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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The 2020 U.S. Elections and the Jewish Vote

Filed under: U.S. Policy

I will take this opportunity to present some rather wild and I admit completely baseless analyses and insights into what I think may be going on. We are looking at, if nothing else, a kind of comical collapse of so many of the institutions that we have entrusted for so long to help us make sense of our political moment. When we try to look at what happened on November 3rd, I think the first insightful question in true Talmudic manner is to ask what didn’t happen.

What didn’t happen is I think this election was not about politics. It wasn’t about partisanship. It wasn’t about Democrats versus Republicans, as would be attested to by the slim narrow margin that we saw. It wasn’t about these monolithic ideological divides that the left has sort of consistently tried to convince us really made up American public discourse – ideas of divisions of race and gender. Most American voters rejected those empathically. My one favorite statistical takeaway from this election was the notion that Donald Trump improved his performance over 2016 in every single category except for white men, which I think teaches us a lot about how fervently Americans rejected this narrative of racial divisions and these perspectives of looking at the world through the small, narrow lens of identity politics,

What we did see, if we’re trying to make sense of where the divisions actually lie, we would be well served by looking at the distinctions offered in 2016 by the British journalist David Goodheart, who told us that if we really wanted to understand what modern politics is about and will be about in decades to come, we should look not at left versus right or secular versus religious or any of these sort of old traditional divisions that we’ve become accustomed to, but rather at the division between what he called the somewheres and the anywheres. The anywheres, in his telling, were people who lived in LA and New York and Chicago and Austin. They were lawyers and doctors and documentary film producers and web developers – crafts that they could practice from literally any other point in the world to which they sometimes indeed ended up moving, and their worldview connected them to this larger class or cast, if you will, of people who shared their sensibility, who shared these ideas. If they had a belief system that was strongly pronounced, it was this new progressive religion that had in its ideas the sort of cosmology of victimhood, of righteousness, of who gets to be prioritized over other people.

On the other end of the spectrum are what Goodheart calls somewheres. These are people who live in Dayton and Dallas and San Antonio, people who are deeply tethered to the local places, to the specific geographies, and to the traditions and institutions that make and sustain these communities. If you want to see who triumphed in this election, look for example at the Senate race in Maine. Our intellectual betters in the media spent months and months telling us that Susan Collins was really under threat, she may lose the election to Sara Gideon. Sarah Gideon, bolstered by a lot of donations coming in through Twitter and Facebook from liberals all over the country, raised $68 million. Susan Collins raised $26 million, mostly from local people in Maine, and swept the election.

Where does this leave the Jews? I think the Jews and the Jewish vote, and I think some of the numbers that we saw here today support this, really sort of fell neatly into these two categories. If you are a person who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan or in West Hollywood, you probably voted one way. If you’re a person who lived in a different community that was more rooted for religious or geographic reasons to its origin, you were much more likely to vote very differently.

I think in the long term things are actually wildly promising for American Jews and here’s why. I think these two camps – the somewheres and the anywheres – are not equal. I think one of them – the anywheres – is likely to discover very soon that when you set up a meritocracy and you promise people great jobs if only they go to your institutions, you come up eventually with the same problem that the French landed gentry came up with in the Middle Ages of, at some point, having more sons and daughters than titles and estates to distribute. Then this whole class of people starts resenting you and starts clinging on to ideologies, as we’re seeing today, that are deeply dangerous to the survival and stability of the system.

On the other hand, you have an amazing coalition of which more Jews than ever before are a part of. This coalition, the likes of which we have not seen before, includes people of various faith traditions, it includes immigrants from different communities, it includes a whole host of people – by far the majority of the country – that actually share a very profoundly similar American vision. This to me is the reason why the most prominent American media outlet today isn’t the New York Times but Joe Rogan, who’s a former mixed martial arts commentator who has tens of millions of people listening to him because he brings together this incredible coalition of very diverse populations. I think Jews belong very firmly in this coalition and I think whereas the last 50 years in American public life have been about Jews trying to learn how to be Americans, the next 50 years will be much more about Americans learning how to be Jews, and in doing so be a part of this major nascent coalition of somewheres that are reshaping American politics