the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. Does that speak to us in any way, or only to Reform Jews who lack our exegetical virtuosity for explaining away lessons we don’t like?
It speaks to me, in memory and honor of my grandparents. Their courageous exodus from shithole countries gave my family and me a chance at prosperity and pride in an America that doesn’t need Donald Trump to make it great again.
Is Trump truly good for the Jews, or only for one narrow take on current Jewish interests? Personally, I’m not sure which. Also, I don’t care. My own faith stays firm that if needed, succor and salvation — revach v’hatazalah — will come to the Jews from some other place, while the house of Trump will revert to the fever-swamps of reality TV where it came from and where it belongs.
Trump’s behavior is not mystifying. Just disgusting.