November 18, 2018

Trump’s choice: Discriminatory policies or delivery on his economic promises

Last Sunday, I was 20 minutes late to the Dolores Mission Church. When I arrived, there was no place to sit, or even stand. I waited with dozens of other latecomers just outside the front doors, thinking, What kind of people get to shul on time? 

The answer is angry and anxious people, and they came in droves for something called the #IAmAmerica Vigil in response to the election of Donald Trump as president.

Eventually we all pressed inside, where speaker after speaker expressed shock at the election results, solidarity with other groups, and a resolve to resist any attempts a Trump administration might make to go after Muslim Americans, immigrants, women or any other group.

When I finally squeezed into the back of the packed church, I saw the array of L.A. diversity: Muslim women in hijabs, Jewish men in kippot, Latinos, Blacks, and a young boy in a Cub Scout uniform perched on his dad’s shoulders. All that was missing was Norman Rockwell, off in a corner, painting the scene.

“All of you coming together today is the reason I love America,” Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council told the crowd. “This packed house shows me that God is with us. We are not alone. We will resist. We will defend the Constitution.”

The event was sponsored by a wide coalition of religious, community and civil rights groups. The message was love, unity — and organizing. Craig Taubman, founder of the Pico Union Project, led the crowd with a wall-shaking version of “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” — We will build this world from love — in Hebrew and English.

Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen Wise Temple had everyone chanting, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” — Justice, justice shall you pursue. “The arc of Jewish history is long, and we’ve seen evil before,” he said. “We’ve been there before. We’ve fought against evil kings.”

Imams spoke, priests spoke. I kept thinking how so many Trump supporters paint  “the left” as some godless, anti-Judeo-Christian movement, but the entire room was steeped in spirituality and old-time religion.

“We are ready to walk, God!” Rabbi Ronit Tsadok of IKAR said from the pulpit. “We refuse to be dragged back to Egypt. We refuse to stand passively by when any of Your children are targeted, terrorized or discriminated against.”

The openly gay United Church of Christ minister from Brea beside me cheered on every speaker. A woman from Women Against Gun Violence, wearing a handmade badge that read “I didn’t vote for him,” kept wiping away her tears. The 70-something veteran squeezed between us said he drove all the way from Santa Monica — even though he usually spends his Sunday helping to set up the memorial for the Iraq War dead near Santa Monica Pier. 

When I asked the people beside me how they explain Trump’s appeal to working-class women, Latinos and Blacks, they didn’t have good answers. Celebrity, one said. Misogyny, said another.

That’s when it hit me: The opposition to Trump still doesn’t get it. These good people won’t sway a single new voter by making their argument about rights. The people who put Trump in office — including women and former Obama voters — prioritized changing the system and the economy much higher. 

Go ahead and despise Stephen Bannon all you want for making Breitbart.com into the sewer pipe of the alt-right. But pay close attention to his interview with the Hollywood Reporter this week. Bannon stressed that the core of Trump’s success came from understanding how much of America was hurting economically. If Trump can bring them prosperity with “a trillion dollar infrastructure project” and better trade deals, said Bannon, he can build a coalition of voters, including blacks, Latinos and women, and “we’ll govern for 50 years.”

Trump mobilized people who believe he will attack their rights and freedoms, Jews included. But he also ignited (and often inflamed) a portion of the electorate that feels economically and culturally ostracized. The anti-Trump forces in this country vastly underestimated the extent of economic anxiety that brought Trump into power. The pro-Trump forces vastly underestimate the commitment of faith communities to preserving the rights of women and minorities.

Americans hurt more than the anti-Trump forces think, but they hate less than the pro-Trump forces assume. 

So what now? If Trump tries to appease some of his voters and his agenda-driven advisers with fear-mongering rhetoric and discriminatory policies, he will spend the next four years facing popular protests that will make 1968 look like the Eisenhower era.  

If he rocks the system, adds good new jobs and delivers on his economic promises, there wasn’t a soul in that church Sunday who would begrudge the president-elect success on that score.

I don’t know about you, but I pray he makes the right choice.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter ” target=”_blank”>@RobEshman.