I’ve been trying to take a step back to ruminate on what has befallen our world. How did the the country that cherishes and stands for freedom elect an autocrat-loving President such as Donald J. Trump? What brought this on?
It’s not merely his celebrity. It’s not even simply particular policies or political ideology. And it’s definitely not the ‘poor forgotten me’ cry of white rural men. It’s not even just the Hillary hatred, stoked by America’s enemy, the Russians. It’s all of these things and more. It is the worship of money.
Economic empowerment is vital…and having equal opportunities to financial freedom is essential for any truly free society. It’s the reason Affirmative Action was a necessary spoke in the wheel of making amends for the blight of US slavery. And it is a mandatory component to feminism, surely. But it’s not the whole story.
Intelligence expert, retired General and former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden remarked this week, that in order to mount a covert influence campaign, the most effective path is not to create a brand new issue. Rather, to take advantage of an already existing problem and deepen the cultural and political divide.
The rallying cry for the Jewish people for thousands of years is ahavat yisrael – love of fellow Jew, also understood as love of fellow man and woman – unity. Yet we have none.
For years I’ve listened to Israelis bemoan the lack of attention to terrorist attacks against Israel in US media or by our government. However, in the last several months as we in America suffered the anguish of anti-Semitic attacks, Netanyahu remained silent.
The divide in Israel, America, and around the world between the ultra-Orthodox/Orthodox and the Reform/Conservative denominations is powerful and deep. This is reflected in our political choices. It’s about how we interpret and prioritize core Jewish values. But even more, it’s how the worship of money has become so insidious that’s it’s an unacknowledged justification for political choices antithetical to Judaism, such as tax breaks for the rich while further disenfranchising the middle class and poor, the decimation of public education, and so on. Though we are a tiny minority in the US, the problems we face in our religion and community are endemic to our entire American culture.
I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, I’ve been Orthodox and Reform, I’ve been the giver and the beneficiary, and no matter what anyone espoused, we are not immune to this problem. It’s an unspoken rule that the one who holds the purse strings holds sway. In fact, to be Jewish and poor is an especially strong badge of shame.
That is not to say we don’t take care of the vulnerable or that we don’t emphasize tzedakah – charity. We resoundingly do. However, tzedakah also means justice. And that is where we fall short. Charity only truly fulfills it’s mission when it’s given with humility and empathy, without judgement.
So, how did a clear narcissist, personally charming as he may be to some – how did a man in love with the most cruel rhetoric – become President? Likely because enough of the American populace deemed him magical, glistening with the sheen of money. His inherited and acquired wealth made him seem nearly omniscient. They worship him for his money, and in turn, no one worships money more than Donald J. Trump. Hence his otherwise strange, possibly traitorous love affair with the world’s wealthiest man, Vladimir Putin. They didn’t care that his business practices were corrupt and ruthless. None of that mattered.
If one understands the Christian view of Jesus, no one was more beloved to Jesus than the poor and the outcast. Yet the Evangelical and Megachurch men came out in full force for Donald J. Trump – a man who sees such individuals as ‘losers’.
It must be pointed out, however, that Christian women were not so easily persuaded. Many came out against Trump because they recognized his careless misogyny easily from their own life experiences of abuse…and they knew what it foretold.
The driving force in any Fundamentalist religion is fear. There is a reason so many Tea Party slash Freedom Caucus politicians are so closely aligned with Evangelicals. While they are motivated by anger and economic self-interest, religion allows them to pretty it up, specifically because fear is such a useful touchstone. And social issues such as their resentment of civil rights and feminism and anyone deemed different, have allowed them to converge their goals.
The ultra right-wing took hold of every branch of our government very quickly. Really, at an almost unnatural speed. A quick scan of the Republican Congress and Trump’s Cabinet reveals a great preponderance of Tea Party-type right wing advocates. Once outsiders just several years ago, they are now the main part of the Republican party. This was Trump’s stronghold. And it’s uncanny how their objectives have come to mirror Russian goals. This begs the question of just how long the Russians have been fermenting division in our country through the promulgation of cyber propaganda? Or did the Tea Party’s antipathy toward progress just give the Russians an easy advantage?
In Russia, where religion has traditionally been suppressed and opposed, the now predominant Russian Orthodox Church has aligned its interests with Putin. Together, they are adamantly opposed to gay rights, women’s rights, multiculturalism and globalization…conveniently much like America’s right wing Republicans.
The Russians infiltrated our democratic process by cyber attacks and media bait that preyed on the most base prejudices in our society. As FBI Director Comey flatly testified before Congress this week, Putin hated Hillary Clinton and wanted to defeat and weaken her. They stoked the fires against a powerful woman. They managed to pit family member against family member, men against women, friend against friend, religion against religion, rich against poor, race against race… And the underlying key to their success was a worship of money. Fear, bigotry, xenophobia, chauvinism all played a powerful role in the 2016 election. The coup de grace was that the common and unquestioned worship of money won Americans over. They turned our Capitalist strength into a weakness.
Bernie Sanders spoke profoundly to the disparity in our economy. But in a way, he, too, made it all about money, from the other end of the spectrum. Knowing what we know so far about what the Russians did to us, I can’t help but wonder if the chauvinist cyber Bernie Bros were real or part of the Russian cyber attacks, or both? Misogyny made it so very easy for them to fracture our country.
This week Trump told Time Magazine that he believes himself more than any verifiable evidence – and that he basically has a unique ability to make accurate predictions. It’s almost as if he thinks he’s a kind of Messiah.
It’s clear to me that many of the people who voted for him think he is, too. He’s never been a particularly spiritual man. Donald J. Trump’s religion is money.
After all, it’s not as if Donald J. Trump has the pretext of a Ronald Reagan ‘Trickle-Down’ economic plan. He financially rewards himself and the wealthy…just because he can. This greed, coupled with the Russians’ avarice and quest for domination dovetail nicely with Steve Bannon’s divide and conquer plans to destroy our government. This trifecta is where we find ourselves now.
Trump, and Vladimir Putin, are not going to change. We, as a society, will have to.
- American Jewry
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Bernie Sanders
- Conservative Judaism
- Donald Trump
- Hillary Clinton
- Israel-Diaspora Ties
- Israel-US Relations
- Jewish Education
- Media Bias
- Orthodox Judaism
- Race Relations
- Reconstructionist Judaism
- Reform Judaism
- Sexual Abuse
- Soviet Jewry
- Ted Cruz
- US Presidential Elections 2016
- Women & Judaism