Zev Bell

Jewish lessons to be learned from the Trump era

Well, good riddance — it’s just about over. Four years of unprecedented, tumultuous politics. Here are five things to be learned from Donald John Trump’s presidency that we can apply to our lives to make ourselves better people.

1. Mistakes are not a source of shame; failure to own up to them is

When Trump wrote the infamous perplexing tweet that read, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” many were confused as to what it meant. He deleted the tweet six hours later and suggested that its wording was intentional. While most news sources assumed he meant to say “coverage,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a statement saying, “I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.” This became enigmatic of Trump’s refusal to acknowledge that like all living breathing humans, he is fallible. In reality, however, we all are. If God embodies perfection, humans are its antithesis. As the Psalmist states: “Hashem is upright, my rock, in whom there is no wrong,” (Tehillim 92:16). Only God is perfect; humans are flawed to the core. Failure to acknowledge this is a failure to acknowledge our humanity.

2. Humility earns respect; lack of it earns contempt.

To start, a Trump quote: “I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t.” As is evident, Mr. Trump’s characteristic flaw is his narcissism. Demonstrably, Trump fails to follow the advice contained in the letter Nachmanides wrote to his son, which states: “What cause does one have for pride? Perhaps his wealth? ‘The Lord impoverishes and enriches’ (I Samuel 2:7). Perhaps his honour? It belongs to God, as it says (I Chronicles 29:12), ‘Wealth and honour come from You,’ … And one who prides himself in his wisdom surely knows that God ‘takes away the speech of confident men and reasoning from the sages,’ (Job 12:20)”. Our talents and possessions, while often laudable, ultimately do not belong to us. They are gifts bestowed to us from our Creator. Thus, while we should be proud of our accomplishments, ostentatious flaunting of them is illogical, self-serving, and pointless. To the contrary; we must “be exceedingly humble in spirit,” (Pirkei Avot 4:4). While human life is invaluable, human pride is destructive. While confidence is crucial to a good life, arrogance is the prime ingredient for a toxic one. The line can sometimes be fine, and it behooves us to locate it.

3. Lies beget lies, and lies endanger us all.

As of January 13, 2021, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker database had counted 30,529 false or misleading statements. The extent of dishonesty that Mr. Trump accomplished is truly astounding; a feat unprecedented in presidential politics. The President has shown us how easy it can be to get into the habit of lying, misleading, and distorting. ״Keep far from falsehood” and “do not lie,” demands the Torah (Exodus 23:7; Leviticus 19:11), demands the Torah. Dishonesty poisons the mouth of he who speaks the lie and the ears of he who hears it. In relationships, it yields a lack of trust. In government, it yields disillusionment and frustration. Lies have real-world consequences; if people believe lies, especially outlandish ones, they can do things never thought to be possible. They can be swayed to commit acts of intimidation, destruction, and violence. To avoid this reality, the truth should be told. In the end, truth prevails.

4. Get over it.

“Whatever happened, happened,” says the Gemara (Pesachim 108a). Perhaps a modern version of this Talmudic adage would be: “whoever won the election won the election.” Everything that occurs happens under the auspices of a Being who facilitates a plan larger than ourselves; an overarching historical narrative that is beyond our comprehension. If you fail to succeed, obsessing over your failure is a pointless charade that just exacerbates your loss. Lose with dignity. Don’t be in denial; accept defeat with pride and honour.

5. Words can build worlds… or destroy them.

As I expanded upon, words have enormous power: On the one hand, we can use them to build up, to create, and to heal. On the other, we can use them to tear down, to destroy, and to harm. Mr. Trump used his words for the latter, the culmination of which was a violent desecration of the symbol of world democracy. Words can bring death, or they can bring life, for “death and life are at the hands of the tongue,”(Proverbs 18:21). Which it will be is entirely up to us, but we ought to use our free will to train ourselves to make the right choice: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life!” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The above may seem like classic platitudes; old clichés that are obvious to any rational and decent human being. But we have seen how easy it is for those who neglect them to rise to power, cause others to also neglect them, and bring about immense damage to the social fabric of a society. As this perilous era comes to an end, let’s learn from the flaws of Mr. Trump. While his flaws have the potential to become ours, the lessons learned from them have the potential to serve as the beginning of transformative change. Let’s make that dream a reality.

About the Author
Zev Bell is a 20 year-old student who studied in Israel at Yeshivat Har Etzion, and currently attends Yeshiva University. His affinities include Talmudic study, classical philosophy, and law.
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