Trump’s ‘America First’ Should Scare American Jews and Worry Israelis
While comparisons to the 1920s and 1930s have already been exhausted over the course of the election campaign, Trump’s speech seems to have been lifted directly from that era (…) The echoes were unmistakable and, historically, they bode ill for Jews. “America First! America First!” he cried, unashamedly and unabashedly, despite the fact that he is well aware of the negative historical connotations of the term, especially for Jews (…) And, added to the ominous mix, was an unusual presence of God in the ceremony, both in the six clerics who blessed the new president – including the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier – and in Trump’s speech as well.
The inaugural address of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States – a construction no one could have imagined – was dark, belligerent and populist through and through. Contrary to the repeatedly mistaken predictions that he would moderate himself, Trump gave a speech that was a direct extension of the divisive and inciting election campaign that got him here. It was not a speech that can be dubbed “presidential” in any conventional sense of the word, though it clearly signaled that the very concept of “presidential” is about to undergo radical change.
Trump’s speech will be received enthusiastically among his white and hardcore supporters, and parts of it might even please Bernie Sanders fans on the left. Everyone else, including conservative Republicans, should be repelled and apprehensive. In the name of the “people,” Trump lashed out against the establishment, against the elites, against most of the people who were sitting behind him on the steps of the Capitol, including, most ungracefully, President Obama. They are yesterday, he told his supporters, and you are tomorrow.
The tortured face of Michelle Obama said it all. In direct contradiction of facts, statistics and the reality all around him, Trump described an impoverished, dispirited and broken America, on the verge of total breakdown. All of his predecessors exploited the masses and sucked its blood but new history begins today, and Trump is its commander in chief.
And while comparisons to the 1920s and 1930s have already been exhausted over the course of the election campaign, Trump’s speech seems to have been lifted directly from that era: if not from Benito Mussolini or Franco, than from Louisiana’s Huey Long.
The echoes were unmistakable and, historically, they bode ill for Jews. “America First! America First!” he cried, unashamedly and unabashedly, despite the fact that he is well aware of the negative historical connotations of the term, especially for Jews. This is the lesson for all those who cheer Trump’s disdain for political correctness: it also means that the sensibilities of Jews and other minorities are subservient to the will of the leader and the needs of his propaganda.
Right wing Jewish nationalists, in Israel and America, may applaud Trump’s unequivocal pledge to wipe radical Islamic terrorism off the face of the earth and may cheer the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, but they should remember: If “America First” is your only commandment, changing circumstances could make Israel pay the price as well. America, as Trump said, over all else.
The kind of populism espoused by Trump on Friday isn’t the same as fascism, of course, though populism is often the platform that enables it. The sincerity of Trump’s populist appeal is doubtful, given the billions that are alleged to reside in his bank account, the billionaires that he has just put in charge of the American economy, the sweeping tax reform that he proposes, that will benefit the rich, and the expected repeal of Obama Care, which is likely to hurt the poor. ‘
In an interview with Quartz, Professor Frederico Finchelstein of the New School in New York said that populism and fascism have a wide common denominator, which will sound painfully familiar not only to people who heard Trump’s speech but to anyone who follows Israeli politics.
These common traits include “a division of society into two camps, ‘the people’ and ‘the elites,’ a proud antagonism toward intellectuals, the rejection of culture and knowledge in favor of instinct, the promotion of polarizing views, demonization of one’s opponent, a contempt for judiciary, military, and political powers and a strong intolerance of free press.” Demonizing an opponent? You mean like how the Jews demonize Putin of Russia, Assad of Syria and the State of Iran? That kind of demonization?–alan’s note
A fascist regime, Finchelstein adds, is defined by its use of violence, first by gangs and militias and then by the state itself. The question is whether one will be able to tell when the line between populism and fascism is crossed, in the United States as well as in Israel.
Added to the ominous mix was an unusual presence of God in the ceremony, both in the six clerics who blessed the new president – including the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier – and in Trump’s speech as well. Not only will God Bless America, as is customary, he or she will protect it as well, Trump promised. The settler leaders who attended Trump’s inauguration were satisfied but, again, not so American Jews. They fear the conservative GOP’s intention to blur the separation of religions and state, and Trump’s words provided no comfort.
Trump dashed hopes that he would give a calming and unifying speech, though he did include a line or two that TV commentators seeking a positive spin on what is traditionally such a festive day could seize on. “It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots,” Trump said.
The crowd seemed to appreciate the message, though it’s doubtful whether it will allay the fears of those black and brown folk, who were so conspicuous in their absence. The age in which they were fully equal but only in spilling blood for their country, they had assumed, had ended long ago.
Trump will inevitably declare his inauguration the greatest ever, but the truth is quite the opposite: it was a dour and sour affair, perhaps historically so. Even Trump will find it hard to ignore the massive bald spots that television cameras showed in the mall across from the Capitol. Possibly the rain had something to do with it, though for the most part the responsibility falls exclusively on Trump. He is paying the price for his combative, vindictive and hostile posture and for his refusal to abandon it in the wake of his November 8 victory.
On the other hand, he’s America’s president now and his ability to exact revenge is no longer limited to a Tweet’s 140 characters. If there’s something to be scared of right now, it is the volatile mixture of Trump’s short fuse with the vast powers and arsenal that are henceforth under his command.
Rabbis ‘In Mourning’ Over Inauguration, Call for a Fast, Plan Resistance to Trump
Even as rioters were arrested in the streets of Washington, a number of rabbis called for a different expression of disappointment in the inauguration of President Donald Trump: The Jewish tradition of fasting.
“I’ve been casting about for an appropriate reaction to the inauguration of a man who is being characterized as an ‘illegitimate’ president,” Rabbi Burt Visotzky wrote to rabbinic colleagues this week.
“Looking to my own Jewish history and customs in reaction to unfortunate political events I have decided to fast during the day in mourning for the state of our republic.”
The practice of fasting has marked days of fear and disaster on the Jewish calendar throughout history. The Biblical Esther, for example, has her uncle Mordechai instruct the Jews of Susa to fast as soon as she learns of Hama’s evil plan to destroy the entire community. The Jewish people have always fasted in times of war.
It is based on that tradition that Visotzky and several other rabbis promoted the idea of fasting on President Trump’s inauguration day. Visotzky, a professor of Midrash at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, had the idea on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he told Haaretz by email.
A pair of rabbis set up a Facebook page and Twitter hash tag about the #Inauguration Fast, and a website. On it, people posted their reasons for fasting Friday.
“I am fasting to mark this moment as a time of national calamity, to stand with communities targeted by the new administration’s threatened policies, and to draw strength from religious practice for the hard work ahead,” wrote Rabbi Amy Eilberg, a San Francisco-area interfaith activist and innovator in the Jewish healing movement.
Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president who recently retired as president of the American Jewish World Service and now serves as its global ambassador, wrote that she fasted Friday “to call my own and others’ attention to our entry into a new and different and difficult time when we will all be required to be attentive, committed exemplars of moral courage.”
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz of the Minneapolis MN congregation Shir Tikvah was one of the rabbis who set up the Inauguration Fast social media.
Fasting is “purifying to help us prepare to do really important work. It’s a sign of wrongdoing or pain,” he told Haaretz. “It felt like a powerful moral response on a tragic day in American history.”
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, posted on her personal Facebook page her own reasons for fasting: “I fast because it is a way that people of faith call out to God,” she wrote. “Out of a sense of loneliness and longing for an America I thought I knew….to calm the fear that haunts my rest.”
Schonfeld declined to speak with Haaretz, saying she didn’t want to say more about it. Changes under President Trump began immediately after the inauguration, when pages devoted to LGBT rights, civil rights and climate change disappeared from the WhiteHouse.gov website.
“I didn’t think it could get much worse but it keeps getting worse,” Latz said. “No where in any bible — Christian, the Torah or Koran — does it say ‘screw the poor, reject the immigrant.’
[Alan Knutson’s notes are in Red here and below: Really? What about this from Deuteronomy. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Look, I have made King Sihon and his land helpless before you; take his land and occupy it.’ 32 Sihon came out with all his men to fight us near the town of Jahaz, 33 but the Lord our God put him in our power, and we killed him, his sons, and all his men. 34 At the same time we captured and destroyed every town, and put everyone to death, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. 35 We took the livestock and plundered the towns.]
In Torah it says 36 times that we have to welcome the stranger. [Really? Even the Amelekites? NOT!!] It says there should be one law for citizens and immigrants alike,” noted Latz.
[You mean like the way Israel is today, one law for Palestinians and Jews alike?]
“This is not partisan. There are normal partisan debates we have in this country. But this is a singular moment in American history in which all decent people, regardless of political views, have to take a stance against his immoral conduct.”
On Saturday, Rabbi Shai Held of Machon Hadar will, along with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, kick off the Upper West Side of the New York City Women’s march with speeches delivered at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.
“The road ahead of us will be long, and it will undoubtedly be rocky,” Held plans to say. He shared his notes with Haaretz in advance of the event. “Many of us are anxious and fearful. That is okay, and even appropriate. But we must be determined and resolute: We will not be bystanders. We will raise our voices; we will stand up and be counted.” Some of the rabbis Haaretz spoke with looked beyond the inauguration and women’s marches this weekend.
“Obviously the march isn’t the end of it,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She spoke with Haaretz from the Washington D.C. synagogue Sixth & I, where she was setting up for Shabbat dinner, religious services and learning the evening before the largest of the Womens Marches.
T’ruah is convening its network of 1,800 rabbis for training to commence in early February. It will include teaching them how to set up sanctuaries in their cities, for the undocumented immigrants and Muslims Trump has promised to go after during his presidency, said Jacobs.
“We want it to be clear that there is a rabbinic moral voice. This is the moment our voices need to be out there against policies attacking vulnerable minorities,” she said. “It’s very clear from the stories of Joseph and Esther, and thousands of years of Jewish history, that Jews have often believed if we ally ourselves with people in power we will be able to protect our communities. But as Joseph learned and Esther almost did, those alliances don’t save us in the long run.”
In recent days Trump has tweeted against everyone from Meryl Streep to Civil Rights legend Sen. John Lewis, noted Latz. “But after 46 JCCs and other Jewish institutions have had bomb threats against them, there has been not a single word from the Trump administration. Not even a tweet.”