The Empire Strikes Back

    The simplest way to understand the Trump victory is to recognize that since 1952, the United States changes the presidential party in power every eight years, the only exception being the dispatch of Jimmy Carter after just four miserable years, and the extension of the Reagan eight years with four of GHB Bush. Otherwise, it is like clockwork – R, D, R, D, R, D, R, D and now R again. Of course, there is much more to this election cycle.

Four years ago in this space, I published an essay that went viral: “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.” It lamented the Obama victory in 2012 and how changes were coming to the United States that would leave the country unrecognizable to many of its citizens with domestic policies that were more socialist and foreign policies that shrunk America’s role in the world and made the world a more violent and dangerous place. It further lamented the decline of politics in America that depicted a good, decent man like Mitt Romney as a monster and ogre who gleefully threw the elderly off cliffs, deprived the ill of their cancer medication and delighted in firing hard-working people.

It was nearly impossible, given the demographics of American life, to see a plausible path to the Republicans ever winning the presidency again. One of the ironies of this riotous, unpredictable and unprecedented presidential campaign is that the only Republican who could have won was not really a Republican and certainly not a Republican for a long period of time. For make no mistake: a conventional Republican – a Bush, a Cruz, a Rubio, et al – might have been preferable to Donald Trump in theory, but such a conventional Republican would have been eviscerated, lambasted, vilified and scorned in actuality, and would have lost the election.

I remained puzzled about the almost universal support of Democrats for Hillary Clinton, despite her personal flaws, and the Republican “never Trumpers” who refused to support their party’s nominee because of his personal flaws. And both were flawed, which is an understatement. But Trump’s policies always trumped Trump’s personality, and I was always at a loss to understand which of Hillary Clinton’s policy prescriptions for America were preferable to those of Donald Trump. But too many Republicans, including columnists, pundits, activists and even some rabbis (who might not be Republicans), were so turned off to some of Trump’s faults that they were completely blind to Clintons’ when they weren’t rationalizing them altogether. Too many people did not recognize that there was no moral argument that could be marshaled on behalf of either candidate, but Clinton supporters were particularly dismissive in that regard. The only morally consistent approach was to concede that both candidates were deficient and that one’s vote was based on policy. That was my approach, as well as to acknowledge that Judaism prefers leaders with skeletons in their closets (Masechet Yoma 22b); it keeps them humble.

 

Here in Israel, there is, for the most part, a great sigh of relief. It is anticipated that Obama’s grudging support for Israel and his embrace of Iran will both be reversed, and that the world will learn again to respect and even fear a resurgent America. It is also anticipated that President Trump will craft a new foreign policy that rejects the chimera of a “two-state solution” and supports the right of Jewish settlement throughout the land of Israel. That will be a welcome and revolutionary change, even if it happens subtly rather than overtly. The fear of the Obama “December” surprise is still present but less burning. A presidential recognition of a “Palestine” can be reversed and a UN resolution critical of Israel, settlements, support of a Palestinian state, etc., supported by the US might be vetoed by…Russia, whose president has better ties with Netanyahu than Netanyahu had with Obama. Perhaps President-elect Trump could weigh in on that matter with Putin as well.

There are numerous takeaways from this most unusual election.

      Polarization. It is not just that the electorate is divided, but rather the persistence on the left in portraying the right as evil, not just wrong, has led to the despair in so many parts today over the Clinton loss. How can “evil” win?? This pattern dates back to Obama’s first term and is now entrenched in American life. With evil, you can’t compromise; with evil you can’t even dialogue. Those who vote for evil must be evil! And one should then not wonder why children – from kindergarten through law school – are being kept home from school today in droves so their troubled parents can try to explain how “evil” could prevail. Here’s the approach they should take: another opinion is not necessarily evil but different. There is no one solution to the problems that confront America. And there are people who can occasionally do or say bad things but that failing does not necessarily make them bad people. That goes for both candidates, not just one. We are all imperfect and we must learn to accept the imperfections of others if we hope to live in the world without becoming insane, vengeful or perpetually angry. Endlessly citing this or that word or phrase as if it defines the human being who uttered is a caricature, not an analysis.

      The Failure of Punditry and Pollsters. There are people who make their living making predictions, and they were almost all wrong, and in very predictable ways. Once it became socially unacceptable to support Trump – and many of the pundits and writers were the ones who made it socially unacceptable – it was clear that polls were not accurate and would miss 3-5% of the voting public, at least. That is exactly what happened, as Trump’s margin of victory was extremely narrow in several states that facilitated his victory.

It also vindicated Trump’s campaign model that should drive so many “professionals” batty. He spent relatively little, spoke his mind, eschewed handlers and messaging, and spoke directly (even occasionally tactlessly) to the people. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who shunned the media like the plague and felt like answering questions was beneath her, Trump was omnipresent on television, interviewed again and again, and then again. Free advertising, very human and personal, and a brilliant strategy.

Do not underestimate the resentment that the Trump candidacy engendered in the professional political class. He is the ultimate outsider in a world where to be an insider is considered a success. Trump is the guy who walks in unannounced from the parking lot, becomes the team quarterback and wins the championship. (There are such cases – Johnny Unitas, Kurt Warner, and probably dozens of people reading this.) Those who toiled in the system and either wouldn’t or couldn’t are naturally brusque with the one who did and could.

The Republican Party is Floundering. Some of its most principled people refused to support Trump, because of both personal blemishes and policy heresies. But it should recognize that it is increasingly talking to an electorate that is deaf to its values, uncomfortable with personal responsibility, uninterested in its policies and – for many – addicted to the free stuff that only Democrats can offer. It is safe to say that the Trump phenomenon cannot be duplicated, so where does that leave the GOP, alienated in large part from its standard bearer?

Ganging Up. Americans like a fair fight, and Trump was opposed by the full weight of one party, much of the other, the presidency and the tools of government, and especially by the mainstream media whose collusion with Clinton (including slipping her questions before debates and checking articles with her before publication lest something displease her, as Wikileaks revealed) made them not the reporter of news but makers of news and attempted shapers of outcomes. That was never supposed to be the role of the independent media, and the few outlets or individuals who actually presented fair and balanced coverage were not only honest and a credit to their profession but reaped the windfall of high ratings. They became a refuge for Trump supporters, whether tepid or passionate. Donald Trump became the underdog despite the media’s best efforts to make him the bully. People saw through that, saw the ugliness of the insider dealings and the cattiness of released emails, and saw the pay-to-play schemes – and recoiled from them.

Narrow Margins. Republicans should not gloat. Once again, the Democrat candidate won the popular vote. That is somewhat misleading because if California is taken out of the mix, then Trump wins by several million votes. Nonetheless, Republicans still have won the popular vote only once since 1988, and future prospects are not good unless…Trump is successful in his quest to strengthen the inner cities and reach out to other communities traditionally marginalized by Republicans and patronized by Democrats. His direct appeal to blacks and Hispanics was a welcome shift from prior Republican tactics. As America is becoming less and less white, the Republican Party will become a permanent minority unless it changes its approach to the electorate. Ronald Reagan’s America does not exist anymore.

Les Deplorables. That being said, was there a greater gaffe in memory that Clinton’s contention that half of Trump’s supporters constitute a “basket of deplorables”? That was arguably worse than Romney’s statement that “47%” of Americans don’t pay federal taxes and therefore have no skin in the game. At least Romney’s statement was a fact; Clinton’s slur was a direct attack on the integrity and decency of the supporters (“irredeemable”) of the nominee of a major American party. Rabbis quick to see Trump’s offenses glossed over Clinton’s outrages. Others, impressed by Clinton’s graciousness at a seder, ignored her similar graciousness towards Suha Arafat, kissing, hugging and praising Yasser’s wife right after she accused Israel of poisoning Arab wells in order to murder Arab children. Trump had no monopoly on “deplorables,” most of whom were not deplorable at all, and some of his critics would have benefited from a little more self-awareness. There are bad people on the right – and on the left; truth be told, bad people did not play much of a role in this election.

Rigged System. The Deplorables had only to open their eyes and see the special treatment, the unequal justice under the law, and the outright criminality of the Clinton enterprise to realize that this election demanded more than sitting at home and whining about the worthlessness of voting. The double standard was, to borrow a Trumpian term, “disgraceful.” The corruption, under Obama and Clinton, of the FBI, the IRS, the FCC, the EPA, and much of the rest of the alphabet exceeded anything that Richard Nixon had carried out. The schemes of the Clinton Foundation were breathtaking in scope, and its entire business model was built on Hillary Clinton winning the presidency and rewarding her donors. That is not to be, and the book is still open on whether it will continue as a legitimate charity. Will Obama, before his term ends, pardon Clinton for any and all crimes? I would expect it.

Negativity Works. Well, it depresses the voters and depresses the numbers of voters. Neither candidate is a paragon of virtue but Trump was aided by one factor: his children seem remarkably well-grounded and decent people. It is hard to imagine such individuals emerging from the home of such a “villain,” and having such genuine respect and love for their father. So the negativity became overkill after a while, not to mention Trump’s prior popularity as a TV entertainer that enabled many people to feel that they “knew” him. The feeling of unease that many Americans feel is attributable to the campaigns that brought new lows to American politics. Negativity works, but what an awful price to pay for such successes.

The Death of Political Correctness. Donald Trump is not a politician, and will be the first person since Dwight Eisenhower to assume the presidency never before having held elective office. Being a non-politician, and indeed the antithesis of Hillary Clinton, he did not poll test and focus group every word he uttered. He was refreshing, even if occasionally crass and crude. Certainly the latter is unbecoming, and Trump matured (is that the right word for a 70 year old?) as the campaign neared its end. But most people recognize the unseemliness implicit in the revelation of private comments (or emails). Few but the most pious among us would like to be judged by what we do or say in private; if that were untrue, the curtain business would fail and we would all live in glass houses.

But Trump, one can hope, has put an end to the petty tyranny of political correctness. He said what he thought was true regardless of who was offended by it, and the reactions – often overwrought but occasionally justified – reflected life in an era in which freedom of speech has been curtailed, people watch their words constantly (and not for always salutary reasons) and the thought police are ubiquitous. It wasn’t always like that. There was a time when an offended person, group, or class would just be told to grow up, and if the offense was unintended, a classy person would apologize. Now, the offenders are publicly mocked, excommunicated and sent for sensitivity training. The most intolerant among us are those who frequently hurl epithets like racist, bigot, sexist, -phobe, etc. at someone with whom they disagree. Generally speaking, they are the ones who are the most apoplectic about the results of this election.  Maybe they should just grow up?

One lesson of this election is that Americans are tired of being told what to think, whom they should like or dislike, that their traditions and values are hateful and that an unelected class of scolds gets to sit in constant judgment of their every utterance. Trump was a hero to those Americans, and anathema to the thought police. Those vocally liberated voted for Trump in droves and thumbed their noses at their supposed judges. Democracy is a most unruly form of government.

One by-product of this election and the PC malady is that the Democrats continue to view the electorate not as individuals but only by a group identity.  We are not individuals but whatever ethnic, religious, gender, racial or national attachment we have. How limiting – how degrading is that to every person who is then expected to think and act and vote like the group to which he or she is a part! Are we supposed to vote someone because the candidate is a Jew, a black, a woman, a Latino, or something else? Nothing could be more anti-intellectual, demeaning or shallow. That too should end. It won’t, not yet anyway.

Margaret Thatcher once said one of the greatest problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Perhaps that will change as well.

There have been bitter and divisive elections in the past in the United States; obviously 2000, but also 1860 (the Civil War followed Lincoln’s election, after he succeeded James Buchanan, still the last president who previously served as Secretary of State) and 1828 and 1824 (the ruthless battles between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams) come to mind. Some of those campaigns were even dirtier and more vicious than this one. But the world needs a strong America; the dangers around us are real and cannot be wished away. We can only pray that Donald Trump, who has so many good instincts in many areas, will be focused and responsible. In many ways, he is similar to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, whose tenure started but didn’t end well. Trump will surround himself with good people – Boltons, Giulianis, Flynns, Huckabees, Carsons and others. Life goes on. We hope and pray for the best.

Mark Twain stated that “if voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” Twain, at least here, and now, was wrong. The citizens of the American empire have chosen to change course. The people have spoken. Long live the people.

Is this good for the Jews? Time will tell. Disappointments are inevitable in life but we are ever hopeful. God’s hand controls our destiny. But what is always good for the Jews is this: learn Torah, observe the Mitzvot, daven with sincerity, perform acts of kindness, stand with Israel and come to Israel. If we do that, then only good things can happen.

 

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24 responses to “The Empire Strikes Back

  1. Brilliant, calming analysis. I shall share it!

    I have to ask your opinion on the Jews who supported Hillary and vilified Trump, particularly little old Jewish ladies. Most of those I know were adamant that Trump couldn’t become president. Why? Because he would take away “women’s rights”! And what right is that? The right to control our bodies! How so? Abortion!!!! Trump will reverse Roe vs. Wade!!!

    So we have a cohort of old Jewish women whose main issue is abortion, which I personally translate into the “right” to have indiscriminate, unprotected sexual relations, and then erase the consequences.

    Is this how far we have fallen?

    • What you write is true, if only because most Jews are woefully unfamiliar with Jewish values or a genuine Torah idea. On the other hand, I would be quite content if the Jewish vote split 50-50, which would mean that candidates would actually have to compete for it instead if the Dems taking it for granted. And I’m sure there were Clinton supporters who felt there were compelling reasons to vote for her or against him, even some who aren’t knee jerk Democrats.
      Of course, on the third hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that with an intermarriage rate of more than 70% outside the Orthodox world, even speaking today of a “Jewish vote” is something of a misnomer. Many “Jews” who are voting are not Jews, even if they might identify as Jews, one reason why their value system is not “Jewish.” That’s not to say it is bad or good; just that it is not rooted in Torah.
      RSP

  2. “Once again, the Democrat candidate won the popular vote. That is somewhat misleading because if California is taken out of the mix, then Trump wins by several million votes.”

    Elaborate please. What is the logic in simply taking California out of the mix? Couldn’t you just as easily not count Texas or New York or Florida? Is there something unique about California that we should know?

  3. I love reading your blog. Perhaps because you validate me!

    “the problem with communication is the illusion it happened”

    ~ process matters ~

    http://www.albalahgroup.com

    >

  4. Rabbi, I have to ask, when you say “”Once again, the Democrat candidate won the popular vote. That is somewhat misleading because if California is taken out of the mix, then Trump wins by several million votes.” what is the misleading aspect there?
    Is there a reason Californian votes are not meant to be counted as part of the country’s overall popular vote? Wouldn’t it be much more misleading to tally the popular vote without counting the vote of 17+ million registered Californian voters (including nearly 5 million registered Republicans)?

    • Indeed. As a lifelong New Yorker (well, New Jersey now for many years), I can state that many people on the east coast feel that California is not really representative of America. It’s unique!
      But its votes also count, even if most elections are decided before the polls even close there. That was the wisdom of the Electoral College. If one candidate won 30 states, and the other just 20, that also says something about universal appeal.
      Of course, the irony is that voting patterns in NY, NJ, and CA have been quite similar for many years; hence, there was almost no campaigning by either party in any of those states. It’s where they go to pick up money, not votes.
      Shabbat Shalom!
      RSP

  5. Dear Rabbi, Hillary was a very weak candidate. She has debilitating scandals in her recent past. She lacks the charisma (X factor) of a great leader. Roughly 6 million voters from 2012 and about 10 million from 2008 did not show up for Clinton in 2016. Considering the current immigration policies and the rapid changes in the electorate, a charismatic Democrat leader would have a clean sweep, winning both the popular vote and the electoral college against almost any Republican opponent.

  6. Dear Rabbi, Overall, you are on the mark, as usual. I still do believe that a Cruz or Rubio would have pulled enough Latino/Hispanic voters to win in an election against Hillary.

  7. Great title. Well, I was a Trump supporter and thought all along he would win. [Am $100 richer today, actually, as the result of a summer bet] [came close on calling the Indians to win the World Series, too.] So I for sure agree with pretty much everything you wrote. Just a few points I was surprised to see you write:
    1. The GOP is not floundering – not at all. To the contrary, they are in better shape today, on a federal and state level, than they have ever been in recent memory. Yes, the nevertrumper faction will have to grow up, and most will, eventually. But its a sign of the party’s vibrancy that is has such diversity of opinion. They are just different wings of the same group.
    2. The Democrats are in real trouble. I mean, they are in for a loooong period of wilderness, and will have to transform their party back to the pre-1960s version of it if they want to survive. In 2018 they will have to try to defend 10 senate seats in States that just voted Red. Beyond that too, having made their bet on two successive elections with “minorities”, they have sealed their fate forever. They already alienated whites, still the largest “race” in the country. And they already played the black and female card, so they will have to play the Hispanic card in the next election, and risk offending (or not interesting) the other minorities if they do so, as just happened with the black vote. One you go down the identity politics game, there is no going back. They are finished, mark my words. In Israel, the left is irrelevant, the fights are between hardline Likud and moderate Likud. So too America. The battle is now simply between more conservative and less conservative, but the center has shifted to the right. PC/Liberalism, as you wrote, though it had a good run, is dead. The death throes will not be short, though. Will last certainly till the end of the baby boomer lifespan, but in increasingly smaller numbers. Too many people make their money off the liberalism industry right now for it to just stop. [I just sat through a mandatory company-wide harassment training, produced by people who make good money producing these inane videos.] So like the high priests of idol worship, it will take time for this sickness to go away.
    3. Of even more immediate moment, a stake has been driven through the heart of the myth of global warming. Its death throes will be much shorter. Like the “Star Wars” stupidity of the Regan era, which disappeared shortly after he left office. Global warming is already beginning to peter out. Cant wait to read the history books of the future, marveling how so many people were taken in by such nonsense.

  8. BRAVO, Rabbi, that was a fantastic post!!!!

  9. Well said. Not only are the Republicans floundering, but even more so, the
    Democrats. Republicans won from the White House to the State House.
    And the Democrats have no backup to Hillary–expecting the election to be
    a coronation.

  10. One other thing, too. You spoke about the popular vote. Clinton win that by about 200k, which, in a country of more than 300 million, is a rounding error. Even if you include only eligible voters, about 100 million, its still statistically non-existent. More to the point, the far-reaching wisdom of the Founding Fathers comes to bear truth again. They understood the possibility of large numbers of like-minded people gathering in certain areas, and realized that even if they were the majority, they would not represent the different states of the country.
    The Democrats are in bigger trouble than I even. They seem to think, believe it or not, that they lost because they weren’t left wing enough. I read today they are talking now of electing the current chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus as their party leader. Wow.

    • I think you’re very likely to be wrong on the numbers, since you’re not factoring in the outstanding votes yet to be counted in Oregon and California. Those states allow vote-by-mail and so they take longer to count. The margin at this moment is more than 500k and is likely — but time will tell — to exceed 1 million. That’s more than a rounding error.

      • The final number as of 11/15, including Michigan, is a difference of about 760k out of more than 126 million votes cast. That’s about .06 of a percentage point. My friend, that’s a rounding error.
        In any event, of course, its a moot point and irrelevant.

  11. The Donald Trump victory means that Israel Bonds are a safe and logical investment for American Jewry.

    Since Donald Trump and his senior advisors are pro-Israel, we may reasonably assume that Israel will not be wiped-off-the-map within the next five years, so Israel Bonds are a good deal, not only for Jews, but even for non-Jewish investors.

    PLEASE help SUE the terrorists in court:

    www dot IsraelLawCenter dot org

    www dot TheLawFareProject dot org

  12. Some people are shocked or surprised that Donald Trump won, because the news media was predicting a victory for Hillary Clinton.

    I am not shocked or surprised because I figured out a long time ago that the so-called “news media” is totally prejudiced and relentlessly biased in favor of Liberal & Leftist causes, and they are perfectly willing to mislead the public to advance their Liberal & Leftist causes, including false poll results, that are intended to discourage people from voting for candidates that they dislike.

    In other words, the so-called “news media” does not simply report the facts, like they should; instead they report a pre-approved narrative that complies with the beliefs and goals of Liberals & Leftists.

    In conclusion, let us all stop pretending that we have an unbiased or reliable or truthful news media, because the news media is as corrupt as the most worst politicians.

  13. Rabbi I’ve really missed you political blog posts! Don’t let the liberals intimidate you from speaking your mind! A Trump presidency will help revive our economy and, most importantly, strengthen our country’s relationship with Israel. Bibi and Trump will be a dynamic duo that nobody will mess with.

  14. Fascinating analysis. We shall see if it is true.

  15. Gershon Distenfeld

    Looking at the popular vote is useless for an entirely different reason. Everybody knows it doesn’t matter so if you live in a very blue or a very red state, there is little incentive to vote. I personally know of many people who didn’t vote and they didn’t think it made a difference living in NY or NJ.

    If the system were changed to one where the winner would be the person who got the most votes, then a lot more people would end up voting. So we have no idea what the “popular vote” even is!

    • It’s a double-edged sword. If winners were determined by popular vote, candidates would campaign only in big states. Not to mention the problem of fraud would increase exponentially – ballots suddenly found in trunks would be more common. We would wind up with more “voters” than citizens!
      – RSP

  16. Since the election was based on the electoral vote, one cannot presume that Hillary would have won the popular vote if that would have been the determinant. Since the election wasn’t contested on that basis; there is no way of knowing who might have won if voters had known that the next President would depend on their popular vote.
    Indeed I myself — and many like me — who prefer Trump to Hillary — did NOT vote for Trump (I wrote in Rubio’s name) specifically because I knew that my vote in NJ was largely irrelevant. If it were truly a binary vote based on popular votes, then I and many others would have voted differently (and many more likely would voted for both of the 2 main candidates).
    As an article points out, Trump got 1.5 million less votes than Romney in California (far more than his 0.7% deficit in the popular vote). One can argue that part of the reason is that California did not even have a Republican Senate candidate so Republicans had even less motive to vote, knowing that their Presidential pick wouldn’t count under the electoral system and that they had no Senate pick.
    One can’t say who would have won if the popular vote were the determinant any more than one can say after a football game that the team with the most yards should have won instead of the team with the most points. Because if the name of the game were gaining more net yards, then of course both teams would have played completely differently.
    It is pure conjecture to say who would have won the popular vote if it mattered; the ‘experts’ were quite wrong in their certainty under the electoral system.

    Avi S.

  17. DF (esq.),

    I don’t think that’s correct. As of now, Clinton has 62,403,469 votes compared to Trump’s 61,242,652 votes. That means she’s ahead by 1,160,817 votes or 0.9% and the margin continues to grow as mail and absentee ballots get counted.

    I guess “rounding error” is a term of art, but let me point out that JFK won the presidency with only a 0.2% margin and Nixon by 0.5% and Bush became President with -0.5%. That means Clinton has won the popular vote by more than all three of those Presidents combined. I call it “decisive.”

    Personally, I don’t think it’s moot or irrelevant. How we interpret popular mandates have real repercussions for how we govern.

    • Yes, but Trump won 30 states to Clinton’s 20. And he won 2/3 of territory of the US. That too is decisive.
      And if you argue that presidential elections are not decided based on states won or territory controlled, I will counter that such elections are also not decided based on popular vote.
      And for good reason.
      Shabbat Shalom!
      RSP