By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Decades before the Yated began publishing, the great mechaneich, Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, is said to have commented to a talmid reading the daily newspaper, “Not a word that you read there is true, besides the date.” He then added, “Actually, even the date is false, because the paper was printed the night before, so that it would be available on newsstands and in groceries by daybreak.”
Apocryphal or not, the lesson is just as relevant today.
At some point, the media became an echo chamber telling people what to think, what to feel, and what it means if we don’t go along with their narrative. They stopped reporting news and started to create news, attempting to shape elections and public opinion.
In 1990, there was a small news item about a building that collapsed in Moscow. The Kremlin issued an official statement that the collapse was caused by an engineering error and reassured Muscovites that the government would get the building up and that it would stay up. A wise rosh yeshiva noticed the story and commented that the end of Communism was certainly imminent.
A keen student of human psychology, Rav Shlomo Freifeld explained that for decades, the only position the Kremlin took when anything went wrong was to blame. They unfailingly said that whatever happened wasn’t their fault, but someone else’s. For the Russian government to concede a construction error, even if it was a relatively small mistake, meant that they had lost their arrogant smugness and their end was near.
Chochom odif minovi. Six months later, he was proven right.
I thought about this story when I saw a letter that the New York Times publisher sent to subscribers of the newspaper. Under the flowery talk, it was as close to a mea culpa as can be, a concession that the paper of record had failed in its mandate to report the stories of the day without partiality or agenda.
The arrogance has been punctured, even if only a bit and for a short time.
Last week, the wall protecting and surrounding the mainstream media and the lie it sold as reality came crashing down. The self-contained, self-congratulatory, condescending liberal media was brought to its knees.
For eight years, Americans were fed a steady diet of liberal rhetoric, starting with the president himself. It was a perpetual lecture aimed at painting conservatives as narrow-minded, myopic, xenophobic, and racist. Together with the media, elected officials presented a new America, quite different from the country we had known in the prior decades. If you didn’t agree with them, you were written off as “irredeemable,” “deplorable,” “un-American,” and out of touch with reality.
Obama had presented a Democrat coalition that followers believed would last a generation. Even people registered with other parties, who rely on the mainstream media, believed it and feared that their candidates would never win another election.
Many pundits smugly wondered, live, on air, if the Republican Party would ever again have a majority, or even a close minority, in the Senate or House. The presidency? Ha! Not a chance, they assured us.
Last week, it was revealed that the Democratic Party is like a little poodle on a leash, led by a cadre of supporters in New York, California and other major cities, far removed from the concerns and thoughts of Americans across the length and breadth of the country.
In fact, there are those who say that the numbers indicate that Barack Obama himself would have lost to Donald Trump if they had run against each other. Obama’s presidency and agenda were roundly rejected by the American people. He campaigned very hard for Hillary Clinton and reminded people that she would continue his agenda. He and his family and those close to him all campaigned vigorously for Clinton, yet Trump won every state they battled in. Obama pleaded with the electorate to see the choice as a referendum of his legacy. They listened, letting him know exactly what they thought of his legacy.
From the day Trump entered the race, he was mocked and vilified. The mainstream powerbrokers and media portrayed him as a buffoon who could never last. As he won the primaries in state after state, leading Republicans went to great lengths to have him disqualified. They didn’t understand his power; they didn’t get his strength. The more money they spent against him, and the more they undercut him, the stronger a force he became. There are Republicans who still don’t understand how he did it, though now they are forced to play along.
Hillary Clinton was presented as the inevitable winner, and nearly everyone was convinced that she would win. Though she had difficulty beating an old socialist and required much help – underhanded and otherwise – to put him away, from the day she was handed the nomination, every poll, pundit and expert, and anyone who knows anything, agreed that she would win. Trump had no chance, we were told daily by well-heeled, articulate, well-paid talking heads.
The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, and every other media outlet hammered home the message that Trump was unsuitable for the presidency and could never win. And it wasn’t only the liberals. Conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer and Karl Rove are just as guilty for failing to perceive what was happening. Perhaps they were influenced by the general media as well, believing the polls, which were obviously skewed in Clinton’s favor along with all the other coverage.
The polls were used to obfuscate what was going on around the country. The media painted a picture and it was proven wrong. All through the campaign, everyone thought that Clinton would win and Trump would lose. Though people like to believe that they are not influenced by the secular media, the narrative of the press effectively convinced the nation.
Even those who don’t subscribe to the media and the cultural icons, are influenced by what they say and do. The national conversation and information flow is dictated by people with agendas, and unless you receive your information from an objective source, you are likely being lied to by spin experts, as proven by the trove of internal documents publicized by the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks group.
The Democrats had no message. They had nothing to say to working class voters other than admonitions of what they should believe and how they should speak. Their campaign boiled down to warning people that Trump was an evil dope and anyone who voted for him is equally worthy of derision.
The American people were told that Trump wasn’t deserving of their support, but they didn’t care. They had enough of being told how to think and what to do. Citizens saw the corruption of justice and voted to do something about it. They had enough of paying high taxes, watching a ruling class dominate and rule their lives. And they did something about it.
The big lie has been exposed. We have to be intelligent enough to recognize it and follow up on it. The illusion of the left sweeping across the country, people hating Trump, and the inevitability of a Clinton victory was blown to smithereens. In fact, the Democratic Party is leaderless, without a message, and beholden to the extreme left wing.
The American people are worried. They’re anxious about rising health care costs, about their pensions, and about making it through each day.
Obama, when he ran for president, campaigned as the candidate of hope and change, but once elected, he dished out little hope and a lot of the wrong type of change. Trump was not only the law-and-order candidate, but also the hope-and-change candidate. Essentially, he offered hope for a better future and of the country being great again.
Trump did not have formulated policies or serious ideas about governing, but he gives voice to the attitude that empowers the people. He talked about the real fear in American homes, the desire to triumph, the hope of being winners again. He filled large arenas, peddling that message, and by doing so, he made the professional politicians look silly. The experts chose to ignore the phenomenon that was sweeping the country. They were tone-deaf to the message sent by thousands of people who chose to wait for hours to get into a rally, where they would wait some more for the candidate to arrive. Instead of reporting on Trump’s large crowds, the media never showed pictures of anything other than Trump at the podium, unless there was a protester or angry poster in the crowd. They ignored the truth. In other words, they lied. They sold an alternate story and convinced themselves and many others that the fictitious story was necessary.
The old ways of the so-called experts and poll-driven candidates, with staff-written position papers and rote responses to straight questions, didn’t work this time. People want action. They want someone who understands and respects them. They want their candidate to speak off the cuff and be truthful and straightforward. They don’t care for long political records and pedigree.
Trump’s bluster and banter reflected conversations that took place in coffee shops and gas stations across the country. Tens of millions of frustrated Americans saw him as someone who would address what was troubling them. His promises, such as vowing to change the way government runs, were expressed and channeled by crystallizing his positions in a three-word-chant, such as “drain the swamp.” The people loved it and connected to it, seeing Trump as the leader they had been waiting for. He didn’t speak intelligently, and he is not well-read or well-versed, with no experience in doing anything he promised, but they didn’t care.
When given the choice of just such a person, they chose him every time they were given the opportunity, as he racked up primary wins and then, last week, electoral votes, one after the other.
Hillary Clinton had a mammoth fundraising operation, with influential political aides, her husband, power-brokers, and all of the media in the country on her side. The Clinton Machine was unstoppable, it seemed.
People bought into the idea that everything is rigged against them. They saw Trump as real, not phony. He was one of them. He spoke like them, using simple, down-to-earth language that they understood, without using multi-syllable words. He didn’t try to make himself sound smart and knowledgeable, while trying to make the people feel dumb and less educated on the matters they care about. He was blunt and forthright, and people appreciated that. Yes, they realized that he has a lot of money, but they got over that. When he was attacked, they didn’t focus on his deficiencies. In fact, the more he was attacked, the more they were convinced that the rigged system was trying to destroy him. He won despite everything that was unleashed against him, because the people rebelled against the establishment and wanted to get America back to what it is supposed to be.
People are worried about the economy and healthcare. They are scared of terrorism and illegal aliens taking over their country. They care about the Supreme Court, and the sanctity of life and marriage, and were fed up with being told that they are standing in the way of progress.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Obama said repeatedly, “All the progress we’ve made over these last eight years goes out the window if we don’t win this election.” The people believed him and voted against him and his agenda for exactly that reason. The legacy he was so concerned about was repudiated by the masses, as his party’s candidates went down to defeat up and down the ballot across the country. One-third of Democrats in Congress will now represent three states, California, Massachusetts and New York. The Democrats lost the Senate and the House. Republican governors will now control 33 states.
President Obama, touted by the media and Democrats as a post-racial bridge-builder, was actually a gift to Trump. People don’t like him or his policies. They are upset with his lies, his presidential proclamations making an end-run against their elected representatives, taking the country left, quashing American pride, apologizing for America’s gains, and coddling with enemies while ignoring friends.
Trump had desired to run for many years, but he presented himself as a political outsider and novice, which he certainly was, leading a movement. The pundits laughed at his unorthodox campaign. He didn’t have front men, fancy surrogates, fundraisers, marketing people, pollsters, message tweakers, and everything else that Hillary, Jeb and all the other political pros had. He had himself. He had his brain and his connection to the voters, who saw him as a regular guy like them, just with more money.
And so he won.
And the lessons for us are endless.
We must develop eyes that see the truth, a discernment and judgment to be able to see through lies, recognizing the emes and sticking to it.
Lehavdil, this week’s parsha opens with an account of Avrohom Avinu’s chesed and extraordinary hachnosas orchim. The Ribono Shel Olam himself was visiting, but there were hungry guests waiting. Avrohom was weak, recovering from his bris milah, but there were human beings who needed his help.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky would point out that the greatness of Avrohom does not become evident until we study the second perek of the parsha and the juxtaposition of Avrohom’s concern and kindness with his pleas on behalf of the people of Sedom.
Avrohom’s special mitzvah was hachnosas orchim. It would stand to reason that he would despise Sedom, the epitome of an anti-chesed city. Since the essence of Sedom was counter to his “agenda,” he could be forgiven for perceiving them as an enemy.
But Avrohom was able to view things clearly. He rejected the actions of the Sodomites and was saddened by the way they treated guests, but he didn’t let that cloud his vision. In modern-day parlance, the noise didn’t distract him from his mission.
When Hashem shared with Avrohom His intention to destroy the city and its inhabitants, he davened for them and bargained for them to be saved. Hakadosh Boruch Hu rejected his entreaties and Sedom was wiped off the face of the earth.
The posuk (Bereishis 19:27) tells us that after the evil city was destroyed, Avrohom arose early and headed to the place where he had stood pleading before Hashem and took a look at the destroyed cities of Sedom and Amorah.
The Gemara in Maseches Brachos (6b) cites this posuk and comments that someone who is koveia makom l’tefillaso, establishes a fixed place for his prayers, is a chossid, an anav, and a talmid of Avrohom Avinu.
Because of his humility, Avrohom Avinu was able to return to the same place where he had been rejected and kept on davening because it wasn’t about him. He was a humble soldier of the Creator, focused on carrying out His will, being kind and generous and helping as many people as possible. Avrohom had no agenda of his own that he was seeking to affect.
The Creator can carry out his own agenda with us or without us. If we are fortunate, we can follow his word and get to be on His team.
Sure, it is a struggle not to get swept up with the cause of goodness. We can easily imagine good people being carried away by anti-Sedom rhetoric and hoping for quick destruction of the evil-doers. Rav Aharon Kotler would tell his talmidim that they could learn “da’as Torah” by studying ma’asei avos, the reactions and choices made by the avos hakdoshim in these parshiyos of Bereishis.
The Tchebiner Rov was a successful lumber merchant. When he lost his fortune and was left with no source of income, he acquiesced to the request of gedolim that he accept a rabbinical position.
On Purim of his first year in Tchebin, mishloach manos and financial gifts piled up on the table. The rov noticed tears in the eyes of his rebbetzin, who wasn’t accustomed to taking money from anyone.
The rov said to her, “I know how you feel. It is difficult to be a taker. But I ask you one thing. In a few years, don’t become upset with those who do not give as much as you would have expected.”
The wise rov was aware of the human tendency to initially see a practice as incorrect, but then get used to it, viewing the practice as correct and those who think otherwise as being wrong.
He pleaded with his wife not to let that happen to them.
And it shouldn’t happen to us either.
We can plumb these parshiyos, developing Torah attitudes and ideals, and refining our sense of integrity.
We can approach life with clear eyes, seeing past the lies and hearing beyond the din.
This week, hundreds of good Jews gather at a convention specifically for the purpose of learning how to listen, to hear gedolim and rabbonim analyze contemporary issues and address them with Torah lenses. Being together with ehrliche Yidden is itself a means of absorbing the emes and living above the commotion and noise. The courage, conviction and chizuk offered by gedolei Yisroel and our rabbeim are our agenda and our party.
My rebbi, Rav Mendel Kaplan, a vestige of the Lithuanian world that is no more, would relate to us that his rebbi taught him something that he had, in turn, learned from his rebbi: “The first rule in our Shulchan Aruch is zei nisht kein na’ar, don’t be a fool.”
We have the greatest tool in the world, the Torah, to provide us with wisdom and truth. If we begin to see things clearly, half of the battle is already won.