Special Report – US Election: ‘Trump polarises and has ripped apart the country’

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US ElectionVoters give their views

Special Report – US Election: ‘Trump polarises and has ripped apart the country’

With just hours remaining before Americans choose their next president, Jack Mendel asks Jewish expats in the UK which way they voted – and why...

Jack Mendel is the former Online Editor at the Jewish News.

A defaced Biden-Harris sign is spray-painted with the word "Trump" near Centre Hall, Pennsylvania on October 24, 2020. (Photo by Paul Weaver/Sipa USA)
A defaced Biden-Harris sign is spray-painted with the word "Trump" near Centre Hall, Pennsylvania on October 24, 2020. (Photo by Paul Weaver/Sipa USA)

With America’s Covid-19 death toll passing 225,000 and historic peace deals signed in the Middle East, the 2020  US presidential election has polarised  a nation with unique fears and hopes. 

Unlike four years ago, when the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency was pie-in-the-sky thinking, this time around, Democrat-supporting Jews are taking no chances.

After a recent study outlined that 70 percent of Jewish Americans would back Joe Biden, voters this week voiced concerns about Trump’s divisiveness and showed little signs of voting against party lines to prevent a second term in the White House.

Chicago-born Edie Friedman, who has lived and worked in the UK since 1971, refuses to even give the incumbent zero out of 10.

“There’s no scale of minus-1000” by which to judge him, she says. “When he stands up, he polarises and belittles people.”

Edie Friedman

A lifelong Democrat and opponent of racism, Friedman says that “for a lot of people, there’s no choice”, adding: “There are no words to describe Donald Trump”, whose tenure has seen the US divided on issues of race, the economy, inequality, immigration, tackling Covid-19 and foreign policy.

She does not know anyone who is a Trump supporter, saying: “My friends feel they don’t recognise the United States” anymore, with many “physically frightened to go to vote”.

Trump has done “nothing positive and has ripped the country apart” and, while not an “enthusiastic” fan of Joe Biden, the way he “conducted himself during the campaign is a positive”, Friedman says, adding: “He comes across as a mensch” who wants to “decrease some of the tension and division”.

London-born Mikey Franklin, who now lives in Washington, DC, backed Biden in 2020, having voted for left-wing Jewish senator Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

When asked if he knows any Trump supporters, the father-of-two says: “I have limited social time and try very hard not to spend it with racists.”

Mikey Franklin with his older daughter on Roosevelt Island in DC

Franklin adds: “My wife’s family are Soviet refugees and my father-in-law has some Trumpist sympathies, but I try extremely hard not to get into politics with him for fear of irrevocably harming the relationship.”

The Brit, who attended Akiva School and had his barmitzvah and chuppah at Alyth Synagogue, now belongs to a Masorti synagogue just outside DC.

After moving to the US in 2012, he became a naturalised citizen in 2018, and said the main reason for supporting Biden is “having a president who isn’t Donald Trump”.

He cares “deeply about racial justice, so electing a president who isn’t a white supremacist would be nice”.

“Trump’s embrace of the far-right, the increasing antisemitism of the Republican Party and the mainstreaming of QAnon, a modern-day blood libel, weighed heavily upon my vote”, he explains.

Like other Democrat-supporters, he rates the president zero out of 10 for his tenure, saying it would be “abject despair” if he won a second term.

Mikey with his wife and kids

“A Shoah survivor in my community told me not long after Trump was elected the first time that he thought American democracy could just about survive one term of Trump, but not two,” he says.

“A second Trump term would mark the end of American democracy, and the entrenchment of white minority rule.”

Ethan Olswang, a student in the UK originally from Greater Washington, DC, recently went on a UK Birthright trip, which has brought him back in touch with his Jewish identity.

Ethan Olswang

He echoes concerns about the rise of the far-right, saying, “Trump has continued to enable alt-right members, who are more often than not antisemitic.

“Antisemitic violence and rhetoric has significantly increased under the current administration”, something he believes needs addressing.

While saying Israel “did not play a major role in influencing my vote”, Olswang says it is “extremely important” to vote for Biden, a candidate “who will protect me as a Jewish American citizen”.

The master’s student tries to “steer clear” of any Trump supporters in his family and social circles, also giving Trump zero out of 10 for his time in office.

“America cannot afford to be under the rule of a sociopath for another four years.”

Screenshot from Twitter showing President Trump debating Joe Biden during a presidential debate.

While the president may have critics for his handling of domestic issues, many supporters herald his achievements on the foreign policy front, namely the facilitation of peace deals for Israel with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Philadelphian Skylar Magaziner, who is based in London, voted for Trump, saying he has “done more in 47 months than Joe Biden has in 47 years in Washington”.

Skylar Magaziner,

Calling it an “easy decision”, the Republican supporter says “the peace deals in the Middle East and making America energy independent” were issues that swayed her the most, adding: ”President Trump has rejected the failed foreign policy of past administrations while Joe Biden has pushed for endless wars.”

Magaziner would be “concerned” if polls were correct and Biden got in, saying “it would be frightening”.

She thinks he would “shut the economy back down and raise taxes” and doesn’t “believe Biden would expand on the peace deal [Abraham Accords] if he were elected.”

Republicans Overseas UK adds that Biden would “bring back the wasteful and unsuccessful foreign interventionist policies of the Obama years”, with “more troop deployments and the destabilisation of the new normalised relations” in the Middle East.

“Our enemies will feel emboldened”, it said.

Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Bahrain, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates sign papers during the Abraham Accords Signing Ceremony at The White House on Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)

Meanwhile, Romford Synagogue member Russell Langer, whose father was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, cast his ballot in Florida, where his grandparents live.

While a Conservative activist in the UK, he backed the Democrats, saying: “I do not consider myself to be a Biden supporter but he has a good history of collaborative politics and I believe that is what America needs in the next administration.”

Saying Trump failed “to switch from campaigner to president” during his tenure, Langer, who has worked in the UK Jewish community for six years, adds: “Trump has focused his attention on exacerbating America’s divides” while in office.

Russell Langer

Admitting “Trump deserves credit for some of his foreign policy achievements”, including Middle East peace deals, Langer bemoans the president’s “closeness to far-right groups and his inability to condemn antisemitism in Charlottesville”.

He says these “are particular low points of his presidency, which are very much part of my desire to see him replaced”.

While “the idea of another four years of this divisive politics concerns me”, Langer hopes Biden will “resist the far-left of his party”, especially on foreign policy achievements, if the Democrats win the election.

Whoever is victorious on Monday, the central issues of racism, the response to the pandemic and Middle East peace remain pivotal for Jewish voters, who are placing their faith in Biden to bring stability turn back the tide of Trump.

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