By Michael Regenstreif, Editor
I’ve just reread my “From the Editor” column written exactly four years ago today, and published in the October 31, 2016 edition of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
The subject of that column was the U.S. presidential election, in particular the candidacy of reality TV show star and real estate mogul Donald Trump.
“It’s been like watching a train wreck these last 16 months. Horrifying for too many reasons but impossible to look away from,” I wrote in a column that assumed Hillary Clinton would be elected president.
Even though my assumption that Trump would lose the election in 2016 turned out to be wrong (Clinton won the popular vote by millions of votes but Trump won the presidency in the Electoral College), there is much in that column that could have been written today.
“It is astounding that the least qualified candidate (at least in modern times) to ever win a major party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency, a man with no experience in public service (and, apparently, little experience in paying federal taxes), still maintains a base of support of about 40 per cent of the American electorate despite all that he has said and done – and all that has been revealed about him,” I continued.
“As it has become obvious to all that he is losing the election, Trump has ramped up his attacks … most appallingly, on democracy itself.
“Trump has been complaining that the American electoral system has been ‘rigged’ against him and that the only way he can lose the election is if it is rigged. And he absurdly claims the American media has entered into a conspiracy against him,” a claim that Trump continues to echo four years later.
“It is a tradition in Western democracies that when the votes are counted and the winner of an election is determined, the defeated candidate(s) concedes the loss and the government proceeds to an orderly transition of power. But Trump is refusing to say he will concede a loss; only that he will accept the result if he wins,” a refusal he has repeated again in 2020.
“And, as a candidate for the most important office in the world, he has shown almost no real understanding of the myriad important issues he would face on both domestic and international fronts,” I concluded four years ago.
And while I was appalled at Trump’s attacks on democracy during his first presidential campaign (and again in this one), his attacks on democratic norms and institutions have been unrelenting during his time in office. Just a few of many examples include his vicious and baseless attacks on the mainstream media, and on people ranging from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the highly respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to his Democratic opponents, former vice-president Joe Biden (who, Trump says, is the head of a “crime family”) and Senator Kamala Harris (who he calls a “monster”). On the world stage, Trump has repeatedly attacked the leaders of allied democracies while praising some of the world’s most brutal dictators, and he has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Accords during the global climate-change crisis, and from the World Health Organization during COVID-19 pandemic, the worst worldwide health crisis in a century.
Speaking of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump’s policies have been a major factor in the United States having 20 per cent of the cases and 20 per cent of the deaths around the world despite having just four per cent of the world’s population; and even led to his own COVID case and many cases among his family, staff, inner circle and followers due to his lax masking and distancing behaviour, and his hosting of super-spreader events at the White House and on the campaign trail. Still, despite COVID striking literally in his own home as cases of the disease continue to spike higher and higher, he continues to claim the pandemic is all but over – thanks to him.
According to a new poll released earlier this week by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the vast majority of American Jews, 75 per cent, are set to vote (or have already voted) for Biden over Trump at 22 per cent – and that is not withstanding the fact that Trump has attempted to make Israel a wedge issue in the campaign stating that Jews who do not vote for him are disloyal to Israel.
“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat – it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” Trump said in remarks to the press in the Oval Office last year. He has also told American Jews that Benjamin Netanyahu is “your prime minister.”
Despite actions including moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights and helping to broker diplomatic relations between Israel and two Arab Gulf states, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates, a majority of Jewish voters (54 per cent to 42 per cent) indicated in the AJC poll that Biden would be better than Trump at strengthening U.S.-Israel relations.
As well, according to the AJC poll, the same proportion of Jewish voters (75 per cent to 22 per cent) that would vote for Biden over Trump also said Biden would better handle antisemitism than Trump.
Antisemitic incidents in the United States have increased greatly with perpetrators of hatred emboldened by the atmosphere Trump has, knowingly or unknowingly, seemed to encourage. These have included the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in 2018 in which 11 Jews were murdered and six more wounded, and the Poway synagogue mass shooting in which one Jew was murdered and three others, including the synagogue’s rabbi, were wounded. Memories of Trump’s initial description of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville in 2017 as “very fine people” after their chilling chants of “Jews will not replace us” remain strong for American Jews; as do his recent refusals to condemn the followers of QAnon, a discredited far-right conspiracy theory movement that incorporates old antisemitic tropes among its beliefs.
So, is the Trump era about to end? Two weeks before the American election in 2016, the polls indicated a Clinton victory over Trump and now, two weeks before the 2020 election, polls indicate a Biden victory. Looking deeper at the polling, particularly in the swing states that Trump won by tiny margins four years ago, I suspect the ultimate result this time will be different than it was last time.