The real issue in the midterms Is that it CAN happen here—and it is
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ColumnKeeping the Faith

The real issue in the midterms Is that it CAN happen here—and it is

Voters are said to be focused on the economy, thus giving Republicans the edge in the midterms. Ironically, if the economy is the main concern, voting for Republicans would be foolhardy, judging by the nation’s economic ups and down over the last 100 years. Thirteen of the 17 recessions in the United States in the last 100 years occurred with a Republican in the White House.

Republicans historically also are most responsible for the soaring national debt. Ronald Reagan inherited a $78.9 billion budget deficit from Jimmy Carter, and turned it into a $152.6 billion deficit, which President George H.W. Bush pushed up to $255 billion by the time he left office. President Bill Clinton then turned the deficit into a $236 billion budget surplus, but it reversed course in a big way under President George W. Bush. The deficit stood at $1.41 trillion when Barack Obama took over. He brought it down to $584.6 billion, but it soared to $3.1 trillion under Donald Trump. Last year, President Biden brought it slightly down to $2.8 trillion.

As a recent New York Times analysis showed, “The six presidents who have presided over the fastest job growth [since 1933] have all been Democrats…. The four presidents who have presided over the slowest growth have all been Republicans.” Also, “Since 1933, the economy has grown at an annual average rate of 4.6 percent under Democratic presidents and 2.4 percent under Republicans.”

While the economy is an issue, what should concern voters even more, we Jews especially, is the future course of this country. Specifically, what we Jews need to be most concerned about is where the Republican Party and a majority of its voters stand on two issues—the Christianization of America and the threat to the fairness of our electoral process.

We depend on the electoral process more than we care to realize. In a great many races for local, state, and national offices, “the Jewish vote” is at least significant and often proves pivotal. If that process is tampered with in any negative way, that surely will be to our detriment.

The U.S. Supreme Court is on track to do such tampering in its current term. If it does, it would be up to Congress to rectify the issue, something that will not happen if Republicans controlled Congress.

The most significant case before the High Court is Moore v Harper, a North Carolina case rooted in something called the “independent state legislature” theory. This theory, a favorite of many right-wing Republicans, asserts that state legislatures have virtually absolute power in all matters electoral, including possibly even the power to overturn election results they do not like. Courts would have no oversight, and state constitutional provisions would be moot.

The specific issue to be decided in Moore v. Harper is partisan gerrymandering. According to a State Supreme Court ruling, the North Carolina legislature redrew the states’ congressional and legislative maps in a highly partisan manner. The court said this violated the state’s constitution and ordered the maps to be redrawn.

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns that order, it will hand a license to all state legislatures to undermine fair elections throughout the United States.

As it is, a new Washington Post analysis shows that more than half of Republican nominees running in November, 299 in all, have denied the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, and at least 170 of them are on track to win their races, which would allow control of state legislatures.

Add to this the attempts to make this a Christian country state by state in law, something else toward which the Supreme Court appears inclined. The threat to the efficacy of the Jewish vote if that happens should be apparent.

Make no mistake, “it” can happen here. Anyone who has watched the Ken Burns series on the U.S. and the Holocaust heard how German Jews held on to the belief that “it can’t happen here” for much too long. As Daniel Mendelsohn, who wrote “The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million,” put it in the film (among others who did), “As it was happening to us, we couldn’t believe it.” (If you have not watched the series, you should do so, preferably before November 8.)

None of us want to believe it today about this country, but when states begin to make some form of Christianity their official state religion, it may be too late to say, “if only we saw this coming.”

The U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause has been the barrier to any state doing so, of course, but this current court seems poised to eviscerate it.

In 2005, the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said that the Establishment Clause does not protect religious minorities or nonbelievers. “Our national tradition has resolved that conflict in favor of the majority,” and the Establishment Clause “permits this disregard….”

In other words, because Christians today make up 64 percent of the U.S. population, the Constitution not only favors and even promotes Christian beliefs, Scalia said, it offers the rest of us no protection.

No one else on the Court held that view in 2005. At least some do today. In the 2020 case Espinoza v Montana, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, cavalierly asserted that the “Establishment Clause does not prohibit States from favoring religion.”

Several decisions last term suggest that other conservatives on the Court agree. As Reuters reported on June 28, “The conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court has chipped away at the wall separating church and state in a series of new rulings, eroding American legal traditions intended to prevent government officials from promoting any particular faith.”

Republican politicians at all levels seem intent on doing as much chipping as they can—because their Republican voters want them to do so.

A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll conducted in May found that 61 percent of Republicans favor “declaring the United States to be a Christian nation.” Only 39 percent of Republicans were opposed. By contrast, 83 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Independents were opposed.

That explains why, in campaign after campaign this year, Republican hopefuls are touting their support for Christianizing America—and why they won their primaries.

Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for re-election and has his eyes on a 2024 White House run, hangs out his Christian Right credentials at every opportunity. “Put on the full armor of God,” he said in one speech. “Stand firm against the left’s schemes. You will face flaming arrows, but if you have the shield of faith, you will overcome them, and … I can tell you this, I have only begun to fight.”

The “the full armor of God, stand firm against the left’s schemes” is a verse taken from the Christian Bible, specifically Ephesians 6, with one change. Ephesians calls on Christians to spiritually arm themselves against “the devil’s schemes.” DeSantis has replaced the ”devil” with “the left.” (The “flaming arrows” and “shield of faith” references also come from Ephesians 6.)

For his part, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott tells his supporters on the re-election campaign trail that if “we” are to cure the country’s ills, “We need to restore God in our communities.” By that, he means the Christian idea of God, not ours.

Christianizing America is also central to the campaign of such GOP candidates as Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, who calls church-state separation a “myth” and who accepted support from a well-known and virulent antisemite until media exposure forced him to disavow the man.

The Christianizing rhetoric also often has a markedly anti-Semitic tone to it. As Haaretz reported on October 6, “anti-Semitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories have become a throughline in the local and national races that will determine whether Republicans win control of Congress.”

People, Jews included, who want to vote Republican have a right to do so; I am not arguing otherwise. Jews must vote this year, but for Democrats only. This is not meant as a political statement but a religious one, because our survival depends on the powerful message their resounding across-the-board defeat in the midterms will send to the Republicans.

As Jeremiah quoted God’s message to the exiled Jews in Babylon, “Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the Lord in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.” (See Jeremiah 29:7.)

The “welfare of the city” depends on open and free elections, and on the United States remaining secular in every way.

More recently, no less a halachic authority as the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled in 1984 that voting was required of Jews because it fell under the category known as “nosei b’ol ha-tzibbur”—carrying the burdens of the community. In other words, we must help ease the community’s burdens by voting for the right candidates, especially if voting for the wrong ones can lead to undesired consequences.

Shammai Engelmayer is a rabbi-emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades and an adult education teacher in Bergen County. He is the author of eight books and the winner of 10 awards for his commentaries. His website is www.shammai.org.Shamma

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