What’s good and what’s bad about Trump?

A well-known Israeli columnist and broadcaster's analysis of Trump in her weekly column.

Sivan Rahav Meir ,

Sivan Rahav Meir
Sivan Rahav Meir
צילום: עצמי

1.

I’m going to feel uncomfortable when certain people read the following sentence but I have no choice – I have to say it: Trump is not the Messiah.

I’m also going to feel uncomfortable when others read my next sentence but it’s true: Trump is not the devil. Most of us really have no idea where he’s headed, so it’s unclear why our expectations of him are either to rebuild the Holy Temple or to destroy the world. Many wise commentaries are supposed to help us predict the Trump era in the coming days, but what’s the point if Trump himself is so unpredictable and unexpected?

Trump is a mirror image of our times, meaning of all of us. He attests to our tendency to zigzag between extreme options (from Obama’s and Hillary’s unprecedented liberalism, the Americans took a sharp turn to his approach), and also to our tendency nowadays to admire a brand name more than to identify with its ideology (I mean what is really the connection between him and the Republican Party establishment?).

And in truth, what is his connection to conservative values? The orthodox Jews in the United States are enthusiastic about him although conservatism is indeed totally beyond him. Till now, Trump appears to be, on the most part, impulsive, quick to retort and Trumpy – this is the impression we get from the place where he’s been managing the world up until now – not the White House, his Twitter account.

One New York caricaturist picked up on this. Ever hear of the marshmallow test? It’s an experiment conducted in kindergartens where a child is told that he can get one marshmallow now but if he waits a certain amount of time – he can get two. Over time, they discovered that the children who controlled themselves were much more successful in life.

They were less addicted to alcohol and drugs, were more successful in married and family life, their happiness index was higher and career development better. The New York Times recently published the following cartoon: Trump is standing ready to be sworn in to his job but instead of a Bible upon which he is to swear, there’s a marshmallow with the following caption: “You can eat one marshmallow right now, or, if you can wait fifteen minutes – I’ll give you two marshmallows and swear you in as President of the United States.” For years they’ve been telling us that children who are able to control themselves get farther. And here the most lustful and wild kid in kindergarten is going into the oval office.

2.

The weekly parsha, Shemot, also teaches us not too get overly excited about new kings. True, it’s nice to hear Trump’s compliments and his enthusiasm and support for us, especially after his predecessor in the job. We’re allowed to be happy that an observant Jew and Israel supporter is his closest advisor. In contrast with the tone of some of the commentators here, Trumps’ sympathy towards Israel is what’s good about him, not bad. But it’s worthwhile remembering history too. “And a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph,” the parsha tells us. And what happens then? “And he said to his people: Behold the people of the Children of Israel are more numerous and stronger than we are. Come, let us outsmart them.”

This is where the slavery begins. Till now, the children of Israel felt not bad in Egypt. They also had a Jew of senior status in the palace, and in Joseph’s merit, Egypt was saved from a serious famine. And still, a new era begins. According to some of the commentaries, it is a completely new king and according to others it is the same Pharaoh who acts towards them like a new king and intentionally forgets everything that Joseph did for him.

Either way, these verses teach us that we shouldn’t have too much faith in kings or presidents who don’t base their lives on integrity and justice. They can be nice to us one time and less so another. In a time of crisis – they can suddenly turn the Jews into the source of all troubles and problems, to a fifth column, to a minority not loyal enough to the government. Some say that Pharaoh wanted to distract his people from another real problem (security? economic?) and used the Jews as a scapegoat.

He also didn’t want to be remembered in history as a ruler who was in reality built by Joseph, and preferred to erase and blur this detail from Egyptian memory, and to turn the Jews from being a solution into being a problem. In contrast to Pharaoh’s impulsive worldview, the Torah presents us with a totally different worldview – that of Moshe Rabbeinu – and that is what guides us until today.

So of course we need to respect and try to cooperate with every foreign leader, but we don’t have to hang all of our hopes on him.

3.

And what about the educational angle? Indeed the world is not just power, quarrels and money. Rabbi Netanel Elyashiv, American born, recently wrote to his students in the pre-army preparatory yeshiva in the settlement of Eli his thoughts on Trump. His words are important mainly because of the euphoria and the feeling that Trump is a brother, king, and a real man.

“I’m also happy that this character was elected, someone who sees like we do, who the good guys and who the bad guys are in the Middle East and in general. Yet I think that we shouldn’t be overly happy. As people of the Torah, we must examine everything through the lens of ethics and virtues, and in such a view, we will discover three worrisome aspects in the new rising star:

"First of all, the victory of superficiality. Trump won because the reality culture won. Authenticity is the secret of his strength, he is someone who despised the politically correct, but beyond the impressive American show – what’s the content? He often contradicts himself, and scatters incorrect facts. The mind and common sense are supposed to lead us in life, but with Trump their place is marginal.

"Secondly, his vulgar and negative style. Trump calls his opponents derogatory childish names. I admit, when I heard him in the debates lashing out at his opponents, I laughed, but then I asked myself – is Trump making my good inclination laugh or my evil one? You know the answer. It’s not our style. Is this what we want our politics to look like, following his example?

"Thirdly, the way he relates to women. He has a long history of objectification and exploitation. He rules over the entire world but not over his own desires. Is this how we want our wives and daughters to be treated? Is this a norm that Jews can admire? We must not agree to such a low standard of behavior for an elected public official. I pray for his success, of course, but remember that with all due respect, we must develop better leadership.”

* The column is from "Yediot Aharonot" and was translated by Shoshana Silver. Sivan Rahav Meir is a broadcaster on Israel's Channel 2 news.




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