What Trump’s victory might mean for American Jewry

This election has fundamentally shocked mainstream voters. So what happened to generate this historic, unexpected outcome, and what does it mean for the American Jewish community?

Analysts likely will point to many factors contributing to the fundamental misreading of the 2016 electorate, a campaign that accentuated the deep political divide and cultural disconnect within the American public.

Steven Windmueller

The outcome will have a profound and devastating effect on many American Jewish voters who were aligned with the Clinton campaign. For these mainstream Jewish Democrats, this loss is very personal. Beyond the notion of electing the first woman to the presidency, this was a contest over social values. With the repudiation of Clinton also will come a different domestic political ideology that will impact the future of the Supreme Court, potentially change the status of millions of undocumented immigrants and alter the medical options for beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act. This election represents for liberal Jews a fundamental revolution potentially overturning and challenging much that a generation of activists has fought to achieve and protect.

Likewise, for the Jewish Republicans who earlier had stepped away from supporting their party’s nominee for an array of reasons, this may be a bittersweet moment. While probably pleased to see a positive Republican outcome in connection with the House and Senate, these GOP Jewish voters remain uncertain about the impact of a Trump presidency.

The great social disconnect: Many of the issues that propelled Trump voters were reflective of constituencies that are geographically and culturally detached from the Jewish community. Indeed, the social, political and economic divisions that separate rural and working-class voters from urban, college-educated Americans represents a core challenge to the future of this democracy.

Should government fail to address the pain and disconnect of a significant sector of our citizens, many of whom placed their trust in Trump, we could experience a serious political upheaval, creating an even deeper divide between these very different constituencies.

Responding to anti-Semitism and racism: The election tragically has left a negative and dangerous cultural imprint, with the emergence of a new wave of ethnic, racial and class intimidation. The Trump candidacy inspired and gave license to some to freely slander and attack their fellow citizens, creating an environment that fomented the politics of hate and exposed the deeply embedded presence of anti-Semitism, expressed most directly on social media, in public actions and through websites promoting conspiratorial notions of Jewish influence.

Allowed to fester, this grassroots hatred will give rise to more definitive and dangerous forms of anti-Semitism.

Just as Jews must push back against the threats of political hate on the right, our community must mobilize to offset attacks directed against the State of Israel and the Jewish community emanating from the political left, as expressed through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and from religious, ethnic and racial groups on campus and beyond. Across the globe and within the United Nations, this assault on Jews, Judaism and Israel needs to take priority. Left unaddressed, the seeds of hate and anger in could become the bedrock for more radical expressions of racial and ethnic tension.

Assessing Jewish political practice: As we analyze the Jewish vote and the political heft of our community, how might we assess our clout and the centrality of our agenda in comparison to other communities? What we learn will be essential in furthering our understanding about how Jews employ their influence.

While Jews are an important constituency in the American political framework, we are seen as more significant for our financial prowess. The new road of influence is no longer how Jews vote, but in what measure their dollars support candidates and political parties. As the percentage of Jewish voters in relationship to other constituencies declines, the percentage of Jewish political giving continues to accelerate.

Challenges to the American-Israel connection: How Trump embraces the complexities of the Middle East and the Israel connection, in particular, will in part depend on his base of Jewish supporters, who will most certainly encourage him to strengthen the Washington-Jerusalem partnership. It will be interesting to monitor Trump as he constructs a foreign policy born out of little exposure to the complexities of international diplomacy and moves to determine what role the United States will play in world affairs.

Promoting election reform: The Jewish community must join with others to address the negative impact of this election as an impediment to the growing and strengthening of American democracy. Critical reforms will be needed in connection with the nation’s political parties, our states and their election procedures, and the guidelines on campaign funding. Tackling Citizens United ought to be seen as a bipartisan effort to strip away undo corporate influence within our election cycle.

Moving forward: This is a critical juncture in our national saga. Preserving and strengthening our democracy are core challenges for our community. As Jews, we are deeply invested in the success of the American enterprise; it will be incumbent on our community and its institutions to ensure the future of our democracy by joining with others in advancing the public interest and in promoting the general welfare. As part of advancing the great American story, Jews have worked across party lines and with those with whom we may have political disagreements in the past in order to achieve what is best for this nation, and we will do so again.


Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. His writings can be found at www.thewindreport.com. A version of this piece first appeared at eJewishPhilanthropy.com.

Steven Windmueller
Steven Windmueller

Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. His writings can be found on his website, thewindreport.com.