How Jewish is Donald Trump?

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People have criticized Donald Trump’s Christian supporters because Trump doesn’t live or govern by Christian values. Now, me, I’m Jewish, and a recent Gallup poll says that about a quarter of my tribe supports Mr. Trump.

A quarter is a small minority but significant one. So I ask my people: Does Mr. Trump live and govern according to our values?

Problem: “Jewish values” are hard to define, as a poll of rabbis reveals.

But a few common ideas shine through.

Judaism values the individual mind, soul, and conscience. No matter how often or harshly other cultures have pressured us to give up our beliefs and customs, we’ve (generally) refused. We have a long tradition of arguing for our ideas, all the way back to Abraham opposing God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

But Donald Trump can’t tolerate people disagreeing with him. If you oppose him, he’ll attack you online and in speeches. In his view, people who see things differently aren’t just wrong, they’re traitors, fools, and liars.

Another Jewish value is protecting and defending minorities, particularly immigrants. It started in the Bible: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And it carried through the millennia when Jews didn’t have their own nation and were often immigrants. Even when they had lived in a country for generations, their beliefs and customs were strange to the majority.

But Mr. Trump hates immigration and abuses immigrants. He doesn’t respect minorities even when their families have been in this country longer than his.

Judaism, both religion and tradition, also values law and justice. Moses, speaking for God, told the Jews, “Justice, justice shall you pursue“ — not just respect or obey, but actively pursue. Observant Jews live by Halakhah, the body of Jewish law going back centuries.

But Donald Trump has little respect for the rule of law. He recently told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he would break U.S. election law in taking political help from foreign powers in the next election. He’s resisted and denounced his own Justice Department’s investigations. And on and on.

Jews and Judaism also value wisdom and knowledge. Many of the heroes in Jewish history are sages like Hillel and Akiva. Study of Jewish scripture and commentary is supposed to be what every Jew yearns to do.

But Donald Trump has said over and over that he trusts his gut rather than knowledge and study. Advisors have tried to cure his willful ignorance, and he’s ignored them.

Donald Trump lives and works in opposition to key Jewish values. It distresses me that a large percentage of my brother and sister Jews support him.

What’s the good word?

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I recently compiled and analyzed the most successful ad slogans of all time, like Nike’s “Just do it” and De Beers’ “A diamond is forever.”

Do you know which word appears most often? The keyword of all keywords? The word that opens brains and wallets?

“Good.”

As in:
Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there
Good till the last drop (Maxwell House)
Finger lickin’ good (KFC)
M’m! M’m! Good! (Campbell’s Soup)
Tastes so good, cats ask for it by name (Meow Mix)
We bring good things to life (General Electric)
You’re in good hands with Allstate

Of all the words in the English language, one of the simplest is one of the most effective.

I wish I could collapse

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. . . And it doubles as an accordion! (Yanko Design)

A technique that I wish American food makers would use: collapsible packaging.

My refrigerator contains milk jugs and takeout boxes that are 80% empty. Unfortunately, they eat up as much space as full containers. If they were collapsible, I’d have more room in the fridge.

Of course, I can move the almost-empty containers’ contents into small or collapsible containers. But as a red-blooded lazy American, I’d rather skip that step and buy food in boxes and bottles that are themselves collapsible.

These containers could even offer a marketing benefit. If I can collapse a food maker’s box instead of moving the food to a smaller box and throwing out the original, I’ll keep the maker’s box longer — and see the maker’s logo over and over.

Do our eyes deceive us?

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Image result for Alexandria Ocasio Cortez glamorous
A model Congresswoman? (Photo by Cass Bird)

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says and does things that thrill progressives like me. But how much of her appeal comes from her being young and attractive?

John Kennedy’s good looks and relative youth helped him to become president and keep his popularity high after he died. Justin Trudeau, fortunately still alive, has had the same effect on Canadians.

Ronald Reagan wasn’t young when he ran for president, but his movie-star face and trim build were part of his charisma.

Barack Obama wasn’t a great beauty, but he was only 45 when he started running for president, which helped voters believe that he could bring a fresh approach to the job; he defeated Hillary Clinton (59 years old at the time) and John McCain (age 70).

Will AOC still be as exciting when she’s no longer young and beautiful? Or to put it another way, how shallow are those of us who like her?

You’re not the victim

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NOUS_SOMMES_TOUS-399e2

Or are you?

After a tragedy, people sometimes show solidarity with the victims by calling themselves the victims.

  • When Donald Trump abused immigrants, sympathetic people born in this country said, “I’m an immigrant, too.”
  • After terrorist shootings at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, compassionate and caring people declared, “Je suis Charlie.”
  • In 1963, when a hostile dictatorship surrounded the city of West Berlin, President John Kennedy told its citizens, “You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. . . . All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ ”

But native-born people aren’t immigrants, only the Charlie Hebdo staff were attacked in the shootings, and John Kennedy wasn’t a Berliner. No matter how much you or I (or Kennedy) might sympathize with the people who suffered inhuman assaults, they didn’t damage us anywhere near as much as they damaged the victims.

Supporting victims is good, no question. If you identify with them and their terrible situation, and if you want to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, I think you’re great. You have a warm heart and a passion for humanity.

And some “I’m a victim, too” sentiments fit better than others. After the 9/11 attacks on New York, the French newspaper Le Monde ran the headline “Nous sommes tous Américains”: “We are all Americans.” I suppose you can defend Le Monde’s headline, because the people who attacked Americans on 9/11 would have been just as happy to attack the French.

If you want to support victims, announce that you’re on their side. Donate your time and money to organizations working to help them. Join public demonstrations that protest their suffering.

But don’t say that you’re one of them.


Checkers vs. guns

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Your move.

I find myself conflating two sayings I’ve heard lately — “Never bring a knife to a gun fight” and “Democrats play checkers. Republicans play chess.”

The result: “Democrats play checkers. Republicans bring a gun.”

I’m not sure whether this new saying makes the Republicans or the Democrats look worse.

Star Wars, starring James Dean (or James Stewart)

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The movie that could have been

What if Star Wars had been made in previous eras?

The 1930s: James Stewart as Luke, Katharine Hepburn as Leia, John Wayne as Han, Lionel Barrymore as Obi-Wan, and Paul Robeson as the voice of Darth Vader.

The 1950s: James Dean as Luke, Debbie Reynolds as Leia, Burt Lancaster as Han, Claude Rains as Obi-Wan, and Orson Welles as the voice of Vader.

Of course, the original Star Wars didn’t have major stars like James Stewart or James Dean. If Lucas had cast stars, we might have had John Travolta as Luke, Jane Fonda as Leia, Burt Reynolds as Han, John Wayne as Obi-Wan, and George C. Scott as the voice of Vader.

Actually, that’s a movie I might want to see . . .

Don’t be dumb about Dumbo

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The latest Dumbo trailer is beautiful — except when it announces “From the imagination of Tim Burton.”

Burton’s a great and unquestionably imaginative director, but he didn’t imagine this movie. As I understand it, Disney hired him to direct only after Ehren Kruger wrote the script. The script was, of course, based on the animated Dumbo, which itself was based on an unpublished storybook (more like a storybook proposal, really) by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, with art by Helen Durney.

I’m sure that Burton is doing a great job on Dumbo. But it didn’t come from his imagination.

Ann Coulter and the Jews

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Recently, Donald Trump’s supporter Ann Coulter started criticizing him. Ordinarily, I welcome Trump fans who turn against him. But not this time.

Half of the problem is that she’s turned on him because he hasn’t made enough progress on his border wall, and I don’t want him to build the wall at all. But the other half is her anti-Semitism.

In criticizing Trump, Coulter asked, “Why would you [vote for Trump again]? To make sure, I don’t know, Ivanka and Jared can make money?”

Coulter didn’t mention Donald Jr. or Eric Trump, who oversee The Trump Organization. When she talked about money, she mentioned only Jews.

Anti-Semitic allusions are nothing new for Coulter, as The Daily Beast pointed out two years ago. Recently, she’s attacked “globalists,” a code word for “Jews.” And she’s lied by saying that Jews and other groups hate white men.

I’m a Jew, Ann, and I don’t hate white men. But don’t ask how I feel about you.

Trump’s wall could work. That’s the problem.

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If Donald Trump builds his wall, it’ll probably succeed to some extent. Every obstacle keeps some people from overcoming it.

My main problem with the wall is that it embodies the hurdles that our immigration system puts up to keep people out. Entering this country should be easier, not harder.

Keep out criminals, except “political” criminals like those jailed for protesting dictatorships. Keep out people with infectious disease. Keep out people too physically or mentally damaged to survive on their own (unless their friends or relatives will support them).

But let others be free to come here and make a better life. That’s the American Dream, and it makes our country better.

My other problem with the wall is the political message that it sends. From the Berlin Wall to the barrier between Israel and the West Bank, walls or fences or whatever you call them say, “Outsiders scare us.”

Sometimes it’s sensible to be scared. Israel built a wall because it had a legitimate fear of terrorists, and the wall seems to have reduced terrorism, though it’s also had terrible effects.

But America doesn’t have Israel’s problems. We’re stronger and more secure. We don’t need to fear immigrants, and we don’t need a wall.