If there’s a mea culpa for me to issue this election season, it’s mostly to my own community. The Russian Jewish community has long voted Republican, so it wasn’t completely strange that they lined up behind Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton. What was surprising to me, and frankly upsetting, was how much they liked Trump in the primary.
They saw something in him that I didn’t see, something that wasn’t covered as much amid the economic focus of the Trump campaign. It was a strength that many people had perceived as lacking in their president for 8 years — and in their Republican candidates for many years before that. While the media saw John McCain and Mitt Romney as right-wing monsters, my community saw them as far too nice, not willing to punch back when hit.
Many in my community came to America in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Ronald Reagan meant so much to us. He was strong, he was bold, he stared down the Soviet Union. Over the past 8 years, they watched a president who didn’t particularly want to take the lead in the world. While that model might be what people across America wanted after a very involved George W. Bush presidency, the Russian community mocked the way Obama had America take a backseat on the world stage.
When Trump talked about making America great again, he couldn’t point to when that greatness was, but it didn’t matter because each person hearing Trump had his or her own timeframe of America’s greatness. For Jews from the former Soviet Union, that time was the 1980s when Reagan was president: The Soviet Union was crumbling, the economy was booming and they had freedom for the first time in their lives.
Listening to Russian radio in New York on the Friday morning before the election, I heard the announcer talk about presidential strength. He said he was voting for Trump, as was his entire family, because Trump was strong and he understood what America needed. I laughed it off — Trump was a goner! I was positive of it! — but it occurred to me that the announcer was saying something I didn’t hear as much outside the Russian community.
I wasn’t voting for Hillary Clinton and I certainly wasn’t voting for Trump, but as I listened to this man talk about strength, it was obvious that this message was resonating among my people.
My community remembered a time when America was great because America was strong. My community knew he would win, when I certainly didn’t, because they saw in him something I simply don’t. I hope they continue to be right about his abilities. I’ll take being wrong if it means a stronger, better America.
Karol Markowicz is a writer in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @karol