Even in a normal election year, the Windy City is a tough town for a Republican. But in 2016 it’s even harder to be a Donald Trump supporter.
This is, after all, President Barack Obama’s hometown. It’s also a Democratic stronghold built up by two Mayor Daley’s in an uncontested state that is reliably deep blue.
Trump’s one attempt to stage a major rally here last March was stopped by protesters, and the candidate hasn’t returned since. As for being a Jewish Trump voter—especially since the Republican Jewish Coalition withdrew its support for the GOP standard bearer—let’s just say many Jewish Chicagoans for Trump have been careful to keep their opinions to themselves. Still, a canvas of some among this minority who were willing to speak with a reporter shows local Jewish Trump supporters reflect many of the views the candidate’s backers do nationwide.
“I speak out because others can’t,” said Jay Swidler of northwest suburban Buffalo Grove. “They’re afraid to say anything.”
Swidler, who owns a fingerprinting agency, considers himself more of a Libertarian than a Republican—“the Republican party left me,” he says—but this year he agrees more with Trump than he does with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. Or, rather, he agrees more with what Trump represents.
“Trump is the epitome of being upset about the situation,” said Swidler. “We’ve allowed our country to go toward socialism and stateism. He’s not a perfect vessel, but what he represents is an idea, an idea that we can govern ourselves. It’s not a Trump thing or a Hillary thing. It’s directional.”
As a business owner, he feels Trump represents greater freedom and free enterprise. He doesn’t want the government telling him what kind of insurance he should buy or—as he apparently thinks is happening—giving immigrants homes in his neighborhood. “If you pay for things,” said Swidler, “you take care of them differently.”
As a Jew, Swidler also sees Trump as more supportive will of Israel.
As he’s gotten older and become more religious, Swidler has also become uncomfortable with what he calls the “anything goes” philosophy of Reform Judaism and what he considers the indoctrination policies of Hebrew schools and summer camps. He doesn’t consider liberalism intrinsic to a Jewish identity. “Throughout history,” he says, “we’ve been backed into submission and we’ve always come back. That’s the beauty of being a Jew. We’ve lost sight of that. We [Americans] are willing to destroy our own country for the idea of the greater good.”
Sam Sorkin, a CPA in north suburban Northbrook, also supports Trump because of his views on Israel and terrorism. He believes the policies of Obama and Clinton, when she was secretary of state, empowered Iran, thus changing the dynamic in the Middle East and drawing attention away from protecting Israel. He also appreciates Trump’s background as a businessman.
“Obama did things the Chicago way,” he says. “It’s my way or the highway. Obama doesn’t want to make deals.”
Trump, he said, reminds him of some of his clients who own their own businesses and never have to bite their tongues or answer to anyone. “There’s a kind of fish called a puffer fish. It blows itself up to make itself look powerful. Trump is like that. He’ll bluff and push the other guy, but if he can’t get his way, he’ll make a deal.”
Sorkin is Reform and mostly Republican (though, he notes, he’s never voted a straight ticket in his life), but he doesn’t feel he has much of a sense of community with other Jewish Trump supporters, who tend to keep their views to themselves. In other communities, particularly Chicago’s Orthodox enclave of West Rogers Park, things are different.
Steven M. Cohen, a professor at Hebrew Union College and demographer of the American Jewish community, has noted that one of the biggest predictors of political leanings among Americans is their churchgoing habits. “Orthodox Jews go to their church a lot more than other Jews,” he told Tablet.
This is the case with David Makowsky, a computer analyst who lives in West Rogers Park. Many members of his synagogue, Sha’arei Tzedek Mishkan Yair, support Trump, he reported, though they all have different reasons for doing so.
Makowsky’s support stems from his concern about terrorism, which he deems the biggest threat to both the United States and Israel. In this vein, he explained, Trump was not his first-choice candidate; that would have been Allen West, the former Florida congressman and army officer, whose military background, Makowsky believes, would have made him better equipped to deal with the threat.
Still, he doesn’t believe Trump is as terrible as he’s been portrayed in the media. “What he’s been accused of saying—not doing—is not as bad as what Hillary Clinton has done,” he said. He criticized the Republican Jewish Coalition and other Republican leaders for disassociating themselves from Trump.
But Roger Weisberg, the cantor at Congregation Beth Judea, a conservative synagogue in northwest suburban Long Grove, has felt his support for Trump ebbing in recent weeks.
“It’s a depressing and sad situation the way they’ve been aking this into a completely negative campaign and tearing each other apart,” he said. The sadness was audible in his voice. Weisberg said he understood the desire some voters have for change and he feels strongly about protecting Israel, but he’s not sure if Trump is the answer.
“As a member of the clergy,” he said, “I try to live by an ethical code in the way that I treat others with a sense of respect. It’s built into our religious teachings and approach to life. I just don’t see Trump exercising that kind of respect toward others.”