My boyfriend gave me peaches.
My boyfriend gave me pears.
My boyfriend gave me fifty cents
And kissed me on the stairs.
I gave him back his peaches.
I gave him back his pears.
I gave him back his fifty cents
And kicked him down the stairs!
— Excerpted from the children’s ditty “I Am a Pretty Little Dutch Girl” (before Political Correctness changed the classic lyrics).
Be careful [in your dealings] with the ruling authorities for they do not befriend a person except for their own needs.
They appear as friends when it benefits them, but they do not stand by a person in his hour of distress.
— Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Sages) 2:3.
We now are in the season of watching some prior Trump partisans — who readily accepted his peaches, pears, more-than fifty cents, and kisses — kicking Trump down the stairs. That is politics. So be it.
When my son in his younger years, and when others who have heard me speak and have read my writings, have asked me why I do not run for political office, I repeatedly have told them that a person who truly loves truth and who shirks from a life of character-depletion simply cannot be personally in politics. There is too much lying, too much trying to treat people as objects to be manipulated and maneuvered for one’s own personal ends, and — no less hard for me — too much disloyalty.
I value loyalty right up there with truth and character. Those who have known me and worked with me through the past half-century know that I have given up extraordinary personal opportunities in each of my careers — law, academia, rabbinics, writing — because I will not sell out others for personal gain, and I will not mouth platitudes about the corrupt despite social pressure to fit in. When a rabbi was fired unjustly from his congregation twenty years ago and I was offered his position — a high-paying job that dozens of candidates across the country immediately flocked to seek — I would not apply until I met personally with the man who had been fired and asked his permission and personal blessings to apply. My precious beloved wife, Ellen of blessed memory, accompanied me, and we asked his permission. He could not believe it. He told me that I was the only one who had shown him that courtesy, that decency. He gave me his blessings. Only then did I apply.
When I was a big-firm litigation attorney, a partner and personal mentor wanted me to be part of a group of other attorneys who would write negative workplace-performance reviews of an attorney whom he wanted to dump. Others saw opportunity and complied eagerly. I refused. She had done nothing wrong. I lost his favor.
If someone to whom I have been loyal has lost my trust, that is one thing. But if there simply has evolved a constellation of stars that offers opportunity for me in return for selling out a mentor, a colleague, even a decent and loyal subordinate, I will go down with that person’s ship rather than turn on someone for personal gain.
In the same way, when I see someone suddenly targeted unfairly for personal destruction, I will step in and affirm my friendship and support — even if I am the only friend that person still will have openly by his side. That often has cost me dearly. It has cost me financially and professionally. And yet, perhaps it sounds a bit too “Lou Gehrigy,” but I count myself among the luckiest people on the face of the earth. There is something about not being able to be bought off at any price. It definitely creates a whole new category of bitter enemies who hate — just that: bitterly hating the person who does not care about public opinion, the person whose conscience drives all else. Perhaps that is why Ayn Rand touched my soul when I read We the Living, then The Fountainhead, then Atlas Shrugged. I related to Kira Argounova, Howard Roark, Hank Rearden, and Dagny Taggart. Unfortunately, I also knew too many attorneys, professors, rabbis, and others who were models for Ellsworth Toohey, Dr. Robert Stadler, and James Taggart. Ayn Rand won me over without knowing me. If only she could have found a place for G-d in her soul… and if only she did not feel that she had to change her Jewish name from Alisa Rosenbaum. Alas!
I am not surprised to see Elaine Chao, Betsy DeVos, Mick Mulvaney, and other Trump insiders now racing for the outsides. That is human nature. They served four years, hoped until recently for four more, and quickly came to realize that they have to clear out in two weeks anyway. So they did something that I best can explain to others by giving examples of two people I know: a tenured law professor and a congregational rabbi, both of whom have loved and spoken for Trump for the past four years.
Understand first that for many of us — and my regular readers have known this about my own feelings the past four years — many among us ardent Trump backers never made our peace with times the President manifestly lied unnecessarily, uttered profanities, mocked and insulted adversaries in small ways and unnecessarily (e.g., calling a despicable woman “horseface,” commenting on another’s facial plastic surgery), and engaged in other side distractions that diminished him and the unique greatness he brought to the Oval Office. We kept hoping that the presidency perhaps would change that, and we were among the most disappointed in his first Biden Debate performance for that reason. But enough about that. Throughout, we also knew that he rapidly had emerged as one of the greatest American presidents, one of the three greatest in a century (along with FDR and Reagan), and that he had accomplished more things to make America great again than we even dared hope.
Many in the professions — particularly in academia, medicine, law, clergy, technology, entertainment, and publishing — and others in business (particularly those owning their own businesses) faced particular peril for backing and endorsing Trump heartily. In such fields, emboldened by “Cancel Culture” — the Obama Era’s move to purge from society those who do not think or believe correctly — it became perilous to speak an honest belief that illegal immigration is wrong and dangerous, that the world will not end in nine years, that our national security is enhanced by our new-found energy independence from tyrannical and barbaric Arab Muslim sheikhdoms, that Black Lives Matter is a complicated construct founded and also led by many demagogues and racists, and that police and firefighters are good people and heroes of our society as are our men and women in the armed forces. One had to learn to keep quiet at the office, to pick and select very carefully the few at work to whom one could confide one’s true beliefs. We always knew that Brett Kavanaugh was a righteous soul, a G-d-fearing good Christian family man who was character-assassinated by a perjurer, but we had to be careful to whom we said it. While the Left screamed “Survivors Must Be Believed,” and tried to break down the doors of the Supreme Court (insurrection?), we never doubted that they would be silent soon enough when honest, true rape and other sexual-assault victims would speak out against Democrat office-holders, say in Virginia or say a Democrat Presidential candidate. We knew and saw the perjury and show trial that Justice Kavanaugh had to bear witness, with his wife and daughters, to the lies sworn under oath. Yet many Trump backers knew they would lose their own jobs if they gave voice to the truth.
I cannot begin to tally all the times these past four years that colleagues — lawyers, professors, rabbis — have written me “offline,” “not for further circulation,” asking that I please maintain their confidentiality, just to tell me that they read an article I had published defending President Trump or some other conservative cause or belief … and they wanted me to know that they “stand behind me 100 percent.” I would promise them that confidentiality, which decades as a high-stakes attorney and as a Rav (Orthodox rabbi) have called upon me to protect. And when I later would come under vitriolic personal attack myself for the perfectly reasonable conservative beliefs I express, and I would wonder where all those others in my camp are, I would look to my left and to my right, and would see no one alongside me. At that moment I knew what they meant when they said they were behind me — miles behind me, way out of sight — 100 percent.
And so I think to a secretly pro-Trump tenured law professor I know. He now criticizes Trump openly for the first time. And I think to a pro-Trump rabbi I know who openly defended the President to his flock for four years, despite the profound distaste all of us religionists, of all faiths and clergy, have felt for aspects I described above. Why the sudden change? Neither believes the sudden Big Lies that Trump sought an insurrection or coup. So why the change? The answer is so simple, and it explains not only them but also DeVos and Chao and Mulvaney and all the others who will join them in the next few days.
The tenured professor could not be fired for expressing pro-Trump conservative views. Only adjunct professors like me — the ones who are hired, one term at a time, to teach (in my case for each of the prior 32 consecutive terms) — potentially can be fired simply by not being rehired for a new term. But that tenured professor still could be cut off invitation lists to parties. Still could be denied a committee chairmanship. Still could be professionally ostracized. Colleagues could stop talking to him, making him feel unwelcome. He became isolated, a true victim of social distancing long before China sent us the Wuhan coronavirus. But now Trump is on the way out, with only a week to go. Trump is out — but the tenured professor still has a career in progress in academia. He still has mouths to feed, a roof to keep over his wife’s and children’s heads. And now he hopes that, if he rags on Trump enough, he will be invited back to champagne and caviar and sushi, listening to visiting lecturers give talks on law review articles they just have published that no one will read on topics too esoteric to matter to any but fellows in their sub-sub-sub-sub specialty.
And that rabbi. You see, Catholic and Jewish Hasidic clergy get hired from the top, from their central theological leadership circles. And that is the earthly oversight to which they must answer in the future. But non-Hasidic congregational rabbis and Protestant pastors get hired by and answer to a church or shul (Orthodox) or temple (non-Orthodox) board of laity. Among Orthodox Jews, surveys upon surveys document that the Orthodox Jewish community is the most pro-Trump community in America — one prominent survey had it at 83-13% for Trump. For example, in the 30th Electoral District of New York State’s 48th Assembly District, an Orthodox Jewish enclave, the November ballot tally was 533 votes for Trump, 36 for Biden. In the adjacent 29th Electoral District, it was 598 for Trump, 29 for Biden. Thus, in virtually every Orthodox synagogue, the support for Trump has been “through the roof.” But a congregational rabbi always is devoted to serving all his flock, and politics must never be a factor in loving and caring for a soul. Indeed, most of us Orthodox rabbis — unlike leftist reform rabbis and unlike extreme-radical-leftist church pastors like Jeremiah Wright and Raphael Warnock — do not even talk politics from our pulpit. My congregants read my politics here, not when I discuss in shul the laws of Shabbat, Kashrut (kosher food), or commentaries on the weekly Torah portion.
For years, that rabbinic colleague has come under criticism from two or three lay leaders in his congregation who are the two or three anti-Trump partisans in a congregation that is overwhelmingly pro-Trump. For four years, he has weathered pressure on his very job stability and security, agitation from those minuscule critics. And now, with Trump a week away from Mar-a-Lago and returning to an infinitely much better, easier, and enjoyable life, that rabbi feels he now has an opportunity to do some job-security enhancement by telling his antagonists: “I have come to see your point.” Like that tenured law professor, like Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos and Mick Mulvaney, he figures there is no upside to standing by Trump now. The election is over, and a new quadrennium begins. If Trump comes back in four years, so will he. In the meantime, he can focus on feeding his family and protecting that roof.
But he has emailed me, urging me to keep writing. “Dov,” he writes in strictest attorney-client confidentiality, “You have to keep writing. People have to hear and read the truth. Don’t let the Mainstream Media lies fog and haze reality. And I want you to know that I am behind you 100 percent.”