Opinion By Zerachya Licht
The purpose of this essay isn’t to convince anyone to vote for Biden, nor is it to convince anyone not to vote for Trump – I consider both options legitimate. Its goal is to lay out the case that both options make sense for a Frum Jew, and to dispel the notion that, as a Frum Jew, one must vote for Trump (and that supporting Biden is nothing short of treason).
It is easy for me to understand the case for Orthodox Jews to support re-electing President Trump. He is outwardly and unapologetically pro-Israel, he supports pro-business policies, and he commuted Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence. Our community naturally aligns with conservative policies regarding many social issues. Perhaps there are further arguments, but these seem to be the common refrain heard in our circles.
There are two aspects of this that I cannot understand:
For one, how can an Orthodox Jew support him with fervor and enthusiasm? On a personal level he is, and has always been, the very antithesis to anything religious Jews hold holy.
Secondly, why is there not a significant faction supporting former Vice President Biden? Shouldn’t it at least be an open question?
Let us take a closer look at the reasons that lie behind the Frum community’s strong support of Trump:
With regards to the first argument, that Trump is a great supporter of Israel, there is little room for disagreement. But there are two further questions that need to be asked:
Are Orthodox Jews always to be a one-issue voting bloc? Does this one single (and certainly vital) issue outweigh all other considerations such as public health, homeland security, and the culture which surrounds them?
Secondly, is Trump (while definitely pro-Israel) truly better for Israel? Vice President Biden, to the best of my knowledge, and by his own admission, is a staunch supporter of Israel. He also claims to have launched his campaign in reaction to vile anti-Semitic chants in Charlottesville (which the President legitimized as emanating from “fine people”).
On to economics; a discipline I don’t know much about. But I’ve read enough to see that Mr. Trump’s record on the economy isn’t as rosy as he and his supporters would like the American people to believe. He inherited an economy on the rise, and it continued to rise under his watch until the Pandemic struck. It is well-known that the impact of the executive branch on the economy is something of an open question, but as it turns out, the growth rate of the stock market under four years of Trump is actually significantly lower than during the first terms of Presidents Clinton and Obama.
There is also much debate nationally as far as which policies are better for the economy. From an Orthodox perspective, I don’t see why religious Jews need to have a homogeneous opinion. Why shouldn’t they debate this like the rest of the country does? It would make sense that people from different socioeconomic backgrounds within the community should diverge on this. Perhaps the wealthy business owners who don’t benefit from the Affordable Care Act, and do benefit from the 2017 Trump tax cuts should vote for Trump. People in the middle class, and those still struggling to make it there, who indeed benefit from Obamacare rather than the tax cuts, should oppose him.
Moving on to the issue of the Rubashkin pardon, I recently spent a couple of hours in Mr. Rubashkin’s company and he certainly came across as genuinely nice, Frum individual. It makes a lot of sense to me that his friends and family should support the president who ultimately set him free from his bondage. It still surprises me, though, that this personal favor bestowed on single member of the community should obligate all Jews to choose Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden. Did all Orthodox Jews vote for Hillary Clinton because she facilitated the clemency her husband granted to Chaim Berger of of New Square?
Another common argument I hear is that Rabbi Avigdor Miller always said encouraged voting for the more socially conservative candidate. The truth is that not all Gedolim agreed. I was personally present when Rav Miller declared his support for Pat Buchanan’s presidential bid, despite his anti-Semitic views, because he was conservative on social issues. To the best of my knowledge, Rav Miller was a lone voice at the time.
One can also question whether Rav Miller would have promoted a candidate who has glorified promiscuous behavior his entire life, and was himself pro-abortion, only changing his position to win republican support. Being a student of Rabbi Miller, I can attest to having heard from him many times that the people who promote promiscuous lifestyles are very detrimental to religious sensibilities. Whether Rav Miller would have supported a candidate of such low moral character is a particularly good question, but there is no doubt that he would have been personally disgusted by him.
With all of the above, there is still a legitimate argument for the Orthodox to support Trump.
The point to ponder is how can Donald Trump engender such enthusiasm within the orthodox community? How can a popular Orthodox singer get up in front of impressionable youths and sing a laudatory song in his honor? On a personal level Trump has led and celebrated a life steeped in materialism and sin. He openly stated that he doesn’t consider adultery is a sin. His family life was a mess. He promoted a lifestyle of pathological adultery and other unapologetic indulgence.
He is a singularly dishonest person, even by the standards of contemporary politics. He used bankruptcy many times to the detriment of numerous people employed by him. He has never promoted any virtuous behavior, and expressed genuine surprise at, and derision for, people who would choose to pursue anything other than power and wealth.
Trump has earned the support of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. This itself should give any Jew pause. He also has been awfully slow and reluctant to repudiate them (unlike many other groups, less friendly to him, that are quick to earn his sharp rebuke – justified or not). One can suggest that he is not personally anti-Semitic and highlight his Jewish family members as proof, but a friend of the clan still shouldn’t excite anyone.
The overwhelming argument against his re-election isn’t only his personal faults or affiliations. It’s the fact that he is very unfit for this high office. This was obvious to many prior to 2016 and his tenure only served to reinforce that notion.
He is a very coarse person and promotes bad character traits such as selfishness, boastfulness, apathy, vindictiveness, racism, and much more.
He talks and acts like an unruly child (a child any one of us would be mortified and heartbroken to be the parent of). Calls people names, and throws tantrums when criticized. Never admits even the shadow of an error, or takes any responsibility when things go wrong. This behavior betrays a lack of seriousness and maturity. He comes across as a seventy-year-old man-child. Who would trust a man like that to run a large organization, never mind the most powerful country in the history of the world?
He has a record tainted by many failures which caused catastrophic harm to its victims. If someone loses $300 million in real estate and then earns $400 million in the entertainment industry, he is still a millionaire. In the game of wealth attainment, all that counts is the bottom dollar. But in governance if you bankrupt homeland security and public health, but you make peace in the middle east, you are still an unforgivable disaster. Judging by his mixed record of flashy successes and spectacular failures, he should not have gotten near Pennsylvania Avenue.
This behavior and these attitudes strongly impact the general society, and subsequently the orthodox Jewish culture. This can adversely affect religious Jews from without and from within. A general society which learns to adore selfishness and bigotry, can easily turn on the Jewish minority. Would the Jewish community relish being left to the mercy of the people who embraced Mr. Trump’s attitudes?
His attitudes also permeate the hearts and minds of the members of Orthodox community; thereby eroding the good traits which they pride themselves with.
Trump’s administration was something of a revolving door: many capable people got chewed up and then spit out by it. Then they went on to write books exposing him to be the ignorant irresponsible person he appears to be. If this were any other company or institution and its chief executives would keep getting fired or resigning – and in such a disorderly fashion – would people invest or trust in that institution?
We do not know how much – if any – responsibility is borne by Trump for the American carnage wrought by Covid19. We do know that he lied to the American people. He is on tape admitting to Bob Woodward that he is fully aware of the danger, at the same time he was dismissing it to the general population as “no worse than the flu”, intimating that it is nothing but a Democratic hoax. I personally urged an elderly woman, before Purim, to take precautions, only to watch him – on the basis of Trump’s false reassurances – carelessly disregard this warning. She ended up hospitalized. Who knows how many victims (orthodox and not) might have taken the warnings seriously had they not been constantly undermined by their beloved President? We also know that he continues to publicly belittle the advice of his own public health advisers, (ultimately allowing the virus to penetrate the most heavily guarded office complex in the world: his own). Does sanctity of life end at birth?
So much for the case that a Frum Jew might not jump to support Trump. But why support Biden?
The first response is why not?
He is, by all accounts, a decent man who hasn’t shown any extremist views throughout his decades-long career. He’s long stood for decency, law and order, empathy, and anti-bigotry, while supporting working people. His personal story of suffering and perseverance is far more inspiring than Donald’s exploits and evasions.
Throughout the Democratic primary process, he stood as a bulwark against the extremists of the left. He forcefully reiterated over and over that he does not embrace the extreme left, and will not allow them to control the agenda of the Democratic party. He is vocally against socialism, and supports incremental, rather than revolutionary, change.
Mr. Biden is pro-science and pro-facts. While, like all good politicians, he has misspoken in the past and said some things that did not hold up to scrutiny (such as claiming he earned a full scholarship to college for his brilliance, when in fact he only received half a scholarship, due to economic hardships) he is incomparably more honest than the pathological liar who currently inhabits the White House.
He is pro-Israel. He has spoken out countless times – especially during this campaign – against anti-Semitism and the KKK. His running mate is married to Jew.
The USA is Israel’s greatest ally, and it is in Israel’s greatest interest that the USA should remain the strongest and greatest country. Just thinking about the impact of the administrations immediate policies can be shortsighted. Trump is considered a buffoon by most world leaders. Diminishing America’s standing in the world can be worse for Israel than leaving the USA embassy in Tel Aviv. A strong, stable Israel depends on a strong, stable USA.
In recent history, the economy has thrived under Democratic presidents. The Clinton and Obama years yielded a lot of growth. There is no logical reason to fear that the Biden years should be any different. Both Bushes and now Trump’s presidencies have ended with economic disaster.
As mostly second, third, and fourth generations Americans, the Orthodox should embrace a pro-immigration candidate who believes in pluralism. The candidate of the white supremist should scare any thinking Jew.
As stated from the outset, my goal is not do get-out-the-Biden-vote. At the time of reading this article most of our community members may have voted already. My goal is to reflect on what brought about this pro-Trump fervor in our community. Does it stem from a deep love for our fellow Jews, a profound sense of responsibility for social morality, or perhaps we are being influenced by outside forces. Points to ponder.