By Avrohom Birnbaum
The two disparate topics discussed over the past two weeks in this column may seem totally unconnected, but in truth they are deeply intertwined with one another. Last week, we discussed the deplorable quality of life in Lakewood, with the issuance of more and more permits for housing developments even though the town’s infrastructure is unable to keep up with the growth. Two weeks ago, we discussed the surging candidacy of Donald Trump, the reasons for the success of such an imperfect candidate, and the terrible impact his style will have on the discourse in this country and the world, as well as the impact it will have on our own middos.
Those two topics might seem totally unrelated, but in reality they are almost identical. If we do not learn the lessons from these topics, we may be destined for a rocky road.
The “Protected” Class vs. the “Unprotected” Class
Let us analyze the reason behind Trump’s tremendous success. After all, the American electorate knows that he is an arrogant Machiavellian megalomaniac. He just can’t stop talking about himself, how great he is, how foolish everyone else is, and how he is the greatest force to hit the planet.
This kind of person is one who should generate disgust. Instead, he is generating enthusiasm and adulation. Why? Because everyone is fed up with the politicians and the mess they have gotten us into over the years. Everyone realizes that the politicians worry only about their own personal interests, not about those of their constituents. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote a column in which she succinctly explains this:
“I keep thinking of how Donald Trump got to be the very likely Republican nominee. There are many answers and reasons, but my thoughts keep revolving around the idea of protection… There are the protected and the unprotected. The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.
“The protected are the accomplished, the secure, the successful — those who have power or access to it. They are protected from much of the roughness of the world. More to the point, they are protected from the world they have created…”
“What marks this political moment, in Europe and the U.S., is the rise of the unprotected. It is the rise of people who don’t have all that much against those who’ve been given many blessings and seem to believe they have them not because they’re fortunate, but because they’re better.
“You see the dynamic in many spheres. In Hollywood, as we still call it, where they make our rough culture, they are careful to protect their own children from its ill effects. In places with failing schools, they choose not to help them through the school liberation movement — charter schools, choice, etc. — because they fear to go up against the most reactionary professional group in America, the teachers unions. They let the public schools flounder. But their children go to the best private schools.
“This is a terrible feature of our age — that we are governed by protected people who don’t seem to care that much about their unprotected fellow citizens.
“And a country really can’t continue this way.”
Avoiding the Ostrich-in-the Sand Syndrome
One must tread carefully when making comparisons between the political situation in this country with trends in the frum world. Nevertheless, to overlook what is going in the country and think that the frum world is not affected by both its excesses and the reaction to them would be foolish. In fact, it would be a classic case of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand and saying that everything is perfect.
In truth, we must worry. Currently, the American people are so fed up and disenfranchised that they are willing to overlook the overwhelming flaws of a person like Donald Trump as long as he promises strong leadership and righting the wrongs and the flaws of the politicians who are beholden to special interests. Similarly, in our own frum world, it is incumbent on us to realize that if our leadership is not careful, they also risk disenfranchising the people to the extent that they will look to new, loud and irresponsible leaders to save them. If that were to happen, one shudders to contemplate the result.
In addition, we also must acknowledge the seminal role that the internet plays in all of this. It is with sadness and heartache, not joy, that we must realize and acknowledge that in today’s day and age, when the internet offers so many different people a soap box, there is no way that unfair and corrupt norms that have sadly become entrenched in our society can continue. Certainly, there is no way that deep-seated injustices can continue without alternative voices being heard on the internet that threaten not only to right the injustices, which would be a good thing, but to overturn the entire applecart and throw out the baby with the bathwater.
We must realize that the world we live in is so different than that of a generation ago. If we don’t, we will be reminded by events that spin out of control.
The Challenges the Average Frum Family Faces
The sad fact is that the middle class in the frum community – the “unprotected,” to use Ms. Noonan’s term – are having it harder than they ever did. Your average person, without pull or astronomic sums of money at his disposal, is choking under the tuition burden. Even though so many of us extol the importance of chinuch, it seems that no one will give one a break if he can’t pay tuition. Marrying off a child is becoming a nearly impossible feat to accomplish while staying out of the red. Few will even look at your daughter if you can’t promise monthly support that equals another mortgage payment. If you are blessed with a number of girls, instead of being thrilled with the opportunity to raise wonderful bnos Yisroel who are going in the derech haTorah and want nothing more than a learning boy, you are tearing your hair out, first wondering how they are going to get someone to be interested in a shidduch with them. Then, even when that someone is found, how are you going to support them? You feel that the “system” is failing you.
And what about when that child finally gets married, has children, and tries to get their children into schools? Again, it is a difficult, humiliating experience that makes you wonder why the “protected” are not doing more to shield the “unprotected.”
Is it any wonder that people feel neglected and uncared for when building permits are issued one after the other while the “unprotected” sit in traffic with a compromised quality of life and taxes and housing prices that keep rising?
Indeed, the feeling that many may get is that we, as a tzibbur, are great about saying “im yirtzeh Hashem” and “boruch Hashem.” We are great at using terms like ben Torah, ahavas haTorah, and only Torah. But we are far less adept at actually bringing Hashem into our lives and acting as if He is watching us.
Again, this does not justify the Trumpization of the frum world, but if we think that Donald Trump was born in a vacuum in a way that doesn’t affect frum life, we are greatly mistaken.
If we, as a community, as leaders and the “protected” class, don’t realize how precarious the entire edifice is, we are fooling ourselves and we may be faced with a frum Trump whose damage to our community and way of life may be incalculable.
The Dog, the Bone and the Lifeblood
The scary situation in which we find ourselves brings to mind a shmuess I once heard years ago at Bais Medrash Govoah from Rav Chaim Shaul Kaufman zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Gateshead Yeshiva Ketanah.
He related the following moshol in the name of the sefer Ben Hamelech Vehanozir: A starving dog once sought a bone to eat. It couldn’t find anything and felt faint. Finally, after foraging for a long time, it found one very dry bone. What could it do with a dry bone? Left with no choice, the dog began to gnaw at the bone, hoping to extract some juice. The dog chewed harder and harder and still could not get even a drop of moisture out of it. The dog was desperate. It needed to eat. It kept on chewing with even more gusto. The dog chewed itself into a frenzy, until, finally, it tasted a drop of moisture. This bit of wetness only whetted its appetite. It used all of its remaining strength to continue chewing. Finally, its hard work paid off. It began to suck liquid out of the bone. At first, it was a drop, and then it was more and more, until liquid was literally gushing out of the bone. The dog enthusiastically sucked out the liquid until…it dropped dead.
What happened? The liquid was its own blood. Gnawing at the bone had caused the dog to bleed. While it was enjoying the juice seemingly coming from the bone, it was really sucking out its lifeblood.
Sometimes, it seems that the protected are so intent on squeezing a little more juice out of the dry bone called the “unprotected” that they don’t realize that they may be sucking out their own lifeblood. How? When some “frum Trump” suddenly comes down the path promising to fix everything, his words may resonate. Then, the false hopes that will be dashed later when the frum Trump is proven to be an imposter will break down everything in a way that may make it difficult to put together again.
This article first appeared in Yated Ne’eman USA.