In August 1974, on assuming the presidency less than an hour after Richard Nixon’s resignation in the face of impeachment, Gerald Ford announced, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
In the wake of Donald Trump’s shocking upset on Election Day, the majority of American Jews, who voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, may well have awakened Wednesday morning wondering if our long national nightmare is just beginning.
The air was thick with disillusionment and despair in many Jewish homes, as awareness began to sink in that we are, indeed and again, a minority in this country where we feel so at home, surely more out of sync with the electorate than we believed possible.
Parents across the land who have sought to teach their children civility, morality, respect for others, and the importance of telling the truth are faced with explaining how a brash billionaire who flouted political correctness by publicly demeaning women, minorities, and the disabled has been elected president of the United States.
Americans who believe that Washington must remain committed to a robust foreign policy of engagement are concerned that Trump’s dismissive attitude toward NATO alliances and lack of concern about more countries developing nuclear arms will lead to increased chaos around the world. And Jews in particular are worried about the disturbing overtones of anti-Semitism that hovered over the Trump campaign, from the candidate’s endorsement by American Nazis and the KKK to his most recent attacks on “international bankers,” including a campaign ad featuring billionaire George Soros and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, both Jewish, in the context of powerful forces controlling the economy.
Despite these concerns, large numbers of Orthodox Jews and those who have hawkish views on Israel voted for Trump and are excited about the prospect of a fresh approach to the Mideast conflict. Trump has pledged to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; fully support the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including the settlements long opposed by successive U.S. administrations; and consider scrapping calls for a two-state solution as long as the Palestinians resist coming to the peace table. After decades of failure, some anticipate the new approach with a mix of curiosity and deep anxiety, recognizing that it will embolden Israeli hawks and anger and alienate Palestinians inside and outside of Israel, a recipe for further conflict.
In addition, Trump has called the Iran nuclear agreement “the worst deal ever” but has not specified whether he would scrap it or hold it to tight scrutiny, as Clinton had pledged. Further, will Trump challenge Iran on its robust support of terror groups like Hizbullah and Hamas? If so, how will he make good on his promise to end terror and defeat ISIS swiftly and decisively while maintaining his promise to focus his energies on domestic issues?
Trump’s campaign, which some now call a “whitelash,” was a polarizing, populist, and fear-instilling appeal to take back America from its multicultural trend lines. That message resonated powerfully with older white men without a college education, primarily blue-collar workers in rural areas. That doesn’t mean that all of Trump’s supporters are unschooled, sexist, or racist; Hillary Clinton’s reference to Trump advocates as “deplorables” was unfair and unwarranted. But it does mean that America is a disturbingly divided country — not so much between Democrats and Republicans as between people of different cultures, economic status, and views of what path is best for the country.
Trump managed to tap into the genuine frustration and anger of the American electorate, transforming what appeared to be a personal and quixotic quest for notoriety into a path to the White House. In giving voice to millions of Americans worried about the future, especially in terms of security, economy, and employment, he offered hope through change — even the kind of radical change that Trump personified as the politically incorrect outsider willing to shake up an Establishment perceived of as awash in bureaucracy and corruption.
But in the first blush of victory, he spoke of his commitment to all Americans, stressed that now is the time for unity, and praised Clinton for her years of service to the country.
Does that mean the Donald Trump who divided and conquered, who demeaned and derided his opponents, both Republicans and Democrats, for the entire campaign, and who threatened to jail Clinton, suddenly is a new man, ready to forget (if not forgive) his many critics? If so, it represents the fastest turnaround in political history. And if not, it underscores that we may never know which Trump we are getting from day to day.
It is too early to draw conclusions about what a Trump presidency will mean for this country in this new Post-Facts Era, when a candidate can be called out for blatant and consistent lies with no consequence; we cannot even agree on what constitutes the truth. But we do know that in this moment of stunning transition we need to move forward, personally and collectively. Many of us feel exhausted from this dispiriting campaign of drama and trauma. We have been beaten Red and Blue. But the candidates we complained about were those we chose.
In 10 weeks Donald Trump will take his place in that awesome Oval Office. We hope he will take with him a sense of humility along with responsibility and try to heal the country along with his own flaws. We can work with or against him in making America more secure, more productive, more proud.
In the end, it’s on each of us.