Come this summer, Donald Trump will most likely be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. This is not a proven prediction but a very generalized assumption. Up until this point in the nomination process, Trump has only proven that he can garner roughly a third of the Republican votes cast in numerous state-by-state primary elections. But in a crowded field, this has been more than enough. If Trump can achieve major victories in the upcoming races in Michigan, Ohio and Florida, the nomination will be his for the taking. These last two states select their delegates on a winner-take-all basis. Trump victories on March 15th would either make his candidacy a near certainty, or risk (if he is slightly short of a majority of delegates and denied the nomination) destroying the Republican Party as a national entity.
Trump has the support of an army of white voters whose income is less than the national average. In other words, Trump is capturing white working-class voters who have long ago given up on their traditional left-liberal sponsor, the US Democratic Party. Trump has been successful by appealing to a crass nationalist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant xenophobia and an anti-globalist economic message. His strategy has been to mimic the 21st century European right-wing political groupings, like Le Pen in France and Orban in Hungary.
So far, Trump’s message has not been specifically hostile to Jews. But on a general level, he has declared an interest in quotes from Mussolini, an inability to automatically renounce support from the notoriously racist and anti-Semitic American Ku Klux Klan, an appreciation for authoritarians, a deep hostility toward Muslims, and yet a desire to remain neutral between Israel and the Palestinians. These are not good omens, and Trump’s rise is indeed reminding some of parallels to the 1930s. This is especially true given the candidate’s penchant toward insult, threat, innuendo, crudeness, hostility, narcissism, vulgarity, spectacle, and a general lack of knowledge of anything resembling a deeply thought-out foreign or domestic policy. He has also exhibited misogynistic and sexist behavior and has been caught in numerous lies and fabrications. But none of these personality characteristics or hatreds seem to matter with Trump supporters. Nor does his lack of a well-developed political program. All that matters to them is the vague campaign promise that he, Donald Trump, will single-handedly “Make America Great Again!”.
On the Middle East, Trump’s regional policy seems to be centered on keeping Assad in power, allowing the Russians to maintain their free hand in Syria, direct negotiations with Iran on a complete restructuring of the Iran nuclear deal, and his top priority of solving (“the deal of all deals”) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lately, however, he has made the weird suggestion that maybe it would be better if ISIS defeats Assad — as if the Russians would ever allow that to happen.
Wow! Talk about incoherence. Is it any wonder that the top foreign policy echelon of the Republican Party has signed an open letter renouncing Trump’s candidacy? This grouping of dozens of foreign and security policy experts from America’s top think tanks and universities stated boldly that “Mr. Trump’s vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored to principles.” They also added that Trump “swings from isolationism to military adventurism in the space of one sentence.”
How can the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ever be resolved with Iran in control of Syria? Trump’s outright ignorance borders on total delusion. Does he even know which Palestinians he would be talking to? The PA appears on its last legs, and Iran (now flush with unfrozen billions, thanks to the current administration) has promised thousands upon thousands of dollars to Hamas in support of individual terrorist attacks against Israelis. Does Donald Trump really believe that the time is ripe to solve a conflict that is one hundred years in the making, and that is situated within a region whose most apt description could very easily be described as total chaos?
The region of the Middle East must have a concrete blueprint for peace to which both Russia and the US could subscribe. This blueprint must seriously involve Israel’s long-term security and also supply Iran with a sense of relief from foreign hegemony. Most importantly, any such regional “Grand Bargain” (see my Times of Israel blog of February 12, 2016) must be designed in such away that all the Sunni Arabs states of the region could agree to it. These are the central premises to any successful Middle East policy. Before even preliminary discussions could begin to take place on a solution for the disputed territory of the West Bank, a serious regional political process, inclusive of Israel, must be agreed upon. Donald Trump’s support for Assad, Iran and the Russians or his flip-flop over to ISIS (of all things) bodes ill for both Israel and the Sunni Arab states of the region.
Trump is being described by his critics in the Republican Party as a phony and a con-man and a fraud. Yes, his general lack of knowledge and ignorance of the issues makes him a danger to Israel. But American Jews are experiencing a more guttural phenomenon. For those younger people — whose historical memory does not reflect their parents’ perceptions of the overt American anti-Semitism of the 1930s through the 1950s — Trump’s rise has been a real eye-opener. A large element of Trump supporters are now looking for scapegoats. These scapegoats are now Muslims and illegal Mexican immigrants. But as every Jew knows, sooner or later, where there is the smoke of prejudice, there will certainly be the fire of anti-Semitism.
Trump and his followers are railing against the “establishment”. Yet at the same time, some are ascribing the words “rich” and “Jew” to their perception of political and economic reality. How do I know? Because over the course of many months, I’ve talked to Trump supporters and have heard these two words mentioned more than just a few times! It doesn’t matter to these people that Jewish success in America is primarily based on small businesses and the professions. No, in the minds of many of these voters the issue of “Jewish control” is never very far from their perceptions. Trump himself shocked a gathering of Jewish Republicans by using an overt stereotype of rich “dealmakers” to describe nearly six million American Jews. As if six million different and individual people could all be so-called “dealmakers”. If things go bad for Mr. Trump, will this be the stereotype (rich and Jewish control) which could rise once again to plague the Jewish people?
The emergence of trash-mouthed demagoguery has so shocked even far-leftist Jews (like Bernie Sanders), one could only hope that the importance of a strong and secure Israel has now taken on a new and more vital significance. Even within the highly assimilated part of the Jewish community, the existence of the State of Israel has taken on a dimension not seen for a very long time. On the right-wing of the community, Jews have been equally shocked by the support Trump appears to have garnered from tens of thousands of supposed Israel-supporting Evangelical Christians. How fast, and with what amazing power, can the times change. The Jewish population of America has been stunned by the popularity of such a flawed human being as Donald Trump.
If you were on the political left of the Jewish community and felt that Israel was the culprit in the so-called “oppression” of the poor Palestinians (most of whom support Hamas), the rise of the irrational Trump might just have you rethinking the importance of a Jewish State. Israel is necessary as a refuge from discrimination (or worse) and for protection as a specifically Jewish state possessing a strong and dynamic army, navy and air force.
If you are a conservative American Jew, Trump’s admiration for the anti-biblical quote from none other than Adolph Hitler’s main European ally, Benito Mussolini, can only work to increase your support for a strong Jewish state. Shock is the deep psychological reaction to such a man as Trump. The mere fact that millions of people could be so fearful of their economic situation that they could fall prey to such a dangerous charlatan has reminded nearly everyone in the American Jewish community of the events in Germany in the 1930s.
But is it just economics? I doubt it very much. Why don’t these alienated, white working-class voters gravitate toward the new socialist left-wing of the Democratic Party? After all, these Trump supporters are definitely NOT for the conventional Republican conservative agenda — i.e. limited government, free markets and global trade. In fact, Trump and his people are not conservatives at all. Like their leader, they subscribe to a strong central authority situated within the office of the president. They expect that Trump will — by executive fiat — accomplish everything he can in order to fulfill his agenda. This kind of executive strong-arm politics is anathema to anyone who is even remotely conservative.
So why are these Trump voters still in the Republican Party? The reason appears fairly straight-forward. It’s because of the tens of millions of minority voters situated within the Democratic Party. These white Trump voters have always found themselves totally uncomfortable in a multi-racial political party. Trump is their champion, because he understands the hidden power that race, religion, and ethnicity have in American politics for many of these voters. That is why he hesitated to denounce the KKK. It wasn’t his earpiece. That was nothing more than a lame excuse!
Trump supporters have also come to vote Republican over the years because of a number of wedge cultural issues like gay marriage, abortion, and gun control. Of course there has always been the hope that the Republicans could so re-invigorate the global economy that they could be once again be supplied with good-paying manufacturing jobs. But that hope has never been fulfilled. Now many of these same voters have given up on the Republican conservative movement and its free-trade ethos. Instead they have turned to a puerile billionaire bully with an entirely different kind of politics that is removed from the conservative mainstream.
Yes, globalization has cost this class of voter millions and millions of manufacturing jobs in the last twenty-five years. But many millions of Democratic voters have also lost those same jobs. The reason Trump voters remain in the Republican Party is because Blacks and Latinos are predominantly in the Democratic Party. It’s essentially a question of race. Trump appeals to race, first and foremost. The fact is that Trump voters refuse to unite with Blacks and Latinos. If they did, they might have a real chance to change the very shape of American politics for decades to come. But how could Blacks, Jews, Muslims and Latinos ever join forces with a man like Donald Trump? As always, the working class of the US remains divided over race
With all the global markets extremely volatile, with American Main Street and working-class economic security the lowest it has been since the FDR era of the Great Depression, with racial, ethnic and religious divides as great as they have been in the last fifty years, a large percentage of Americans have turned to a personality-flawed strongman for their salvation. This doesn’t mean Trump is going to win the presidency, but it does mean that irrational discourse and ignorance have begun to grip the US body politic.
This is not good news for Israel and the American Jewish community. The American Jewish community has been united with African-Americans since the early 1900s. Both groups have been strong supporters of the Democratic Party, and both groups have historically felt hostility from racist and anti-Semitic whites. Now however, as support for Israel has waned in recent years within the coalition represented in the Democratic Party, American Jews find themselves in a difficult spot. With Trump to their right and increasing hostility to Israel on their left, could it be that both US political parties now favor rapprochement with Iran and Syria? The Democrats could because of their refusal to become involved in Syria, and the Republicans because they will have allowed a pro-Iran, pro-Russian, pro-Assad Donald Trump to capture the nomination.
If Trump does capture the nomination, multitudes of American Jews will begin to be more than just alarmed. And if, G-d forbid, such a man was ever to become the President of the United States, most would begin very seriously to compare the tide of political events to Europe just eighty years ago. The comparison isn’t exact now, but it is frightening enough for American Jews to consider an alternative. Israel might not be the safest place in the world or situated in the best regional neighborhood, but at least there is an Israel.
If an alarmed Jewish-American community should decide, sometime in the near future, that the world’s oldest republic has lost its collective mind, then they have a country immediately prepared to accept them. Trump has made American Jews wake up from their ahistorical stupor. However, unlike the 1930s, the Jewish people have a homeland. Let’s never forget that Israel is the hope and promise of Jewish safety. It is the responsibility of every Jew to keep it alive and secure!