August 20, 2019

Donald Trump is Elite AF…

… And More like George W. Bush Than Like Bernie Sanders.

Like Bush the Younger, Trump is the pampered son of a wealthy father, albeit one who affects a regional accent and lowbrow taste, whose business history is a saga of spectacular screw-ups (“I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,” Trump famously predicted to CNBC in April 2006. “The real-estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.”) that would have buried anyone less insulated from the consequences of his deeds. Trump, like Bush, gets more margin for error on each decision than most of us get in a lifetime. He has never known the terror of rent day during a time of unemployment or had to face family dependents who will not receive what they need, much less what they want, for their birthdays, the first day of school, college application season, the times they fall ill, or even their f*ing funerals. Remember the fecklessness of the Bush presidency? Remember the invasion of Iraq and the Great Recession?

Yet, continually, lazy analysts write and speak of “populist outsiders,” trying to shove Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, the Brexit crew and Alex Tsipras into one ill-fitting pile. It is certainly true that a sector of the right wing which includes Trump, the Brexit leadership, not-so-neo fascists like Marine Le Pen and the proud Jew-haters of Hungary’s Jobbik party like to affect working class or middle class styling and portray themselves as champions of the people who challenge the rule of “elites” (coughJews). But the real defining feature of all these so-called populists is racism (or xenophobia if we’re being polite) and religious prejudice. Fear of (brown) immigrants, of Muslims, of queers—and of Jews.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, for all of his weaknesses (mostly a bewilderment that anyone would sink to the idiocy of racism or sexism that expressed itself in a too-slow—although finally thorough– adoption of positions that speak to systemic barriers based on factors other than class)  speaks to the key issue facing working class people (and made it politically viable to say “working class” again): In our country the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Fifty-eight percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. Internationally, the wealthiest 62 people on this planet own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population — around 3.6 billion people. The top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the whole of the bottom 99 percent. There has been a massive flow of wealth—and access to wealth—away from working and poor people and toward the already superrich.

People who seek to mobilize the anger of poor and working people in order to turn them against people with even less access than themselves are just not the same as those who build movements to un-rig an economic system that keeps millions of people trapped (extraordinary exceptions like Oprah Winfrey notwithstanding). Style is fun, but content matters more. This is why a grumpy, rumpled Jewish senior who looks a little like Ben-Gurion from the back has been such a hit with Millennials. He speaks truths they recognize and he stands against racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and all the other shiny poison traps.

Meanwhile, Sanders is not the candidate with the best chance to defeat Trump.  He has endorsed that candidate: Secretary Hillary Clinton. Rabbis are not encouraged to mix into nakedly partisan battles. But this election is different. The threat we face is quite real.  In any event, whatever I say about electoral politics here reflects my personal opinion and not that of my school, my teachers or my congregation(s).  So here goes:

A Trump victory would ally our executive branch with the Le Pens and Jobbiks of the world. Do we even need to belabor what that would mean for the Jews? Or for Muslims, immigrants, LGBT people, working class people….most of us, really? This is no time for the petulance of protest votes. This is a time to defeat, and decisively, a threat to the republic.