Why Jews especially should be terrified by Trump’s refusal to concede
Almost two weeks after the 2020 election, President Trump has not conceded that he lost to President-elect Joe Biden. Legal challenges to the final tally have collapsed in outcomes ranging from frivolity to farce, and the President’s conspiracy theories have grown alongside Biden’s lead in both the popular vote and Electoral College. As Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to convince judges to overturn the election melt like his runny hair dye at a recent press conference, Trump has turned to summoning state legislators in a last-ditch effort to keep himself in the White House. To maintain these efforts in the face of states beginning to certify results would be to lurch into constitutional wilderness.
While many are dismissing these efforts as more parody than putsch, more farce than fascism, the all-out effort to nullify a victory that clearly outstrips Trump’s from four years ago should be of enormous concern for everyone, regardless of party. And it should be of special concern to American Jews. Fresh off data that indicates a rising wave of antisemitism, Trump’s efforts to weaken democracy should be a ringing alarm that the conditions that made America the Golden if not the Promised Land are especially vulnerable to tarnishing.
This should be especially true for those who found much to support in Trump’s policies. Regardless of who we voted for, we should all be supporting Biden’s move into the White House.
Democracy must be the ultimate Jewish political commitment.
Like any other minority, Jews owe no loyalty to a particular political party or fealty to a certain candidate. One of the more interesting subplots of this election was the strength of Trump’s performance among groups observers had assumed would abandon him: the President won a third of Hispanic voters, a third of Muslim voters, and a third of Asian Americans, and he doubled his tallies among black men. Regardless of attitudes towards Trump, this unpredictability is worth celebrating: It is the signature of free citizens making up their own mind.
While the percentage of Jews who voted for Trump fell from 2016, this does not mean that many did not find reasons to support the incumbent. The string of normalization deals that have thawed the Middle East are a real achievement, and they far outstrip those achieved in the past several Democratic administrations. The move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognition of Israeli control over the Golan put Israel on more secure footing, and Secretary of State Pompeo’s recent denunciation of anti-Zionism as antisemitic will strike many as a moment of moral clarity. And it’s clear that many Orthodox Jews see him as their champion.
Commitment to democracy means recognizing and even celebrating these realities. But it also means speaking out against assaults on the peaceful transfer of power and the impugning of free and fair elections. The motivation to do so must proceed not only from an investment in the American present and a share in this country’s future; it is also justified by even a cursory read of Jewish history.
America has been so special for Jews and others not because the right political team always won, but because the game has often been so much fairer than it is elsewhere. A country with a mechanism for changing its leaders keeps them on their toes and its citizens on the move.
Jews have thrived in democracies because they thrive off the values that underwrite democracy — respect for difference, pluralist politics, recourse to rights and ideas rather over blood and soil. There is a reason why revolution, from Bolshevik communism to National Socialism, so often ends in disaster for Jews: When norms collapse, freedom contracts and the golden goose quacks its last.
The thing about putting country over party is that you sometimes have to root for the team you didn’t support if the system is to work. And we’re out of practice; we’ve been sorting ourselves into tribes and living in cities with the like minded and marrying spouses and spending time with friends who affirm rather than challenge our presuppositions. But if there ever was a moment to affirm the primacy of the framework over faction, it is now. Once a weapon is introduced into the political repertoire, it is likely to be wielded with malice by all sides. Eroding the validity of elections is a particularly dangerous weapon to be on the loose.
A presidential term, even a disastrous one, passes in the blink of an eye. It is the distance from orientation to commencement. But if Trump succeeds in blurring the line between victory and defeat through conspiracy theories and demagoguery, we will all become less free. The ground below us will be less secure, and the country we pass on diminished.
Let’s do everything in our power to ensure that Trump’s farce does not end in that tragedy.
Ari Hoffman is a contributing columnist at the Forward, where he writes about politics and culture. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at N.Y.U., and his writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Tablet Magazine, The New York Observer, and a range of other publications. He holds a doctorate in English Literature from Harvard and a law degree from Stanford.