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What liberal American Jews must do (after the shiva)

Writing from Israel to the American Jews who share his politics: Get a grip and get out of your safe spaces
A crowd marches from Union Square to Trump Tower in protest of new Republican president-elect Donald Trump on November 12, 2016 in New York, (Yana Paskova/Getty Images/AFP)
A crowd marches from Union Square to Trump Tower in protest of new Republican president-elect Donald Trump on November 12, 2016 in New York, (Yana Paskova/Getty Images/AFP)

I’ve been in Israel for 35 years, but I feel your pain. I’m a 58-year-old dyed-in-the-wool Jewish liberal, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. My father was mentioned twice in President Obama’s May 2015 Jewish American Heritage Month speech as a tribute to his contribution to the civil rights movement. I read Black Like Me before Black Lives Matter. I graduated from Ravenswood High School in East Palo Alto – one of the noblest experiments ever in desegregation and integration. We boycotted grapes and lettuce (¡Viva La Huelga!) and supported abortion rights.

I view you from afar, yet I share your disappointment. But get a grip! I mean, there are reports of Jews sitting shiva (mourning ritual) over Clinton’s defeat. According to actress Lena Dunham, Rabbi Joel Simonds of LA’s University Synagogue wrote, “Today marks the seventh day of grieving and sitting Shivah for the loss of our country and the woman who inspired it.” Seriously? Were garments rent? Sackcloth and ashes? With all due respect, greater tragedies have befallen our people. This lacks even a shorter-term historical perspective, as professor of Journalism Ari Goldman reminds us. Nixon won a second term but was brought down by the courts and the press. As he told his journalism students, “the goal is not to fear Trump, but for Trump to fear you!” To which I would add, get out of your safe spaces, and set aside your trigger warnings and your sensitivity to so-called micro aggressions. In the words of that great labor organizer, Joe Hill, “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize!

Next, please think outside of the West/East coast bubble. Kate McKinnon’s moving SNL elegy both for Leonard Cohen and the political loss deeply felt by so many people might backfire, and the same could be said for the cast of Hamilton’s righteous indignation hurled at Vice President Elect Mike Pence. These were both comforting, self-affirming and feel-good moments for the liberal tribe, but think for a moment how other Americans might view these events. A major television show appeals to the audience as if everyone thinks the same thing. The cast of the top Broadway show calls out the recently elected VP, in what some might see as a profound act of disrespect for the office and the process, let alone the man. These kind of acts come at price. So keep them up if you want another four years of Trump. (Needless to say, both these acts are protected by the First Amendment – I’m questioning their wisdom, not their legitimacy).

Be humble. Not everyone thinks like us. And identity politics is not the key (see Mark Lilla’s excellent piece in the NYT). According to preliminary exit polls, Clinton received less Latino votes than Obama did in 2008, and 30 percent of them voted for Trump. Despite Trump’s horrid attitude towards women, 42 percent of women voted for him. Among blacks, exit polls show that Trump did better than Romney in 2012. The electorate is much more nuanced than we might think.

Get a better candidate. Clinton was flawed, and she represented more of the same instead of change. Sanders was even more flawed, although there was something comforting in the zaydie from Brooklyn.

Don’t be tempted to turn left. “Progressive,” whatever that is, sounds like communist to a lot of Americans. And many self-styled progressives (we could call them the alt-left) are anti-Israel’s right to exist (not just anti-territories), and have anti-Semitic tendencies just like the alt-right. So choose allies wisely. Choose a centrist, level-headed candidate who represents change and good old liberal values.

Once you get up from shiva, there is much work to be done. First, inform yourselves. Facebook tends to be a self-reaffirming echo chamber — to a fault. That’s the way Zuckerberg designed his algorithm so he can better sell us ads. Read other perspectives, although this can be hard on FB. Check out “Blue Feed, Red Feed” to see how Facebook keeps us in a bubble.

Second, take a deep breath and work to reform the Electoral College or abolish it altogether. It will be a long row to hoe (remember the ERA?). Also, put your efforts into redistricting to make districts more accurately reflect the population, and take back the House of Representatives. That’s what the GOP did while we weren’t looking. There are indications that Obama wants make this a signature issue for his post-Presidency. Give him a hand.

If you don’t want to totally alienate those who voted for Trump, be respectful of the election outcome. Trump won. Get over it. He is the President, whether we like him or not. Protest, impeach him, or vote him out of office in 2020. That’s what the Constitution says. #Notmypresident is a self-defeating hashtag.

Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum teaches Middle Eastern history in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, and is Senior Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.

About the Author
Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum teaches modern Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University. He has held several visiting positions at Stanford University, and will be Visiting Scholar at Stanford’s Center for International and Strategic Cooperation in the coming academic year. Before moving to Israel, he was Legislative Assistant to Rep. Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey, Jr. (R-CA).
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