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First-Person Politics: Dispatch From Hillaryland

‘I was struck by the fervent hatred many Sanders supporters maintained for Hillary Clinton.’

Brad Keil
January 13, 2017
Illustration: Tablet Magazine
Illustration: Tablet Magazine
Illustration: Tablet Magazine
Illustration: Tablet Magazine

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. That’s what I kept telling myself late into election night. Nov. 8, 2016 was my 35th birthday and I firmly expected a Hillary Clinton victory. I didn’t put much stock into the national polling that said Hillary had a 13 percent national lead. I wasn’t expecting a landslide or a squeaker, but a solid, convincing win.

So there I was in my Hillary shirt (you know the one: with the H and the arrow in it), as the minutes and then hours ticked by, my mouth agape in disbelief as more and more counties in swing states came in red on the CNN map. It was still early, some of my friends were telling me. The heavily populated districts take longer to count votes and they lean more heavily Democratic; same with the Western states. The mood from my fellow Democrats was one of shock and horror, which grew into a panic as more states got called for Trump. I fell asleep in a confused and desperate fog, and that’s how I officially entered middle age.

I’ve heard some say that the depth of their despair matched what they felt on Sept. 11. I won’t go that far, but for me it was in the same hemisphere. How did this happen? Furiously searching for answers like most of us on the left on 11/9/16, there was no shortage of blame to go around. One thing I heard from several friends and acquaintances was, “Bernie would’ve won.” Naturally, this speculation was offered with no real evidence and easily could have been dismissed. I never liked Sanders as a presidential candidate, though as an independent senator from a tiny, overwhelmingly white, Northeastern state I liked him just fine. When I heard that he was running for president, my first thought was, as an Independent or a Green? Considering his ambivalence toward the Democratic Party, his announcement immediately struck me as pure opportunism.

I was a passionate Hillary supporter from the outset. I wasn’t angry about Sanders being in the race until he appointed the fiercely anti-Israel pseudo-intellectual Cornel West to the Democratic Platform drafting committee. West’s history of hostility to President Barack Obama, Democrats, and Israel should have precluded any such appointment. As the primary wins continued to mount for Secretary Clinton, I noticed a few strands in the general coverage of the primary. First, Clinton’s decisive wins in Southern states (including my new home state of South Carolina, which she won by 50 percent) weren’t covered the same way Sanders’ close finishes or tiny caucus wins were. Secondly, I was struck by the fervent hatred many Sanders supporters maintained for Clinton. In my conversations with Sanders supporters I made it a point to say that I would support the winner of the primary even if that person wasn’t my preferred candidate. I rarely received the same consolation.

On the other side of the aisle, I couldn’t believe what was happening. I thought Trump was a joke. Like a lot of other Jewish Zionists, I watched Trump’s speech to AIPAC. It featured what is now thought of as standard Trumpian fare. He bragged about lending a plane to Giuliani and leading a parade after Sept. 11, followed by a lot of empty bashing of the Iran nuclear deal. He capped it off by asserting that Obama was “the worst thing that had ever happened to Israel.” I knew then that this man was unquestionably without a shred of intellectual integrity, because to say that is to be fundamentally ignorant of major events in Israeli history; the Yom Kippur War and both Intifadas, just to name three. What’s worse, the crowd seemed to appreciate the sentiment.

Clinton’s speech to AIPAC was the mirror opposite of Trump’s. She spoke in detail about the talks she helped facilitate in 2010 and the cease-fire she helped broker in 2012. She called out and opposed the Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) movement by name. Ms. Clinton spoke at length about the need for Israel’s qualitative military edge and the 10-year funding agreement between the United States and Israel that went into effect under Obama’s presidency. The line that stuck out most to me was that perils in the Middle East must be met with “strength and skill.” I thought it would be clear to any objective observer that only she possessed any skill or contextual understanding of the nature of the perils Israel experiences.

In November of 2015 Trump had floated the idea that a database or registry for Muslims in this country would be something he would pursue in the White House. This is not something that just Jews who hear echoes of 1930s Germany should reject. This should have disqualified Trump from consideration by anyone who claims to support American values. As a Jew who has been taught to love the stranger among us as we were strangers in Egypt, I found his call all the more repugnant. His final campaign ad was filled with venom for “global special interests” while showing a photo of Jewish boogeyman George Soros. He referenced a “global power structure” that has robbed the U.S. working class. He couldn’t come right out and say it, but the dog whistles had become blaring sirens.

I think most of us picked up on these things. Jewish voters overwhelmingly rejected Trump. Most Americans rejected Trump too, as the popular vote reflects.

There is no shortage of garment-rending about the failure of the Clinton camp to attract working-class white voters in swing states. I do not share that lament. I instead point to the massive numbers of working class people of color, women, LGBTQ, and yes, even millennials who chose the Democrats. Some friends of mine say that Bernie Sanders is the future of the Democratic Party. Considering he lost the primary by 3 million votes, this is a miscalculation as well. Though he is still not a Democrat for his 2018 reelection campaign, Sen. Sanders certainly has opinions on what Democrats should be doing. He has anointed Rep. Keith Ellison as his intended to lead the DNC as its chair. Endorsements from actual Democrats Elizabeth Warren and, most bafflingly, Chuck Schumer, followed.

To say Mr. Ellison has a troubling past is to put it mildly. Coming into political prominence through the Nation of Islam, he authored many disturbing columns while in law school. I would rate them equally as troubling as Ron Paul’s infamous 1990s newsletters. A lot of us wrote stupid things in college; including me, but mine was mostly middling literary criticism. Pointing to his more immediate political career, we do not need to look any further than his vote to defund the entirely defensive Israeli Iron Dome missile system in the midst of the 2014 Hamas war. This demonstrates that peculiar twisting of logic that the more leftward of progressives often fall prey to. There is no other US ally that any member of Congress could vote against in this manner and not be ridden out on a rail. It is a perfidious instinct for those on the farther left to equate hostility to Israel with scoring some sort of imaginary progressive credibility.

The appeal of Mr. Ellison as DNC chair is reactionary. It bears nearly incessant repeating that the Democrats won the popular vote dramatically. The party would be remiss to ignore the loyal constituency that came out and stood with them and against the wave of white nationalism and resentment that swept Trump into office. Keith Ellison as DNC chair would signal the congruent rise of the far left that is routinely hostile to Israel, and out of touch with the majority of the party.

Ever since the 2000 election, I’ve been a fiercely partisan Democrat. There’s always been a place for me on the left side of the aisle and I’ve always felt I was in good company. The Democratic Party has long been an ally of Israel and Zionists, going back to Truman being the first world leader to officially recognize Israel in 1948. I am perturbed by the influence of the non-Democrat Bernie Sanders in my party. If the DNC makes this move and Ellison finds his way to the chair of the DNC, I would feel my party leaving me behind. The “Sanders wing,” epitomized by Cornel West and Keith Ellison, would make support of Israel a partisan issue for the first time in U.S. history. Liberal Jews like me would be presented with a horrifying and unnecessary dilemma, and the Democrats would no longer be able to count on solid Jewish support at the ballot box. Staring into the face of a Trump presidency, Democrats must look within for unity.


Read a dispatch from Trumpville here.

Brad Keil is a blogger focusing on Zionism, the Democratic party, and heavy metal. His Twitter feed is @clompthestrong.

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