September 24, 2018

Against hysteria

Whether you’re on the left or the right, it feels good to be outraged — to feel you have truth and justice completely on your side. Drumming up and sharing this outrage can galvanize volunteers, motivate donors and spur on like-minded comrades.

The election of a wild man like Donald Trump is like manna to outrage-seekers who oppose him. The signed declarations and op-eds against Trump have been coming fast and furious. Trump’s opponents are so worked up that they refuse to wait until he actually enters the Oval Office in seven weeks to begin their resistance.

In an op-ed in The Washington Post by New Israel Fund head Daniel Sokatch and T’ruah Executive Director Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the writers used language like “frightening new political reality” and the threat of “massive attacks on human rights and constitutional freedoms” to implore their readers to “resist” our president-elect.

Sokatch and Jacobs are hardly alone. They look positively moderate compared to the hysteria sweeping the country. Hundreds of groups and activists are mobilizing against a president-elect who won’t officially start his job until Jan. 20.

Trump comes to this with heavy baggage. The man said some vile and unacceptable things on the campaign trail, things that can’t just be wished away. But, as my friend and colleague Rob Eshman reminded us in a recent Jewish Journal column, there are many reasons not to panic. One of them is that Trump could, in fact, “do some good things.” Another is that he has started to walk back some of the more controversial stuff from his campaign. As Eshman wrote:

“Based on his post-election statements, it’s becoming clear that Trump won’t build his 30-foot concrete wall, Mexico won’t pay for it, he won’t deport 12 million undocumented immigrants, he won’t ‘rip up’ the Iran deal and he won’t keep Muslims out.”

After a luncheon interview at The New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote that Trump may be “persuadable on some key issues” and that he “gives critics hope.”

None of this backtracking should surprise us. Trump clearly is more of a wheeler-dealer who loves to win than a committed ideologue. Much of his verbal coarseness comes from the mouth of a blustering tycoon fighting in the Manhattan real estate jungle. Vulgar and offensive language is never excusable, but it’s often part of the macho playbook when business warriors try to intimidate their opponents and win their battles.

In any case, one thing is for sure: Trump craves winning. Why should that stop now that he’s won the White House? If he goes down as a loser and a failed president, it’ll be a huge blow to his ego. Just as Candidate Trump said whatever he had to say to win, it’s quite plausible that President Trump will do whatever it takes to be seen as a “winning” president. His enormous ego won’t let him off the hook. As he said repeatedly at his Times luncheon, “I’m doing this to do a good job.”

Will Trump do enough “good things” to be seen as a winning and successful president? Will he live up to his promises to the working class? Does this unpredictable wheeler-dealer have it in him? For the sake of our country, I hope so. I’ll anxiously wait and see.

I get that many people are so angry that they don’t want to wait and see. I understand that they simply can’t conceive of an America run by Trump and that they have a deep need to lash out and express their anger.

But when that anger turns into public hysteria and demonization, it comes with a price. By rushing so quickly to undermine the president-elect, the protest movement is only adding more fuel and divisiveness to an already toxic atmosphere throughout the nation. 

It’s one thing to stay vigilant and express dissent at current decisions, which may actually encourage Trump to moderate and succeed. But it’s something else to demonize a president-elect even before he’s inaugurated. It’s like dropping oil on a forest fire. Hillary Clinton said it gracefully in her concession speech: “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”

If Trump does create a “frightening new political reality,” we’ll know soon enough. As Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “If the first day [of President Trump] we see something that is hostile to our people, hostile to our city, bad for our economy, bad for our security, we will speak up, speak out, act up and act out.”

We’ll have four years to drum up outrage against President Trump and hold him accountable. Maybe we ought to hold our venom until the man starts his job.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.