August 3, 2018 Orthodox politics: on Trump
A reader asked: Do Orthodox Jews support Trump?
Many Hasidim did. In Williamsburg, he got a large part of the vote.
I was there the morning after Trump won. People were glad. They said, “it’ll be good now, it’ll be good”.
Their optimism was borne out of
- Their very skewed/limited exposure to news and Trump. The Hasidic papers are heavily censored and won’t cover details like that of the Access Hollywood tapes. The Yiddish news is often more fox-news-ish than it is complex, if only because you need a certain understanding of the humanity of people unlike you in order to have a complex conversation about issues. Instead, the Hasidic newspapers rarely include pictures of people in the news, so the news becomes distant, not-human, fascinating in a way that doesn’t trigger your empathy. So with such stories — well, I once was crazy about George W Bush and I have no idea why. So I can see why an empathy-lacking news medium will make people gravitate to the more flashy character.
- A lot of socialization comes into play too. Hasidim are raised to think of a wrinkled old man with a long white beard as saintly and Godly and wise and a wrinkled old lady as — I don’t know — a babushke? In one especially infuriating conversation that was forwarded around among the Hasidic WhatsApp groups, someone described Hillary Clinton as a babichke, an alte babichke. An old woman. She was reduced to a used-up, demented-like lady because of her age. Trump – the old man himself – didn’t suffer from such sexist preconceptions. I have no doubt that many Hasidim could not wrap their heads around the idea of a woman to look up to. Of a woman to be inspired by. They could see themselves or their husbands in Trump. But Ms. Clinton? There was no cultural framework for her to fit into. She was a babichke. That’s all people thought of when they thought of an older woman with ambitions. One person wrote to the paper and suggested ‘she would soon break into tears and run into the kitchen where she belonged.’ With such a toolkit of pre-conceptions, of course, many scoffed at her and rooted for Trump; the big macher – a doer. Trump was a macher. Clinton was a babichke. (When we were kids, we played ‘alte babichke’, a game in which you wake the old demented lady and she goes nuts and chases the kids all around the house. That’s a babichke for you.)
I just found this in my journal. I wrote it after Trump won the presidency when I was trying to make sense of why so many of the Williamsburg Hasidim I ran into supported him.
Ways in which Trumpism reminds me of some (many) Satmar Hasidism.
- Extreme veneration of the monied, while in theory venerating lofty spiritual ideals.
- Extremely limited and self-centered understanding of the world.
- Authoritarian tendencies
- Media bashing and distrust
- Very simplistic solutions to complex problems
- Limited understanding of history to inform opinions
- Truly hard working well-meaning people who are impossible to hate but incredibly frustratingly ignorant.
- Anti-science (yet embrace its fruits when beneficial to them)
- A kind of excitement around the political views that can only be borne out of naivete. You can’t be excited about the fabulous Wall and the repealed Obamacare if you are into the nitty-gritty.
- Embedded mechanisms for discrediting critics and never even listening to them.
- Good at forcing the world to listen to them but not listening to others.
- Have no idea when they vote against their interest.
Disclaimer to my brother (who this week called Trump a groel – a disgusting) and all other Hasidic folks who will want to hunt me down for this: this doesn’t apply to everyone! (But admit it, you’re the exception to the rule!)
What I also found is that Hasidim are not totally absurd for supporting Trump. He tends to give goodies to his supporters, and Hasidim have gotten goodies. For instance the sentence commuting of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbi.
Hasidim deliver votes and want special favors in return. Trump wants votes and likes to pick favorites. There is room for agreement here. Maybe it wasn’t totally against the Hasidim’s interests. At least not in the short term.
In the long term, if the deficit leads to a serious reduction in government programs that Hasidim benefit from, it wouldn’t be a very happy trajectory.