Opinion: Don’t Tell Me Jews Are Safe and Secure in Trump’s America – Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

Opinion: Don’t Tell Me Jews Are Safe and Secure in Trump’s America

All the scenarios of a truly cornered President Trump signal danger to U.S.A. Jews. But the bigger danger is to America herself

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie | Haaretz

As a Jew, a liberal, and an American patriot, I have had a very bad few weeks.

I believe in my country, her values, and the role that she plays in the world.  And I believe that American greatness has always been dependent on the quality of her leadership.

But where are America’s leaders today? And where are American Jews to turn in an era of moral blindness and of a deep and growing despair among so many Americans?

The problem of leadership begins, of course, at the top.  Not even five months into his term, President Trump continues to crank up his nativist and chauvinist appeals. Those who hoped his crudity and egotism would be restrained by high office have been profoundly disillusioned.   

Never in our history has a President spoken like this, stirring up contempt for the courts, inflaming culture wars, and inciting his supporters with ugly appeals to their basest instincts. While he doesn’t always say so precisely, his targets remain immigrants, Muslims, and outsiders of every variety.

Worst of all, his incendiary rhetoric is intended to distract Americans from the broken promises of his campaign. 

At a time of unprecedented prosperity for the richest among us, the President has offered a phony infrastructure plan, tax reform to benefit the wealthy, and a health care plan leaving tens of millions of Americans with grossly inadequate health insurance or none at all. More and more of us will slip through the cracks into a netherworld of misery and suffering.

The Republican establishment, humiliated by Trump during the primaries, has now embraced the President. All they needed was for Mr. Trump to drop his faux populism and go back to the business of working for the rich and sucking up to the billionaires who bankroll the party. If the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson are happy, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are happy too.

This should be a golden opportunity for Democratic champions of decency and humanity. But such Democrats are hard to find. In a particularly depressing spectacle, Hillary Clinton emerged from her self-imposed isolation two weeks ago and gave a lengthy interview – I have long admired Mrs. Clinton. And I expected her, as the nominal leader of her party, to acknowledge her campaign mistakes and to address the fears of working class and middle-class Americans.

But in a stunning display of self-absorption, Mrs. Clinton said barely a word about a failing economy that has thrown millions of people on the junk heap. Yes, she was right to point out that James Comey and the media treated her badly and that the Russians outrageously intervened in the electoral process.

Nonetheless, Americans did not need to hear her whining, excuse-making, and the absurd claim that she lost because of a lack of money.

Some Democrats are doing better, but the party has yet to find its voice or its champion. And it must, and quickly. Otherwise, the poor and disadvantaged will  simply give up and abandon politics altogether.

As for the working and middle-class, their mood is sour and churlish.  Seeing that, the President and his Republican minions intend to feed them a diet of fear, immigrant bashing, and more promises to “make America great again.”

The President’s hope is that many of them will be too dumb or passive to give voice to their despair, even as their health insurance disappears, their debt increases, and their status plummets. His alternative plan, I suspect, is that, egged on by right-wing conspiracy theorists and alt-right sympathizers, they will blame not the President but the Hispanics and Muslims that Mr. Trump is trying to keep from our shores with walls and travel bans.

In the long term, the Trump strategy won’t work. The American experiment is rooted in social decency and human dignity, and Americans will ultimately resist Trump’s attack on our most fundamental values. But in the shorter term, the prognosis is far from clear.

It’s also unclear what all of this will mean for America’s Jews. Mr. Trump is no anti-Semite. He has surrounded himself with observant, kippah-wearing advisors, and relies heavily on the Jewish members of his family.  At the same time, his retinue includes Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, men of questionable virtue on Jewish matters.

And the President has demonstrated that he is comfortable with far-right crazies ranging from birthers to Alex Jones, the talk-show host and right-wing nut job. When Senator Sherrod Brown expressed concern to the ZOA about anti-Semitism in the White House, some American Jews dismissed his comments while others grimly took note.

But the political uncertainties of the moment are the real issues. Jews have always found a secure refuge in the United States of America. Only rarely, during times of political instability or economic collapse, has there been a blip on the screen. The question now is whether President Trump has recreated the uncertain conditions that might lead to danger for the Jewish community.

Let us imagine a cornered President Trump, threatened by impeachment and with the lowest poll numbers of the modern presidency. Consider the chilling possibilities: The President foments an international crisis. Or, the President seizes upon a terrorist attack to upend the political climate and suspend civil liberties. Or, the President turns to his loyal base, generating a grassroots backlash over what he will present as a liberal plot to overturn a legitimate election.

These scenarios might overlap, and any of them – and particularly the last – could take us down an anti-Semitic path. The conservative media is already claiming that the Mueller investigation is more an effort to discredit a president than a true inquiry into the facts. What are the chances that such a backlash, once unleashed, will exclude the Jews?

And if these seem like improbable scenarios, think again.

We already have an incompetent, wildly unpredictable Chief Executive who flails frenetically at his perceived enemies.

Who’d have thought that our President would fire James Comey and threaten to fire Robert Mueller? Who’d have thought that America’s leader would cozy up to the Russians while refusing to affirm the joint defense principle of NATO? Who’d have thought that Mr. Trump would endlessly spout macho rage and tweet childish doggerel, offending our friends and most reliable allies?

This is America’s reality; don’t tell me the Jews are safe and secure.

To be sure, the Jews are not the primary issue. America’s well-being is the primary issue. And the best way for the Jews to look after themselves is not to focus on self-defense. It is to join with concerned Americans to blunt the extremist agenda of our President and his party. It is to build coalitions of decency rooted in a passion for justice. It is to prod Congress into preserving sensible health care for every American. It is to insist that our President put amateur night behind him and become a president worthy of the office that he holds.

To protect ourselves, to protect America, and to do what is right, American Jews must do all of these things. This is the only way to transcend despair and to keep America safe, secure, and truly great.

Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Follow him on Twitter: @EricYoffie

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  • Clyde Duncan  On June 19, 2017 at 9:08 am

    The Rabbi wrote: “Some Democrats are doing better, but the party has yet to find its voice or its champion. And it must, and quickly. Otherwise, the poor and disadvantaged will simply give up and abandon politics altogether.”

    I was not around, but this reminds me of some political opposition in some country – somewhere – offering an incompetent government “critical support” while the government drove the country downhill – after independence – until the wheels fell off ….

    The Rabbi is making a profound and insightful statement.

    We could ignore him at our peril.

    “…. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
    – Martin Niemöller

  • Deen  On June 19, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    How come Rabbi Eric Yoffie obviously sees all that’s wrong and the crass ineptitude of Donald Trump and boldly speaks out,yet our republican representatives and senators do not or condone Donald Trump’s reckless at the detriment of our country and its democracy? Where is their nationalism or patriotism to put the country and the people first instead of obsequiously supporting Donald Trump? Donald Trump is a disgrace, a detriment and a danger to the stability. Democracy and the freedom and morality of the United States of America.

  • Gigi  On June 19, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    Eh, rabbi…get to the back of the line. NOONE is or has been safe and secure in America for quite a long time, even the nationalists. And while there are, understandably, many Americans unhappy with the 13+ billion free no strings attached taxpayers dollars that Israel receives every year from America, not to mention YUGE/BIGLY amounts of other free stuff, in addition to a country stolen from the Palestinians who are still, to this day being brutally murdered by Jews with your mindset who want to claim all of Palestine.

    Ya know, y’all can always go to Israel if y’all feel unsafe and insecure. Unlike people like me who have nowhere to go. My country is like the wild wild bush now run by creatures who proudly wallow in everyone’s garbage thinking they’re civilized because they’ve acquired a taste for such. Would you want to go live there? Of course not. Anyway, most of your evil “haters” in America are the ones you will find living in Guyana. Some live over around Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Last time I was around those parts, cops and wanted posters were all over the place because one of your evil haters walked up to one of your people and slashed his face with a knife. Hate crime for no reason. But they do this sort of stuff all the time. Downright evil! And that was way before Trump was elected. Granted, if this article should get posted on Zerohedge, you’ll catch a lot of fire from angry, but with justifiable reason, middle and upper middle class white men – the taxpayer base funding Israel’s existence and get shafted in the process. Now Stormfront is a whole different crowd. And they’ve been around a very long time. How can you not like Trump? Him and Netanhayu are clones of each other. Except Trump wife is nothing like him whereas Netanhayu’s wife reminds me of Hillary…your idol.

    • DOOFUS  On June 21, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      No one is safe in this world

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 21, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    The Donald Trump Hiring Crisis Means America’s Got No Talent

    Brian Klaas | USA TODAY Opinion Contributor

    The government of the United States of America is suffering from a new phenomenon: the Trump Brain Drain.

    For the first time in memory, the American government is having difficulty recruiting the best and the brightest at the highest levels of power.

    Qualified public servants are turning down plum government jobs because they don’t want to be exposed to the risks of serving in President Trump’s White House.

    West Wing power-brokers are lawyering up (even Trump’s lawyer has hired a lawyer). A special counsel is reportedly investigating the president himself for possibly obstructing justice.

    The reputational risk of working for Trump’s administration is enormous, and it’s not just because of the endless spiraling scandals.

    There’s also the now routine Trumpian ritual of sacrificing his staff on his altar of self-sabotage. We all know the drill: Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders or another sacrificial lamb offers up a flimsy lie to protect Trump.

    (He fired Comey because he was too hard on Hillary Clinton!) Trump repays the favor by contradicting his staff almost immediately on Twitter or TV. (I fired him because of “the Russia thing.”)

    Yet working for this president has become a bewildering exercise in trying to figure out what’s worse: paying exorbitant legal fees, being tossed under the proverbial bus by your boss, or risking becoming a national punchline (we almost feel sorry for you, Sean). The loyalty that Trump infamously demands from subordinates is clearly not a two-way street.

    At least there are job perks. Build your CV with the unique experience of being subpoenaed by Congress. Practice your leader worship skills as you’re forced to proclaim your fawning admiration for Trump during a public Cabinet meeting. And if those don’t entice you, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to work for a beleaguered president with record low approval ratings, a hot temper, and a stalled legislative agenda?

    The United States is less safe and government is less effective when top talent must think twice about serving the president.

    It’s a witch hunt for Trump, who’s acting like a witch

    Conservatives should love the Trump presidency, but he makes it hard

    Less than five months into the Trump presidency, there is a record number of vacancies. Of 558 key presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation, only 43 have been filled (less than 8% of the total).

    And before you echo the frequently tweeted but incorrect Trump accusation that this is due to Democrat “OBSTRUCTIONISTS”, remember that 405 of the 558 positions don’t even have a nominee yet.

    This snail’s pace of selecting people — which involves getting them to agree to serve — is unprecedented in modern history.

    When the post of FBI director opened up (through, shall we say, questionable means), at least five dedicated public servants publicly withdrew from consideration.

    Several seasoned veterans pulled themselves out of the running to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Even Kellyanne Conway’s husband withdrew from consideration for a powerful Justice Department role (perhaps he had learned some alternative facts of life inside the Trump administration from a well-placed counselor?).

    The Trump Brain Drain is sapping talent beyond the White House, too.

    Six cyber security executives told Reuters that Trump’s caustic attacks on intelligence agencies had provoked a marked surge in skilled hackers and cyber talent leaving government agencies to pursue careers in the private sector.

    Even lawyers, who used to flock to Trump like moths to a litigious orange flame, are now staying away. Four different law firms declined to represent Trump not only because they feared that Trump won’t listen to their legal advice but also because working with Trump would kill recruitment for their firms — the trickle-down economics of the Trump Brain Drain in action.

    Of course, there are many, many excellent and experienced public servants in the Trump administration (Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao spring to mind).

    But Trump’s top day-to-day advisers are no dream team. We must call an unqualified spade an unqualified spade.

    Donald Trump’s business ties explain a lot of his dictator worship

    There’s hardly anyone on Trump’s senior staff who has ushered a bill through Congress.

    White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former Republican Party chairman, has never held elective office and came to his job with virtually no experience at the federal level.

    Two of Trump’s top advisers — now some of the most influential people in the world — are woefully unqualified relatives.

    And former Breitbart chief Steve Bannon has as much business being in the Oval Office as Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, yet here we are.

    It gets worse. You could start a joke by saying “A neurosurgeon and a wedding planner walked into a bar…” but there’s a real-world punchline.

    Last week, Trump appointed his family’s wedding planner to run federal housing in New York. Her boss, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, is an impressive neurosurgeon, but it’s hard to see how operating on brains is a relevant qualification for his post.

    In other words, Trump’s hiring decisions are compounding the recruitment brain drain because many people he selects are unprepared for their roles. Unless he changes his ways, his presidency will continue to languish from the one-two punch of his own incompetence and the government’s inability to recruit top talent.

    Brian Klaas is a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science and author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy. Follow him on Twitter @brianklaas.

    • DOOFUS  On June 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      Them a kill each other left right and centre
      .you can’t take it with you

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