Can you forgive Trump?

Can you forgive Trump?

Is there a chance American Jews will think better of the president in 5778?

If Chuck Schumer can live with Donald Trump, can’t you?

That’s the question some Jews may be pondering after the New York senator struck deals with the president over the debt ceiling and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal. Trump’s gambit angered conservatives while earning him some, though not much, credit from the media for giving bipartisanship a try. 

Trump may have previously called the Senate minority leader a “clown,” but that hasn’t stopped him from wanting to do business with the New York Democrat. Nor did Schumer’s open disdain for Trump prevent him from seizing the opportunity to profit politically by engaging with the president. 

Something so unremarkable as political foes working together is very remarkable in 2017. But it does raise the question of whether a change in Trump’s strategy will lessen the intensity of his fiercest critics. Is it possible that this very abnormal political year may be, after an unending series of bizarre controversies generated by Trump, reverting to an almost normal political environment in which the government functions and the two parties cease treating each other as villains rather than members of different parties who both share a desire to help the country?

Such hopes may be a trifle optimistic. But as Jews spend the Days of Awe pondering their conduct in 5777 and hoping to do better in 5778, is it not possible that if the president starts acting more like a normative presidential figure, the Jewish impulse to “resist” rather than just oppose him will also change?

While the overwhelming majority of American Jews are political liberals and partisan Democrats, what happened in the last year took many of them into heretofore-unexplored territory. 

Trump’s dog whistles to the far right and his vulgar, populist style have provoked the kind of extreme reactions that made it clear Jewish liberals don’t regard his presidency as legitimate. They don’t just think he’s wrong on the issues; they believe him beyond the pale, generating numerous inappropriate if heartfelt analogies to Weimar Germany. Many Reform and Conservative synagogues have openly embraced the anti-Trump “resistance.” Non-Orthodox rabbinical groups wouldn’t even participate in the pro forma annual High Holy Days phone call with Trump.

Faced with a choice of whether or not to associate with vicious opponents of Israel, many liberal Jews preferred to keep company with Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour because they viewed her “resistance” activity as more important than her embrace of boycotts that engendered charges of anti-Semitism. 

After all that, will Trump getting warm and fuzzy with Schumer, even if it now happens on a regular basis, change Jewish attitudes?

The short answer is no.

Anger about Trump isn’t really about the issues any more than it is ideology that motivates his faithful base. In terms of his appointments and policy, much of what Trump has done has been what we’d expect from any Republican. But even a shift to the center on issues like immigration, fiscal policy, or even tax reform won’t mollify Jewish liberals. Their problem isn’t so much what he’s doing as it is with who he is and the kind of signals he sends out on social issues.

They know that even if he can’t be credibly called an anti-Semite, his irrepressible desire to troll liberals with politically incorrect or false statements about events like Charlottesville is not an expression of policy so much as it is of his character. Trump’s behavior and manner of speaking is calculated to offend the educated classes, where most liberal Jews belong, and delights those who are sick of being governed by those elites. That won’t change even if Trump discards stands like his Muslim ban and the border wall in the coming year.

That’s why no amount of Trump teshuvah or repentance about Charlottesville will shift liberal Jewish attitudes about him any more than his embrace of policies more to their liking. Political conservatives who prioritize Israel are bound to continue to think better of him than liberals, for whom it is just one among many issues. But liberals — whose disgust for the president is more visceral than ideological — will not relent until the day he leaves office no matter what he does. Even if he asks for it (which he won’t), there’ll be no liberal forgiveness for Trump in 5778.

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