Five heroes of 2016
In some respects, Election 2016 has not been American Jewry’s finest hour.
Many of the major Jewish organizations that purport to represent the larger community have not said a word in opposition to Donald Trump’s statements barring Muslims from entering the United States, or demeaning Mexicans, or groping women as a matter of entitlement.
These groups claim that they don’t want to be perceived as getting involved in politics — even though these same organizations and their leaders had no problem taking sides in the Iran nuclear debate. This is shameful, but it also is myopic. If a Trumpian candidate were to come along and say nasty things aimed at Jews, these same groups would clamor for the support of organized minority groups — who may then rightly point to the “official” Jewish silence over Trump. So while these groups do a lot to help the needy and strengthen the Jewish community, what good is a Jewish community if it doesn’t stand up to defend fundamental Jewish values?
But there are bright spots. One is that in less than three weeks, American Jews will vote overwhelmingly against the forces of prejudice and hate. And from the start of this campaign, there have been individual and organizational heroes.
By heroes I mean quite simply the people and institutions who stood up against demagoguery and misogyny — and did so at some risk to their livelihoods.
I’m talking about people whose base is Republican, who themselves tend to only vote Republican and who had to take a stand against their own crowd, their own economic interest, their own past. It takes courage to do that, and before this election is over, they deserve credit.
1. Michael Medved
Syndicated conservative radio host Michael Medved has been merciless in his opposition to Trump, and Medved’s biggest fans have in turn attacked him with the kind of vitriol only those who feel betrayed can muster.
They call him, “idiotic,” “traitor,” “little weasel” and “little worm.” They vow to lead a boycott of his show. But Medved’s conservative critique of Trump has been unswerving from the start: Trump is no conservative.
“Worst of all,” Medved wrote, “Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have tried for decades to attach to their opponents on the right.”
2. The Columnists
I’ve singled out these people before, but since they haven’t let up, they’ve earned more kudos. Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist, has been relentless in attacking Trump’s foreign policy credentials.
Just this week he wrote, “it’s utterly unwise for politically conservative Jews to make common cause with Mr. Trump, on the theory that he’d be a tougher customer in the Middle East than Mrs. Clinton. Leave aside the fact that Mrs. Clinton called privately for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities in one of her leaked Goldman Sachs speeches, while Mr. Trump has found public occasion to praise both Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad.”
Early on, Jennifer Rubin, who writes for The Washington Post, threw down against Trump as well. The vitriol she receives as a staunch conservative and as a woman makes you understand just how deep the misogyny in the Trump forces runs.
Stephens and Rubin are the head of the spear. But a phalanx of reliably conservative pundits has opposed Trump, including John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, David Frum, Ben Shapiro, Max Boot and David Brooks. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more pro-Israel, anti-Iran, anti-Obama group — and yet, for them, Trump is beyond the pale.
3. The Jewish Week
The Jewish Week has been the paper of record for New York’s Jewish community since the 1970s. In all that time, it has never endorsed a presidential candidate. Unlike the Jewish Journal, which as a nonprofit cannot endorse political candidates, The Jewish Week is a for-profit paper and had the ability to take sides; its owners just didn’t see an upside in dividing the community.
Then, last week, The Jewish Week endorsed Hillary Clinton.
The move was risky — many of the paper’s readers are traditionally minded and Republican. Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, is himself Orthodox. But in an unsigned editorial, The Jewish Week explained its position this way: “In his long career, Trump has embodied only the first half of our sage Hillel’s famous adage: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?’ ”
The endorsement continued: “Most seasoned political and strategic experts in Israel are more comfortable with Clinton, who showed strong support for the Jewish state as a U.S. senator, has in-depth knowledge of the region – its leaders and its problems — and is more openly compassionate toward Jerusalem than either Obama or Trump. Experts have always insisted that a strong U.S. means a strong Israel, and they worry that Trump would be a loose cannon whose recklessness could incite even more instability and anti-U.S. attitudes, and violence around the world.”
“Hillary Clinton is no amateur when it comes to public service. Well before her experience as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, she was known for her deep knowledge of issues and empathy for the underdogs of society. She has faced Trump’s torrents of invective, like calling her “the devil” to her face, with self-restraint, dignity and tenacity. She, too, is a flawed politician. But her faults pale in comparison to the consistent boorish behavior and mean-spirited ramblings of Trump, who has proven to be an embarrassment even to Republican leaders.”
“This newspaper has not endorsed political candidates in the past. But this election is an exception. It’s not just about politics. It’s about character, competence and compassion. It’s about values that are American, and rooted in the Bible: Seeing all men and women as created in the image of God, having empathy for “the other” among us, recognizing the power of community, building bridges rather than walls.”
According to Rosenblatt, the endorsement generated some cancelled subscriptions and angry letters, but also “hundreds of letters” in support.
4. Howard Stern
If it weren’t for the brilliant interviewing skills of Sirius XM radio host Howard Stern, we wouldn’t have Trump on tape, on the record, being Trump: demeaning women (including his own daughter) and supporting the Iraq War.
Stern alone asked the kind of questions that exposed the real Trump. He knew exactly who he was speaking to, and he opened him up with the kind of questions that revealed Trump at his truest. And that truth — that Trump is a man who reduces women to numbers, who has zero problem sleeping with married women, that he enjoyed walking in on teenage beauty contestants while they were changing, and that no matter how much he denies it, that he supported the Iraq War. If not for Howard, we wouldn't have a public audio record of all this. In other words, Howard did the job that mainstream journalists failed at — exposing the man behind the Cheeto-colored mask.
As Howard explained on his show last week, he didn't do this as a Trump enemy– they are friends, though Howard has made clear since 2008 he is a Hillary supporter. There simply is no smarter interviewer in broadcast media than Howard Stern, and he knew whom he was dealing with — and he is fearless.
5. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
Under its new leader, Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL has publicly denounced Trump’s tirades against Muslims and Mexicans as well as his campaign’s anti-Semitic tropes and wink-winks to the alt-right. Alone among big-tent Jewish organizations, it has held Trump accountable for the claptrap that comes out of his mouth.
“In a place where there are no men,” the rabbis teach us in “Ethics of the Fathers,” “strive to be a man.” When the stench of this election has cleared, these people and groups will be able to say they didn’t let down their party, their country or their community.