The last two weeks have been excruciating for Trump voters.
Virtually all major media, the intelligentsia, all the Democrats, and even many Republicans are telling us that the man we supported for President is guilty of “sedition,” that he led an “insurrection” in an “attempted coup” that sought to destroy democracy in America. We are guilty by association with cretins wearing “Camp Auschwitz” shirts who attacked the high citadel of America. We should cower in silence and shame over the travesty and horror that we aided and abetted. We must be fired from our jobs, cast out of polite society, and have our social media accounts shut down – even more so if we dare continue asserting that there were serious questions about the election that were never properly resolved. In fact, all such claims have been thoroughly “debunked”; all the lawsuits Trump’s team brought were tossed out of court for lack of evidence. Senators Cruz and Hawley, who (while denouncing the rioters in the strongest terms) persisted in objecting to the certification of the elections, should be thrown out of office and perhaps charged with sedition.
Moreover, as religious Jews, we are being scolded that we ought to be ashamed of supporting such a monster – whom the smart people knew all along was the second coming of Hitler ym”s. We should engage in a cheshbon ha’nefesh (personal spiritual accounting) for the terrible chilul Hashem that we caused. We must hang our heads in shame before the wiser, all-knowing liberals who always knew that Joe Biden and the Democrats were morally superior. After all, they have long been warning all of us that Trump is a rabble-rousing, incompetent, corrupt, arrogant white supremacist who has now proved to be the greatest imaginable danger to America and the world. We must submit to the silencing of our voices and accept our deserved lot as defeated and “canceled,” while our political opponents use their now unbridled power to change America forever.
I believe that it is crucial for us – the 71 million who voted for Donald Trump – to refuse to allow ourselves to be written off due to the awful actions of a relatively tiny bunch of criminals. (They were only one or two percent of those who came to the Trump rally, let alone the many millions who were not there at all.) Those misguided morons did so much damage – not so much to the United States – but primarily to Trump supporters and the legacy of Trump himself. We must not allow our voice to be stolen – which is exactly what the left is now trying to do in every possible way.
I fully recognize that as an independent person living in Israel, I have the luxury of being able to speak my mind freely. Were I still employed as the rabbi of an American synagogue, I would undoubtedly be pressured to not publish this essay for fear of the repercussions to the congregation. But the truth does not die. And those forced to be silent will not accept their lot forever.
This week, we read Parshas Bo, in which the Exodus from Egypt comes to a crescendo. As a symbol of freedom, the Israelites were instructed to bring the Pesach offering. The Arizal taught that the word “Pesach” is a conjunction of the words peh and sach – a mouth that speaks. One of the most painful injuries suffered in Egypt (and later in many other terrible times such as the Holocaust) was that the victims were rendered mute, unable to express themselves. Unable to express their pain, forced to bear their suffering, they could not cry out and protest for fear of making their lot even worse. (We all know of survivors who, for years after their trauma, were still unable to talk of their suffering). At the time of Pesach, their mouths were freed. Indeed, on Pesach, we have the mitzvah to talk and to communicate to our children, to tell our story as an expression of freedom. Indeed, kol ha’marbeh l’sapeir (the more that we talk about it), the better.
We must refuse to be silenced. We cannot let the guilty few steal our self-respect, nor accept the twisting of the truth to dismiss our legitimacy. We must hold our heads high, knowing that the tragic events of January 6 changed nothing about what we believe to be true. We cannot let those hypocrites – who for months and years excused and even praised the many violent protests by BLM and Antifa – who repeatedly called for and engaged in acts of violence against their political foes – lecture us with their selective outrage.
We must stand for respectful ways to disagree when necessary – to demand that reasonable voices on all sides deserve to be heard, and that all have the opportunity for freedom of speech and expression, as long as it is not an explicit call for violence.
This short essay cannot fully present the many powerful counterarguments to the charges of the left. Nevertheless, a few things must be stated.
Millions of people are not convinced that the election of Joe Biden was legitimate and proper. Contrary to the oft-repeated lie, the vast majority of the courts did not rule on evidence of election fraud. Rather, virtually every case held either that Trump’s advocates had no standing to bring the lawsuit (as in the US Supreme Court), or for failure to file in a timely manner. Thus, the many bad acts that were testified to by the thousands (mail trucks of fake ballots delivered, suitcases of ballots being brought out after hours, ballots of the dead and missing, keeping observers far away, thus rendering them useless, etc.) were never presented in court. The constitutional arguments that changing of election laws by the courts rather than by legislature was never given a fair hearing. The full recounting of ballots with the envelopes that might have proven fraud was never done.
Did President Trump act improperly in the lead-up and during the riot at the Capitol? Yes.
He was wrong to demand that Vice President Pence overturn the certification. The Twelfth Amendment grants the VP no such right; it is purely a ceremonial role. By contrast, the Senators and Representatives do have a right – and even a duty – to object if they conclude that the election should not be certified. (If they have no such right, the Twelfth Amendment is entirely valueless.) However, the President was wrong to pressure his Vice President to overturn the vote and to mock him for not doing so.
Immediately upon hearing that things had gone awry at the Capitol, the President should have forcefully sent a message for the rioters to leave the building and stand down.” He should have known that his message – which was directed primarily to the hundreds of thousands who had come to the rally – “Go home, we love you … Go home in peace” would be misconstrued by his enemies (and by some of the rioters). They would claim that he supported the violence, though he specifically said the opposite (“Go home now, we have to have peace, have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order, we don’t want anyone hurt”).
He should not have engaged in personal verbal attacks against his political foes, which unduly raised passions in the crowd. He and his supporters were lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights to voice their concerns. However, he erred in turning up the temperature to make it a personal fight against evil. The extremists on the far right (similar to the extremists on the far left) did not need much motivation to commit acts of violence. Less violently than the actions of BLM and other militants on the left for the past four years, extremists engaged in damaging behavior that was foreseeable.
Was the second impeachment thus called for? Many argued that all these together added up to an impeachable offense; perhaps they are right. Nevertheless, impeaching the President one week before the end of his term, and describing his behavior as engaging in sedition, insurrection, and treason, was an act of political vindictiveness that sought only to silence him and his supporters forever, as described earlier.
The truth is that although Mr. Trump’s actions on January 6 are rightly criticized, we were right to support a president who – despite unending hostility, enmity, and attacks since the day he was nominated – managed to accomplish a great deal of good for the United States, and restored much sanity to its economy, foreign policy, and national pride. He appointed excellent judges who will leave their mark for a long time. He restored much balance taken away by the radical left (which they are now trying to grab back). And, of course, he was the best friend Israel ever had in the White House.
We also voted against a man with substantial ethical and competence questions hanging over him that the mainstream press kept from the citizenry. We also fear that much of the good that was done under the Trump administration will be undone, both foreign and domestic.
It is an epic tragedy that the Trump presidency ended this way. Perhaps his behavior can be understood as having snapped after the relentless opposition pushed him past his breaking point – not many people would have been able to continue functioning on such a high level under such relentless attack for so long.
I hope that President Biden will somehow have the wisdom not to attempt to use these circumstances to silence his political foes, as the radicals in Congress are demanding. Pesach teaches us that being robbed of the ability to speak goes against our basic human nature, and it will not last. Let us hope that the very divided country will find healing, rather than the frightful prospect of hot or cold civil war. Let us be at the vanguard of helping in the healing – not by submitting to the excesses of the left – but by confidently holding by our convictions while respectfully engaging with our ideological foes.
Yehuda L. Oppenheimer, formerly a rav at the Young Israel of Forest Hills and in Oregon, now lives in Migdal HaEmek and seeks to promote Jewish unity and mutual appreciation among all sectors of our people. He is a speaker and tour guide, and blogs at www.libibamizrach.blogspot.com.