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Why Trump, warrior of the faithful, has my vote

Last Friday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order deeming houses of worship providers of essential services. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” the president said, echoing the thoughts of many people of faith throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic. “It’s not right.”

It was a welcome statement.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think President Trump is motivated to correct this injustice by his own deep feelings of personal faith, so much as by a desire to align himself politically with people of faith. But that is also very meaningful. And it’s why, despite everything, he will likely win the votes of the faithful overwhelmingly in 2020. It’s why he will get mine.

I did not vote for Trump in 2016. I wrote in “Anyone Else” as a means of protest against the two bad choices we were given. I did not think it was worth taking the chance of allowing Trump to redefine conservatism, and I argued that it was preferable for Hillary Clinton to win than to lose the party to Trump.

I was wrong.

I don’t believe I was wrong in the calculation I made in deciding not to vote for either major presidential candidate in 2016. At that time, it was entirely reasonable to think it preposterous that Trump, who had no history as a conservative, would expend any of his own capital to move the ball forward to that end.

But my fears turned out to be, for the most part, unfounded. I of course have profound disagreements with President Trump on matters of both policy and style; his vulgarity and his economic agenda have both been bitter pills to swallow. And yet, such disagreement is par for the course; as Ed Koch famously said, “If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychologist.”

And the truth is, there are now aspects of the Trump presidency – including how he is handling the current moment we live in – which have reversed my former reticence and turned me into an enthusiastic supporter. For many Orthodox Jews like myself, the most important issue is religious liberty. And though I can’t say I expected him to, Trump recognizes the importance of this issue, even if only politically, and has embraced his role as an imperfect warrior for the truly religious.

He’s done this by nominating judges who recognize that both the law and the Constitution itself call for the protection of religious rights, even if a loud segment of society doesn’t like what that means. He’s done it with executive orders protecting the rights of religious organizations to political speech. And he’s done it by reversing an Obama directive which excluded houses of worship from receiving FEMA funds simply because they were religious.

He’s done all that, and more. And now, he’s positioning himself as the warrior for the faithful by demanding that governors allow us to open our houses of worship using safety protocols that minimize risk.

What people need to realize is that even if these aren’t the issues that animate you, there are a lot of people just like me who care deeply about them. Part of embracing diversity is allowing people to be different, allowing them to think independently about what they assign value to – and the choices they make based on that.

This view though seems to have fallen by the wayside when it comes to people of faith. We constantly feel marginalized. We see how our timeless values are now being rebranded as hateful in an attempt to drive us entirely from the public square.

We Jews especially have a long and storied history which tells us that it hardly ever ends with just words.

The President may not have your vote. But if you want to have your electoral way in the future, you would do well to understand why he has mine. You may not want to champion faith communities, but the constant attempt to marginalize us is going to lead us to embrace someone who does.

Eli Steinberg lives in New Jersey with his wife and five children. They are not responsible for his opinions, which he has been putting into words over the last decade, and which have been published across Jewish and general media. You can tweet the hottest of your takes at him @HaMeturgeman.

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