Steven Windmueller
Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Donald Trump and the Rise of American Jewish Nationalism

Former President Donald Trump in a recent radio interview commented: “You have, between AOC and Omar and these people that hate Israel, they hate it with a passion. They’re controlling Congress, and Israel is not a force in Congress anymore.” The former president again lamented his poor support among American Jews, saying “it’s incredible that I didn’t get the kind of a vote from Jewish people that you would think I would get. Jewish people in this country, many of them, do not like Israel.”[1]

With the Trump Presidency we witnessed the emergence of a new national political ideology that resonated with a segment of Jewish American voters. “Trumpism” needs to be understood both as reflective of a distinctive political message and his dominant personal image!

Trump’s American nationalism aligned with Jewish identity politics. Just as the 45th President re-framed American patriotism to represent his political message, many of his Jewish supporters brought with them their deep Zionist/Israel connections as a parallel value. The blending of their own Jewish ethnic orientation and their self-interest politics with Trump’s nationalism would produce this political alliance. The alignment of Americanism with Zionism created a shared agenda for this sector of Jewish voters.

Five core themes define the interlocking connections between the President’s agenda and his Jewish supporters:

  1. American patriotism is aligned with preserving distinctive Western values and traditions. Accordingly, American national interests ought to define and shape political choices and should reflect foreign policy priorities (America First).
  2. The Judeo-Christian tradition undergirds the American cultural story, and any efforts to erode or weaken that framework ought to be rejected. Religion must be seen as a natural partner to government, and not an opponent.
  3. Israel and Zionism can be seen as an extension of this cultural-religious connection. US policy toward the Jewish State ought to reflect this special and unique relationship.
  4. Liberalism erodes and weakens the American national experience. Such principles as “individualism” reinforce the authentic national character of this nation and need to be affirmed and strengthened. Government’s role is to enhance the opportunities for the individual and the American family to thrive.
  5. Similar to Israel, the United States is facing both external and internal threats. Both nations must draw upon their resources to push back against such challenges. The preservation of the national character represents an essential goal for both societies. For Israel, the focus must be on preserving its Jewish character and maintaining the Zionist ideal; for America it is the affirmation of its unique role and historical roots.

Trump’s inaugural address in 2016 framed his political thinking.  The focus in that speech was centered on American power, populism, and patriotism.[2]  While the President borrowed from Charles Lindbergh’s references to “America First”, for Donald Trump the objective here would be to blend this nation’s new direction of “Making America Great Again” with the emergence of nationalism across the globe.

The “Trump Doctrine” acknowledged  a resurgence of patriotic or nationalist sentiment in nearly every corner of the world but especially in parts of Europe and the United States. He was also forthrightly saying that this trend was positive. He was encouraging countries already on this path to continue down it and exhorting others not yet there to pursue it.”[3]

Within this context the President was able to construct a unique relationship with the State of Israel. A particular alignment emerged between the views of Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Donald Trump that furthered this shared agenda and common language.[4]

 “Parallels between Trumpism and what’s known in Israel as Bibism are unmistakable: an outward contempt for—and inward obsession with—the media; a disdain for cultural élites and elements of a so-called deep state; racist incitement (Netanyahu: “Arab voters are coming out in droves”; Trump: “These aren’t people. These are animals”); and a brand of nationalist populism that has similarly taken root in countries as far flung as India, Hungary, and Brazil.”

Referencing his pro-Israel policies, the President commenting on Jewish voters offered this observation: “ I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”[5]  This statement with its reference to “disloyalty” would evoke a broad range of criticism from Jewish organizations. As one spokesman suggested: One of the most dangerous , deadly accusations Jews have faced over the years. False charges of disloyalty over the centuries have led to Jews being murdered, jailed and tortured.”[6]

The 45th President sought to differentiate individuals and groups loyal to him and his agenda from those forces that he deemed disloyal. This pattern would be a recurring theme during his tenure and beyond.

The Pro-Trump Jewish Voter:

Politics must be seen an extension of who we are.  All of the social forces acting upon us help to define our political outlook. Either conscious or unconsciously Jewish voters have a particular desire to blend in, to be “American”! This is an abiding behavioral characteristic for many voters, and most certainly for minority cultures operating in a democratic society.

Self-interests politics involves an alignment of Judaism and Zionism with one’s Americanism.  Patriotism encompasses an abiding belief that being a “loyal American” ought to be joined with one’s Jewish identity. For these political actors, their central question “Is it good for the Jews?” These players are often defined as “identity voters” and articulate their politics through the lens of their self-interests as Jewish Americans.  They view their love of Israel as an extension of their American patriotism. Their political identity is reflected in the interplay of this dual connection.

For some, Judaism frames their political identity and supports their civic behavior and beliefs. For others, Israel serves as the base line of their identity. The Jewish State serves to reinforce their political orientation and most certainly their specific and unique passion to view Israel’s political wellbeing as part of their American identity.

For these “Jewish patriots” they see the political left has more dangerous to the interests of the United States and Israel than extremists on the right.  Criticism of Israel, for example, as expressed by political adversaries on the left, be they Jews or non-Jews, is clearly seen as problematic, undermining the case for Israel and ultimately, the security and viability of the Jewish State. They view certain forms of dissent as not only anti-Semitic but in some cases identify such political assertions as “unpatriotic”.

Religious Values Voters represent another sector of Trump Jewish supporters. A significant number of Orthodox Jews align with the Evangelical wing of the Republican Party. Along with a deep and abiding commitment to Israel, these voters embraced the President’s broader views on abortion, governmental support for parochial education while sharing similar concerns as expressed by other Trump Jewish voters.

For a distinctive wing within this political camp there now appears to be a direct affinity with aspects of “Christian Nationalism” and its ideological assertions that religious beliefs “trump” political mandates and governmental regulations. Faith asserts its power over the state in personal matters of behavior and conduct, as represented by this cohort’s rejectionist response.

Summary:

Donald Trump’s Presidency, as my forthcoming book will emphasize, must be understood as a cultural campaign directed toward redefining the American story.(7) For a segment of America’s Jews, this populist message aligned with their own self-interest politics in affirming the case for Israel and supporting their political values.

[1] https://twitter.com/RichardHanania/status/1455173088820166656?ref_src=twsrc%255Etfw%257Ctwcamp%255Etweetembed%257Ctwterm%255E1455173088820166656%257Ctwgr%255E%257Ctwcon%255Es1_&ref_url=https%253A%252F%252Fwww.haaretz.com%252Fus-news%252Ftrump-israel-literally-owned-congress-until-a-decade-ago-1.10344379

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/trump-america-first/514037/

[3] https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/04/20/the-trump-doctrine-big-think-america-first-nationalism/

[4] https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/donald-trumps-legacy-in-israel

[5] https://apnews.com/article/benjamin-netanyahu-religion-israel-middle-east-race-and-ethnicity-1bc3065eb2e4414289ef0ac1ac4ebaf7

[6] Ibid.

(7) https://www.amazon.com/Impact-Presidency-Donald-American-Israel/dp/161249708X

 

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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