November 16, 2018

Election 2016: Jews and hillbillies

For over a year, “>he wrote.  “The largest single economic group in our country has been sold out and ignored by the leaders of both parties for more than a generation. They are the hourly wage-earning Americans who have been bounced around from good manufacturing jobs, to service jobs, to seasonal work without the rest of us noticing that much. And that's even though there are a lot more of them than the college-educated white collar office workers out there.”

That explains why more Latinos and blacks voted for Trump than they did for Mitt Romney in 2012.  And it explains why so many women voted for Trump.  Not because of Hillary's e-mails. Not because they hate women. Because they feel that they are clinging by their fingernails to the American Dream, and Trump promised them a hand up.

Whether Trump succeeds in helping them or not, it's a problem we all must take on.  Because if we don’t figure out a way to help more people help themselves, the problem will drag the economy, and the country, down with it.

And make no mistake, the problem is only going to get worse. In September, CNN presented a series of videos by a new group called “>Art Bilger

The thrust of the group’s message is that a perfect storm of factors is leading us to a society of even greater and more ensconced income disparity. New technologies that will replace even white-collar jobs, an educational system that trains students for last century’s economy, the increase in lifespan and the rise of globalization will lead to a future of 25 or 30 percent unemployment. 

Though it’s not clear to me American- Jewish leaders or institutions see this as their problem, it is one the American-Jewish community is perfectly situated to address. 

In the new (and must-read) book “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” (Harper), J.D. Vance describes how he managed to leave behind the poverty of his native Appalachia. Entering Yale University after serving in the Marines, Vance felt like he didn’t belong among the elites who denigrated “white trash,” or back among his folks who distrusted the elites. 

“It’s not just our own communities that reinforce the outsider attitude,” Vance writes. “It’s the places and people that upward mobility connects us with.”

Vance’s story should resonate with people whose own families arrived two or three generations ago — it’s an immigrant’s journey. 

No matter how deep their American roots, the people in Clinton’s other basket are foreigners in a land of opportunity.

As a community whose immigrant journey has been wildly successful, American Jews can lead in figuring out ways to welcome those who are “tempest-toss’d” by the modern economy. We can engage our youth in the task of making our country work for everyone. Our social and political action can focus not just on important short-term aid — soup kitchens and homeless shelters — but on the kind big-picture ideas WorkingNation advances. 

Mention Trump in most Jewish circles and you’ll immediately hear the disbelieving response, “Who could have possibly voted for him?” 

I have a suggestion. Let’s find out. And find a way to help.


This is a revised post-election version of my Jewish Journal print column that went to press before the election results were in. You can e-mail me at and follow me“>@foodaism.