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With Biden victory, Jews must ask, ‘Who is America?’

Joe Biden’s victory is cause for long-delayed celebration among the majority of American Jews.

According to a J Street voter survey, Biden received 77% of the Jewish vote. The final number may change up or down, but, hey, getting north of 70% of Jews to agree on anything is in and of itself a cause for celebration.

According to the J Street survey, the top concerns of Biden’s Jewish voters were the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, health care and the economy. A Morning Consult exit poll found that all Biden voters shared these as top priorities, along with one more: “unifying the country.”

I’m not sure why “unifying the country” didn’t turn up as a priority on the Jewish voter survey, but my guess is if the interviewees were like many of my friends, they don’t even see that as a remote possibility.

“Can you believe it’s even close?” is the question I’ve been hearing the most from Biden supporters in my circles, followed by, “How could 69 million people vote for that guy?”

The question is always rhetorical — few people who ask it really want to take the time to learn the answer. But here’s a better question: how many more Americans, and American Jews, would have voted for Trump had it not been for a once-in-a-century pandemic?

Why was a leader who is so anathema to so many the best choice for so many others? Why did increasing percentages of women, Blacks and Latinos and — at least in Florida — Jews move into Trump’s column?

It’s not just Democrats who are asking such questions. The Jews who voted for Trump are similarly bewildered. They see a president who did great things: juicing the economy with tax cuts and deregulation, taking on China, granting the Israeli government’s wish list, bringing Israel and its Gulf Arab neighbors together. They see Jews who oppose Trump as knee-jerk liberals, forever voting, as conservative pundit Dennis Prager is fond of saying, for FDR’s fifth term.

Therapists say a sure sign of a failed relationship isn’t when two people hate each other, but when they disdain each other. That’s where we’re at politically — each side has replaced understanding with disdain, if not outright dismissal. Jews and non-Jews, we have hardened our hearts.

Trump may have mastered the art of exploiting our divisions, capitalizing on them, getting ratings off them, but he didn’t create them. We’re a country with a history of division. Our Founders separated us as free and enslaved, disenfranchised females and Native Americans, who were not counted as citizens at all. We came apart during the Civil War, and threatened to destroy one another numerous times since then.

I find myself less discouraged when I think of the United States not as our name, but as our aspiration.

Biden ran on that hope. He said what motivated him to get into the race was the president’s response to the white supremacists and antisemites who marched in Charlottesville, chanting, “Jews will not replace us!

President Trump and his supporters maintain that he has steadfastly and repeatedly condemned white supremacism, but he has dug in on comments that singled out immigrants and threatened protesters against racial injustice. He has made name-calling a feature of his leadership. He turned Teddy Roosevelt’s bully pulpit into a bullying pulpit.

The rancor continued right through this week, when Trump referred to Democrats as “a sad group of people” and accused them of defrauding voters and stealing the election.

In 2000, when Vice President Al Gore conceded the election to George W. Bush after weeks of inconclusive recounts, he said, “I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together.

“This is America,” Gore said then. “Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done.”

If someone can slip that speech onto Trump’s Teleprompter, great. Otherwise, it’s up to Biden.

Actually, it’s up to us.

Biden can set the tone, but he can’t do it alone. We have had a peek into what happens when our differences are amplified and our misunderstandings magnified. It makes for an uglier country, unsafe for us all — especially for minorities. Biden can’t force us to be curious, empathetic and even concerned about the lives of others.

At some point, we will have to come out from behind our Twitter feeds and try to understand who these other Americans are. Some of them are family, some fellow congregants. We don’t have to be friends, or even like them, or — heaven forbid! — agree. But the Americans we fundamentally don’t understand aren’t going anywhere, and dismissing them as greedy, or racist, or dumb, or socialist, or naive is a surefire way to repeat the worst parts of the last four years.

Another surefire way is to ignore those who do vote the way we do. Democrats will have to meet the needs of the blue-collar and Black voters who delivered crucial votes to Biden. They will need to push for real gains in economic opportunity and justice, or they will once again lose, and deservedly so.

Joe Biden can’t save us. We really do need to talk.

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