‘Worst fears, best hopes’ for the Trump presidency

(JTA) — The upset victory by Donald Trump in the 2016 elections stunned a Jewish activist and leadership class that is at times as divided as the electorate at large. JTA asked some of those leaders to describe their concerns and expectations in a series of brief essays titled “Worst fears, best hopes.”

David Bernstein
President/CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Our fears are that some of the troubling views Donald Trump stated in the campaign are not just rhetoric but a blueprint for running the country.

Our fears are that the new president will roll back environmental protections, gay rights, immigration rights and a woman’s right to choose, among other concerns.

Our fears are that the new president will show contempt for the democratic process and abuse power.

Our fears are that the new president will make disparaging remarks and undertake destructive policies that hurt vulnerable, minority communities, including Jews.

Our fears are that the new president will enable rather than oppose far right-wing forces to advance their racist agendas and poisonous rhetoric.

Our hopes are that the new president will resist the temptations above and the constituencies behind them.

Our hopes are that the moderate sentiments we heard at times, perhaps too faintly, represent his real agenda, and that the president-elect’s conciliatory acceptance speech will become the tone of a nascent administration.

Our hopes are that the new president will seek, as he indicated in the campaign, to help people struggling in the economy, by putting in place a generous student loan repayment plan for millions of Americans struggling with the high cost of college and investing billions of dollars, as he reiterated in his acceptance speech, to rebuild highways, tunnels, bridges and airports.

Our hope is that Donald J. Trump, who gave expression to the pain and dislocation of so many Americans, will use his newfound legitimacy to help them adjust to a complex and interconnected economy rather than fan the flames of resentment.

We believe two paths diverge into a wood, and that President-elect Trump can take a path that realizes our hopes and not our fears.

Rabbi Jack Moline

Executive director, Interfaith Alliance

I fear that the Donald Trump we saw in the campaign will be the person who serves as our next president.

We are just now starting to see what the incoming administration will look like, but already the choice of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist is a clear indication that concerns about Trump — among Jews and people of all faiths and no faith — are well-founded. The earnest discussions of my younger days about hypothetical changes to civil rights laws and protections are no longer intellectual exercises.

Time is of the essence. We cannot afford to wait and see if President Trump makes good on his campaign promises to roll back religious freedom protections, LGBT rights, protections against discrimination, the rights of Muslim Americans and so much more. And we have already seen that the “religious right” is willing to be complicit in the face of bullying and bigotry if its agenda of legislating love and intimacy is supported.

The Interfaith Alliance and others are working to unite diverse voices to challenge extremism and build common ground. The country is in desperate need of reconciliation and healing even as we stand guard against efforts to undermine precious rights and freedoms. My firm belief is that what unites us is far more powerful than what divides us, and no president is powerful enough to change that fact.

For that to remain a reliable truth, we must listen to and protect each other.

Mark Hetfield
President/CEO, HIAS

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, we heard many ugly words uttered about refugees, immigrants and “others.” During this massive global refugee crisis, such rhetoric is particularly dangerous. But this was not the first time in U.S. history that we’ve witnessed the vilification of refugees – nor the first time we’ve stepped up and spoken out against it.

When is America at its strongest and best? When we have had the self-confidence to welcome refugees? Or when we turned them away out of fear?

HIAS and the American Jewish community can answer these questions from experience. Jews in America owe our very existence to the generosity that this country has shown refugees. At the same time, we will never forget the deadly consequences our family members faced when “the golden door” was closed to those fleeing Nazi Europe.

In the days and weeks ahead, we will take every opportunity to ensure that America welcomes refugees and stands for human rights across the globe.

The HIAS community – our local refugee resettlement partners, our supporters, our network of thousands of rabbis and more than 220 synagogues, and most significantly, the many thousands of refugees we help – is dedicated to continuing America’s tradition of welcoming and protecting refugees.

Refugees revitalize neighborhoods, start businesses, support families, pursue education and become new Americans. They have made this country strong.

For over 135 years, HIAS has worked to welcome the stranger and protect the refugee, regardless of the political climate. We intend to work with the Trump administration to ensure that this tradition continues.

Jonathan Arkush
President, Board of Deputies of British Jews

Jewish communities on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond have watched this highly divisive U.S. presidential election – culminating in the election of Donald Trump – with a mixture of surprise and alarm.

Some of Trump’s suggestions that an elite cabal was behind America’s ills sometimes felt like anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, particularly when campaign publicity around this featured prominent Jews. I myself have expressed deep unease with what sometimes looked like Trump’s apparent hesitancy to distance himself from white supremacist supporters like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Of course, Trump supporters would point to the fact that his daughter Ivanka converted to Orthodox Judaism to marry a Jewish husband, apparently with the full support of the new president-elect. There is also little doubt about Trump’s longstanding relationship with Israel and strong pro-Israel views, including the pledge to revisit the nuclear deal with Iran.

But Jews are not for Jews alone. Far beyond Jewish concerns, Trump’s deeply offensive comments about women, for which he was forced to apologize, and his campaign’s wider hostility toward minorities, including Mexican immigrants, Muslimsand African-Americans, have caused real anger among many Jews.

As such, an urgent priority for President-elect Trump must be to address the wounds that he and his campaign have caused, reaching out and reassuring those who have been, or have felt themselves to be, demonized or disrespected in the course of the campaign. This may well require significant reserves of patience and humility – not traits on ample display during this campaign.

Engagement between the Jewish community and the next president of the United States will therefore need to strike a balance between constructively advancing our common interests and setting down a clear marker about the necessity of considered leadership in a pluralistic society.