At the Intersection of Religion and Politics

What Guidance Can Judaism Offer for the 2016 Election?

The 2016 election cycle has left many people discontent with the political process, including me. I was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, even though I knew he had only a slim chance of winning. When he lost the primary, I found myself angry with the political process, the media’s role in shaping the narrative around the election, and the prima facie dismissal of his disappointed supporters as sexist “Bernie bros.” I considered not voting, then I considered voting for Jill Stein. Overall, I find Hillary too far to the right on economic and foreign policy issues, and I don’t want to be a supporter of American imperialism or the corporate take-over of our government, which I think Hillary supports despite her recent lip service to Bernie’s populism. But recently, I’ve been thinking of the ethical ramifications of my electoral duties, particularly in the capacity of Jewish values and social obligations.

The unfortunate political reality is that in November either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the United States. Unless we can pass an amendment to the Constitution changing our government to a parliamentary system with proportionate representation before November, we’re stuck with the two party system. Since such a thing is highly unlikely, a conscientious voter should decide which option is the most in keeping with their values.

So what values are central to a committed, Reform Jew? We are called to care for the poor, the outcast, the orphan, the widow, the elderly, and the foreigner. We are called to seek peace, righteousness, and justice. Insofar as Judaism has a concept of salvation, it is social salvation, not individual. Judaism recognizes that society is a unit of interdependent individuals who rely on one another for their well-being. As such, Jewish values are social values that call for the provision of the weakest members of society.

When I weigh Clinton and Trump against these values, only Clinton espouses any of them. To be sure, she is not perfect, but she is much better than Trump who routinely marginalizes and bullies immigrants, the poor, LGBT people, outcasts, women, and the disabled. Not to mention that Clinton, while hawkish, at least understands the value of negotiation and diplomacy, while Trump consistently deals in blundering threats and unrealistic, self-aggrandizing proclamations. And let’s not overlook the fact that Trump is a liar, a blatant white supremacist, and a fascist who idolizes brutal dictators. As far as social salvation is concerned, i.e. the well-being of every member of society, Clinton does better than Trump by far.

Ultimately, we must recognize that no politician will ever be able to establish a perfectly just society. (Yes, that includes Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.) But we have a special Jewish duty to resist fascism (i.e. Trump) and to establish a just society that provides for the needs of all. I’m with her because it’s the only way to defeat Trump, and we’re stronger together.

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