In which a Jew discusses politics

I need to talk about my experience as a Jew, and this means we need to deal with some assumptions and preconceptions before we get going.

This is not an essay in which I call Trump “the next Hitler”. I am emphatically not calling his supporters Nazis.

Nor is this an essay in which I tell you who to vote for in this coming election. This is the United States of America and you’re free to vote for whomever you please. Vote for Donald Duck if you really want to. It’s not my business.

But maybe you leftists and libertarians are struggling to understand why someone might vote for Hillary Clinton in November. Maybe you are scandalized or depressed at the thought. Republicans and people who support third-party candidates seem to think that only the morally bankrupt or pathologically naive would vote for Clinton.

I enthusiastically support Hillary Clinton with my vote, with campaign contributions, and, when I can spare it, by donating my time. I’m not a single-issue voter. But I am supporting Hillary Clinton partly because I believe it is my moral obligation to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

From Donald Trump’s campaign website, as of Sept. 8 2016:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

From a November 11, 2015 interview on MSNBC:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said to remove the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the Untied States, he would have a “deportation force.” Trump said, “You’re going to have a deportation force. And your going to do it humanely. And you’re going to bring the country —frankly, you have excellent, wonderful people. fantastic people who have been here for a period of time. Don’t forget you have millions of people that are waiting on a line to come into this country and come in legally. I always say the wall. We’re going to build the wall and it’s going to be a real deal.

I should point out that the Trump campaign has since stopped talking about a “deportation force”, and that this language has been removed from the campaign’s website. But as recently as August 28, 2016, Mike Pence seemed to support such a policy.

When I hear Trump say these things, I hear him talking about my family. My grandparents, great aunts/uncles, and cousins of that generation were driven from their homes during World War II. Some were executed for their faith, or for their heritage. Some spent their teenage years or their 20s enslaved in camps. Some of them miraculously survived and emigrated to the United States. Even here, they weren’t entirely free from prejudice. My grandparents settled in Livonia, MI; neighboring towns had laws that explicitly prevented Jews and African Americans from buying or renting homes.

I take it personally, is what I’m saying.

These terrible things did not happen to characters in a movie, or to impossibly old people in a documentary you’ve forced yourself to watch. These terrible things happened to people I love, and who have shaped my life. These terrible things started happening to them when they were young, going to school, learning a trade, paying taxes, starting a family.

So when I hear talk of a “deportation force” or a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US”, I am absolutely gutted. (See the Appendix for more on this.) The anger, fear, and paranoia that put my family in camps have no place in this country. I want very much to believe that we, who like to call ourselves the most powerful country on Earth, have more effective defenses against economic insecurity and terrorism than to simply demonize whole races and religions.

I am apparently not alone in feeling this way.

You may point to this or that prominent, public Jewish figure who supports Trump. Jews are not a monolithic voting bloc, just like Republicans, Muslims, senior citizens, and combat veterans are not monolithic voting blocs. This essay constitutes the opinion of one Jew: Latinos and Muslims are my brothers and sisters.

When people — especially Jews — start raising these concerns, the standard response is to point out that Trump’s daughter is Jewish. My concern regarding Trump is entirely based on things he has indisputably said and done. (That’s what all these hyperlinks are for.) Does having a Jewish child excuse a parent from all accusations of bigotry? Ivanka is not some sort of Get Out Of Bigotry Free Card. By that logic, being married to a woman and/or having daughters would excuse Trump from any accusations of misogyny. Good luck with that argument.

People opposed to Hillary Clinton are fond of saying that you shouldn’t vote out of fear. In a normal election, maybe they’d be right. But I’m telling you that I am afraid. Those Latinos and those Muslims that people find so easy to hate, they are my family. They are me.

You may cite limits on executive power. Maybe you think that, whatever Trump says, whatever appalling campaign promises he makes, that Congress would limit his actions in office. I have faith in the U.S. Constitution but Congress has not lately demonstrated an abundance of decisive leadership. More to the point, Trump has gotten where he is in this
election because people — voters — have put him there. I have said that I don’t think that Trump is the next Hitler, but some Nazis sure do seem to like him.

The terrible thing about Donald Trump is not necessarily the man himself, but the tendency he embodies. There’s a lot of anger and fear out there, and — just like countless other times in history — some people want to focus their anger and fear on a particular group. Trump is the tip of a very scary spearhead. Even if he loses the election, his ideas and his supporters will persist in American politics because right now they are effective. His bigotry has helped get him to within shouting distance of the Presidency. It’s not enough, then,  that Trump merely lose this election. He must lose by such a large margin that it is made clear to everyone — to everyone in the world — that the politics of bigotry are not a viable path to political success in the United States of America.

I don’t see how such a thing is possible if I vote for a third-party candidate in an attempt to assuage my ego and keep up my Progressive Cred, or whatever.

Jill Stein, the Green party’s nomination for President,  likes to say that you should vote your conscience. I think what she means by this is that you should vote according to your values, instead of voting for somebody who can (sorry, Jill) actually get elected. I hope I’ve made it clear by now what I value: life and human dignity. My conscience leads me to vote for Hillary Clinton.

“But Hillary…”

You may feel that you are unable to forgive some mistakes that Clinton has made during her decades of public service. She has acknowledged these mistakes herself. I agree that Hillary Clinton comes with her own set of problems. She lost some emails? She ran a private email server? These things are bad, but other Presidents have done as much. I don’t recall any previous President publicly advocating the blacklisting of an entire religion. You may feel that there’s too much baggage attached to Bill Clinton and you have concerns about the precedent of dynastic Presidencies. Clinton has her problems, but for me they pale in comparison with Trump’s.

As I said above, I am not a single-issue voter. That is, I’m not voting for Clinton solely because of my distaste for Trump. I would double the length of this essay in enumerating the reasons I support Clinton. Out of respect for you, my demonstrably patient reader, here are only a few highlights:

  • Hillary Clinton advocates a $15 minimum wage. I believe that hard work
    should earn even minimum-wage workers some measure of security.
  • Hillary Clinton asserts that climate change is real — I agree — and she
    has a long and specific list of solutions.
  • Hillary Clinton voices unequivocal support for basic scientific research.
  • Hillary Clinton has publicly committed to racial justice. I hope I’ve made it clear by now how important this topic is for me.

I don’t mean to gloss over this part of my argument. This is a long essay and I need to wrap it up. Here are some essays that I find compelling in one way or another.

So that’s it. There are good, positive reasons to vote for Clinton. Furthermore, I view it as my moral responsibility to help keep Donald Trump away from the White House. And when I weigh these issues against the Clinton campaign’s problems, my personal choice is very clear:

Hillary Clinton for President, 2016.

 

Appendix

Maybe you think my criticism of Trump’s “deportation force” is unfair. Trump did say, after all, that his deportation forces would be “humane”. But what does that mean when the rubber hits the road?

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that these deportation forces are “humane”. What could this possibly mean? Does a deportation force go, unarmed, from door to door asking politely whether anyone knows of any undocumented workers? No, the idea of a toothless deportation force is ridiculous. So, does a deportation force raid businesses and kick in the doors of private homes to find eleven million people? With no mistakes? No cases of mistaken identity, bureaucratic “oopsies”, stressed-out, adrenaline-soaked cops who grab someone just because their surname is Rodriguez? If you don’t trust the government with your tax dollars (and this seems lately to be a trendy stance) how can you trust them to make no mistakes with 11 million deportations?

When I was 15 years old, I went to the DMV to get my learner’s permit. I was told that a driver’s license was already issued under my social security number and that I would have to provide extra documentation in order to clear the confusion and get my permit. Oops! Now imagine that the consequence of an “oops” like that is the wrongful detention and deportation of a hard-working business owner, or the separation of a parent from her child.

How do you send 11 million people to another country? As the deportation force rounds up “illegals”, they’ll have to go somewhere to be processed (or do you propose doing this with absolutely no bureaucracy?) and they’ll have to wait for transportation to wherever. Do they wait in comfort, in hotels? Or might you have to build camps to contain them?

(Do you find my discussion of and allusion to the Jews of 1930s Europe to be distasteful? Maybe you feel that the experiences of my family are better relegated to History Channel documentaries and tough movies with feel-good endings? I am, remember, describing my personal feelings about this election. Camps and cattlecars are a part of my heritage.)

How about that total ban on all Muslims? I don’t see how this could possibly be constitutional, let alone moral. My life is full of immigrants from majority-Muslim countries. These people are not my enemies, they’re my relatives, friends, and coworkers. But let’s leave morality aside and just think logistically. How do you know when somebody is Muslim? By their face? By their last name? There are plenty of Atheists, Christians, and Jews in Muslim-majority countries. Do they need to keep out too? Or if you want to distinguish, how do you distinguish? Should all our passports clearly state our religion? Should the government keep a database of “known Muslims”?

I’ve run through ample opportunity for heartbreak, human suffering, and economic loss, just from the logistical consequences of this policy. Now please try to imagine what happens when you’re unable to keep hardcore racists from enlisting with gusto in the deportation force. Or the damage done by even a single Islamophobic bigot, made responsible for issuing visas to travelers. Hope your business doesn’t rely on partnerships with or workers from one of those Muslim-majority countries!

Trump, as always, is very vague about how he would actually accomplish these things. There is no way that I can see of implementing these policies that doesn’t result in a human rights disaster.