Donald Trump Brought Out the Worst in Us. Now, We Need to Heal.
I celebrated in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected to be the 45th president of the United States. With eyes glazed by the glowing TV and lips salivating at my first taste of politics, I was excited for what would come. He was “pro-Israel” and “good for Jews,” so what more could we want? Over the past four years, however, I’ve watched our values collapse and our morale deteriorate. Now, I’m left appalled at the damage Trump has done to the Jewish community.
On Jan. 6, we saw white supremacists and neo-Nazis storm Capitol Hill with a mob of pro-Trump supporters. Explosives were found near the Capitol. Pictures surfaced of a man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt, videos circulated of rioters clutching confederate flags as they bulldozed past law enforcement and photos showed Trump supporters smashing windows as they broke into the Capitol. This is who he inspired.
With countless accusations of sexual assault and misconduct, matched with overt misogyny, racist dog whistles and unabashed bullying, Donald Trump was not supposed to be our moral leader. We, the overwhelming majority of the collective Orthodox community, were convinced that he would be the best U.S. president for Israel, and thus, for Jews. How wrong we were.
Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew better than to accept our naïveté, as he said in 1932, “The presidency is not merely an administrative office. That is the least part of it … It is preeminently a place of moral leadership.”
We’ve been corrupted. Over Trump’s four years, we made him out to be our Mashiach, the savior we’ve been waiting thousands of years to arrive. With this affinity, we excused his racism, his sexism and his divisive comments, waving away those concerns as if they didn’t define who he was as a person and a president — and we’ve paid the price for it. It’s tainted our hearts, our rhetoric and our community. Trumpism has arguably amounted to a modern-day avodah zarah, an idolatrous religion we feel compelled to live by.
Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, a rosh yeshiva at Yeshivat Har Etzion, said it best a few months ago: “They don’t stop for a moment to think about the moral damage that [Trump] inflicts on the United States, or even on the world. They don’t ask how it’s possible to abandon the fate of humanity to such an unbalanced man, who doesn’t recognize the concepts of truth and falsehood.”
It wasn’t a momentary revelation that radically shifted my feelings toward Trump. However, over the course of his long, four years, the mounting evidence of who he was as a person was too much for my feeble justifications to bear — it became intolerable. Supporting Trump and excusing his insolent and hateful rhetoric went against everything I believed in.
I wanted to publish my feelings after Trump failed to denounce white supremacy at the first presidential debate, but I decided against it. After Wednesday’s assault on American democracy, an assault that Trump incited, I knew I could no longer self-censor. Capitol Hill was the breaking point of this disastrous period; few could still deny the damage of Trump’s rhetoric, how he inspired an attack on the very fabric of the country’s democracy.
The sycophantic Trumpism that our community has developed over his presidency came with consequences, lost opportunities and unimaginable costs, and we need to acknowledge this to heal from it.
Every detractor is a liar in Trump’s eyes. Science is subjective, facts are fluid and his actions are always above reproach. The election was rigged before it began, assuming Trump lost, and the media is out to get him, assembling witch hunts and fallacious stories to dethrone him. But that’s just Trump being Trump, so we learned to live with it; we normalized his lies and conspiracy theories.
Since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, the cries and pain of the Black community had become unignorable. We were made aware of their reality of systemic racism, constant fear and discrimination.
At first, it seemed promising that we were going to be the allies they needed, the citizens who would stand arm in arm with them to fight racism. We could have sympathized with their struggle given our history of being persecuted, but now, at least from my many anecdotal experiences and exposures, their trauma has been cast aside and trivialized. It’s been overshadowed by the “campaign of violence and anarchy,” as Trump put it, deflecting America’s racism problem with the focus on violent riots. Contrasting the force against peaceful protesters at those summer marches with the more “restrained” response at Capitol Hill speaks volumes as to the real problem with the George Floyd protests.
Over 360,000 people died from coronavirus in the U.S. Their lives were in Trump’s hands, the country’s commander-in-chief. Yet, to him, it’s all a game: Masks are for the weak, testing for the fools and medical expertise for the stupid. Despite the dedicated efforts of our rabbinic leaders, our communities were hit very hard by the coronavirus. We’ve lost loved ones and community members, and the coronavirus’ effect is still felt every day.
Trump reinforced our doubts and conspiracy-theory inclinations about the coronavirus, and as infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths are still on the rise, we continue to pay the price for it. We’ve even defamed Hashem’s name with shameful riots and behavior, making a chilul Hashem to combat restrictions made for pikuach nefesh. Then again, if the whole thing is a hoax from the fake-news media, what’s the worry?
Our young ones even belted support for his re-election in song like a soulful, Shabbos-day zemer for Hashem. We don his slogan on our shirts and hats and plant his picket signs on our front lawns. “The Democrats” and “The Radical Left” have become our enemy, the heartless people who want to uproot all we know and love.
Trump constantly used his vitriolic language to bully and slander others. It’s only natural that when we idolized him, when we crowned him to be a near demigod, we allowed his behavior to seep into our being.
It’s a bracha that Biden will be the 46th president of the U.S. This isn’t about Republican or Democrat, right or left. There’s legitimacy to both parties and their values — to say otherwise would be unfairly one-sided. This is about the bare basics of stability and peace that this country so desperately needs, and Trump has consistently failed to deliver.
Now is the time for healing. The love, compassion, sensitivity and civility that are so valued in Judaism have been fractured. Our psyche has slowly but surely devolved to embody, albeit with variance, Trump’s worst qualities. I don’t know what our community would have looked like if we had Trump for another four years, but I’m thankful I won’t have to find out.
There is so much pain in the air, so much brokenness and hatred that’s darkened the spirit of the world. We say we want to be a “light unto the nations,” so now is the time to do just that. Let’s put the era of Trump behind us and lead the way for a better tomorrow.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Trump supporters erected crosses at Capitol Hill. In fact, this took place at the Michigan Capitol. The original mention of crosses was removed from the article.
Photo Caption: Neo-Nazis and white supremacists stormed Capitol Hill with a mob of pro-Trump supporters on Jan. 6.
Photo Credit: Tyler Merbler via Flickr