The Thesaurus Problem

Thesaurus exercise: locate synonyms for the following word: “thuggish”: What you will find is bully, uncouth, vulgar, coarse, gross. But in every thesaurus one synonym is missing: Trump.

It is possible that the owner of all these sobriquets could become the leader of the most powerful country on earth and thus the leader of the free world. That a person who has no experience in elected office, no knowledge of history or foreign affairs, who thinks that everything revolves about making some “deal” or another — that he might become president of the USA is more than worrisome; it is frightening.

I used to think that Hitlerism and Fascism could never find a home in America because, unlike Germany, America does not have a history of aggression and militarism. But with the dehumanizing elements of society now crawling out from under the rocks and being legitimized, one can no longer be sanguine. Ten million people have voted for him in the primaries. Not all of them are noxious, but millions clearly are.

Granted, much of the pro-Trump sentiment is a reaction both to the ultra left-wing proclivities of the Obama administration, and to the moribund, self-serving politics that today govern America. The people are exasperated; they have had their fill. The Diogenes-like search for an honest man has found no one. And the masses are revolted by the liberal erosion of traditional family norms. So they have turned to a person who, like every politician, promises to change things in Washington. And because this demagogue says whatever they want him to say at any given moment, they support him — even though his weekly outbursts would make it difficult to elect him sheriff of a little town.

Beyond the dangers that he poses for America as a nation, Trump has unleashed a poison-pill in human relationships. That which was once unacceptable in human discourse , because it was vulgar and uncouth, is now admissible in civil conversation. Thoughts which we used to bury and never express, have now been resurrected and become part of daily discourse. Once upon a time , If a person could not always control the random ruminations that flit across the mind, he could control their verbalization. But with Trump’s vulgarisms, that which among decent people was better left unsaid is now becoming normal. Even if America should somehow survive his politics, the degradation of discourse and the violence to our sense of decency could be beyond repair.

One often wonders: in a nation of 300 million people, are these two candidates the best we can produce for our highest office? Clearly, the system – in which money buys and elects unqualified candidates — is corrupt, dysfunctional, and badly in need of repair. It is said that a nation gets the leaders it deserves. Does America deserve this?

Legitimate question: If you are so unhappy with Trump, why not vote for the other candidate? Answer: the other candidate also has a thesaurus problem. Look up “untrustworthy.” What springs up is crafty, calculating, dishonest, unethical. Again the missing synonym is Hillary. Her list is not as long as Trump’s, but it is just as troubling.

The very worst thing about this election is that one of them will win. The American voter is faced with what has been called the evil of two lessers. I still don’t know what I will do on election day. My right hand faileth when it considers pulling the lever for Trump; and my right hand cleaves to itself when it considers the lever for Hillary.

There is only one comfort: that famous verse in Mishle 21:1: Lev melech b’yad haShem, “the heart of a king is in the hand of Gd.” Ultimately, kings and kingdoms are not in our hands. We can only do our best to try to affect our future ,but the final outcome lies in a realm far beyond us. One remains worried, but King Solomon in Mishle offers a measure of solace.

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29 Responses

  1. Y. Ben-David says:

    So the time has come for American Orthodox Jews to face the fact that the Golden Age of American Jewry which reached fruition in the 1960’s with the ending of Jewish quotas in the universities and the end of restricted neighborhoods and the such, has ended.  So what are you gong to do about it?  Is it going to be like Europe where some Jews are clinging to the belief that the continent that willing  participated in the Holocaust is somehow going to get better in spite of the moral  collapse of those  with Christian origins and the explosive growth of the Muslim community?

    Time to get one’s head out of the sand.

    • Raymond says:

      You know what?  I agree with you, Y Ben David, but I have to say, to admit that you are right in this case, terrifies me.  And yet I do see the writing on the wall.  More than half of Americans are affiliated with the Democratic Party, which has grown increasingly hostile to both our Jewish State of Israel, as well as to our Jewish values.  Unless the trends change, which is extremely unlikely, the best days of America are behind us, and now it is time for us Jews to prepare for the inevitability of no longer being welcome in this formerly great country called America.  And yet, how ironic and scary it would be, to run away from America that is increasingly falling into islamoFascist hands, in favor of moving to Israel, which is both surrounded and infiltrated by islamoNazi terrorists.

  2. lacosta says:

    The risk to tora judaism by left wing judges, who will rule that PC values will override religious values when they conflict, should not be underestimated. Milah, shechita, refusal to perform same sex kiddushin, etc are in play….

    • Benjamin says:

      If anything, PC values will be what allow Orthodox rabbis not to have to perform same-sex kiddushin.  As long as the state will give out civil marriage licenses to everyone, every religion can do whatever they want in their own non-legally binding (from a civil perspective) ceremonies.  If anything, it’s the right wing/Trump who talks about whether to allow religious law or whether we can ban or discriminate against certain religions in the US.

  3. Elisha says:

    Dishonesty isn’t a disqualification for office; all politicians are dishonest. And so is Trump. I’m voting for Hillary.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    While vulgarity is bad and increasing in our social and political society, and is very worthy of our censure, outright treason and betrayal of the US Constitution by public officials in high places ought to command far more of our attention.   On both the social and political levels, our alleged national leaders have been concertedly cutting America down to size.  No Federal department has been left to work in its normal manner.  Rather, the arms of the Executive Branch are being corrupted to the core and made to operate in our enemies’ interests.  Job one is to vote the perpetrators out of office and prosecute them as the law dictates.  The courts and Congress won’t save us if we wimp out as they do.

  5. Lisa Liel says:

    With all due respect, you are mistaken about Trump.  Over the past century or so, the DemoRepubliCratIans have created a political class in America.  They have taken a nation that was supposed to be run by its citizenry and turned it into one led by elites.  Every 4 to 8 years or so, they switch off, but the power is theirs, and the American people are disenfranchised.

    In a system of this sort, there is only one way to break the stranglehold of that political class.  And no, it wasn’t pretty.  But I think you’ll see that your fears were unfounded once President Trump takes office.

  6. DF says:

    R. Feldman was a great rabbi and is a great writer. He is also a product of a different time, who gets his information from newspapers – and knowing R. Feldman, the New York Times  –  that are now distrusted by almost all Americans. Little wonder that he parrots their shameful use of the words “Hitler” and “Facist.” And these terms are applied to a man with orthodox Jewish children, for heaven’s sake. Rabbi Feldman is surely entitled to respect, but it must be said: such comments are absurd.

    Let me name drop just this once. I was at a dinner last night for our local Anti Defamation League – no conservatives, them – and Geraldo Rivera was the speaker. He spoke about Trump in the highest of terms, as a brilliant man, and described him as a friend for over forty years. Yes, he acknowledged that he doesn’t agree with all his positions, and even allowed that he might not vote for him [while not saying he would vote for the other candidate.] But he also dismissed the nonsense of racism, said he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, and that he might be right about immigration. I repeat, this was at a meeting of the ADL, probably the most liberal of Jewish organizations. Nobody challenged him, and he was roundly congratulated after his remarks. Is R. Feldman more liberal than them?

    R. Feldman’s analysis is also very questionable.  He says the “the masses are turned off by the erosion of family values” and so they have turned….to Trump? No one has ever made such a claim, and Trump isn’t even campaigning on that issue. And does R. Feldman really believe Trump  “vulgarized” political discourse and conversation? Has he been living in a different country the past sixteen years?

    I realize R. Feldman tries, unsuccessfully, to appear even-handed by acknowledging Clinton’s dishonesty. But we Jews know all about the evils of “moral equivalence.”  לא מדובשך ולא מעוקצך.  We don’t need to be told anything about Clinton, and we surely don’t need to hear regurgitated media-propaganda about Trump.

    • Aaron says:

      Attacking Hispanics, Mexicans and Muslims smacks of bigotry and hatred. Failure to distance himself from David Duke when asked, and failure too forcefully condemn the anti-Semitic vitriol of his followers that is directed at those that are opposed to him, smacks of an all too easy tolerance for racism.  Referring to “my African American” and stereotyping Jews at an RJC conference is indicative of prejudice. Disdainful remarks against women smacks of sexism. Pandering to the base fears of Americans as a cure for some perceived American decline and threatening punitive action against reporters and newspapers that are critical of him is a tried and true a tactic of Fascists.   B’michilas Kevod Geraldo Rivera, Rabbi Feldman is right on target.

      • DF says:

        You’re Jewish, right? The filthy [unprintable] anti-Semitic remark Hilary Clinton said about Paul Fray doesn’t bother you more than anything? You want that kind of anti-Semite in the white house?

        Your opening sentence, false in every way,  immediately disqualifies you. Trump didn’t attack Hispanics and Mexicans – he attacked illegal immigrants, the only candidate who has done so as it needs to be done. Nor has he attacked “Muslims”, he has said – correctly – that we need to re-examine our immigration policies to people coming in from Muslim countries. He is 100% right on both those counts.  And the country knows it.


    • Aaron says:

      And does R. Feldman really believe Trump  “vulgarized” political discourse and conversation? Has he been living in a different country the past sixteen years?

      I would apply the same question to the writer of this post. Have you been living in a different country the past sixteen years? Trump’s vulgarity is way beyond normative political discourse. His coarseness is unparalleled. He rise in the polls and much of his popularity is due to his  pejorative name calling of his opponents while failing to engage them in any matter of substance,

    • shaya says:

      Although Trump does not focus on social/moral issues, he is definitely opposed to gay marriage, and has promised to appoint Supreme Court justices like Scalia (if there were a couple retirements and he did so, Obergefell could be overturned). It has been argued that part of the reason he has become so popular among the highly religious Xians is because his political incorrectness itself is attractive (if vulgar at times), because a president like that could militate against the current societal tendency to demonize and marginalize anyone who holds traditionalist positions on social issues.

  7. Aaron says:

    Rabbi Feldman is far too charitable in describing the motivation of the masses for supporting Trump.  “And the masses are revolted by the liberal erosion of traditional family norms” he writes. Really? The latest polling shows that 55% of Americans support same gender marriage. Furthermore, the life of Donald Trump is hardly a paradigm of normative family values. If Republican primary voters were motivated by the erosion of traditional family values they could have easily voted for candidates like Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee. 

    Once rabbi Feldman is on the topic I would also suggest that the Thesaurus definition for “untrustworthy”  include Donald J. Trump who according to Politifact lies upwards of 75% of the time.

    • R.B. says:


      Today, social conservatives are a rapidly shrinking minority among the general population. I am Canadian and cannot vote in the U.S. election. Further, I don’t like Trump. However, I recognize as somebody who would have voted for Ted Cruz for president if I was American, realizes that Cruz, Huckabee, and similar social conservatives will never be able to win a presidential election. Only Trump has a chance of winning the election as the Republican candidate.

    • Reader says:

      “And the masses are revolted by the liberal erosion of traditional family norms” he writes. Really? The latest polling shows that 55% of Americans support same gender marriage. ”

      1) Educated people know how poll results can be manipulated in various ways, such as clever crafting of questions to give a desired result, as well as other tactics. The old truism about lies, more egregious lies, and statistics, applies to polling, which is in the category of (alleged) staistics.

      2) Even if, for arguments sake, the number given was accurate, it is just a thin majority.

      3) Public opinion is fickle.

      4) Trump was elected by GOP voters, a more conservative group, not the populace at large.

      • Aaron says:

        1) Educated people know that reputable polling organizations such as Gallup, Ipsos, Rasmusseen and others do not craft questions to achieve a desired result. There product and company depends on accuracy and they are generally pretty good at delivering it.

        2) By today’s polarized standards it is a pretty significant number. Furthermore that is only the number of people that clearly support SSM. There are others that are not supportive and yet do not oppose SSM and some that mildly oppose SSM. There is absolutely no factual basis to the claim that the “masses are revolted” by such things.

        3) Support for SSM has consistently grown over the past few decades. It is not merely a fickle opinion in a moment of time, but rather  a strong and persistent trend.

        4) True, but the point being is that primary voters did not vote for Trump because they believe that he is a strong proponent of  family values. Trump has been rather unsupportive of NC HB2. He has clearly stated that he would not apply such rules to his Trump properties.


  8. dr. bill says:

    If you think Rabbi Feldman is in any way exaggerating, I remind you to think of a contest between the second place finishers – Sanders and Cruz.
    Hillary tells large, significant lies whenever necessary; beyond being a bombastic ignoramus, Donald tells more mundane lies without any sense of guilt on a rather frequent basis.  If I knew who will commit less harm, I would feel more relaxed.  The only thing we can hope for is Clinton being indicted and the Republicans finding a way to dump Trump.

    • Kevin in Chicago says:

      I also hope for either or both those things.  We can also hope for the arrival of Moshiach.  But if none of these happen, as between a liar who knows what is going on and thinks before she speaks, and an ignorant liar who spouts whatever gratifies his ego and/or his audience at the moment, I feel I have to vote for Clinton.  I have never felt so much distaste at the choice.

  9. Raymond says:

    We are not voting for Chief Rabbi in these elections.  We are voting for lead politician.  Since when are politicians people whom we look up to for some kind of spiritual inspiration?  For me at least, voting for politicians has always been about voting for the lesser of two evils.  In this particular election, this principle has never been more fitting.  While Donald is admittedly the most worst Presidential candidate ever chosen by Republican voters, he is still vastly preferred over his opponent.

    Think, for example, of the issue of Israel, which to me is not only the most important issue of all, but in a way the only issue for us Jews to be concerned about.  For if we do not watch out for the welfare of our fellow Jews over in Israel, we cannot expect the gentile world to do so in place of us.  And the fact is that Donald is pro-Israel, while his opponent may be even more hostile to Israel than is our current President.  Seen in that light, I actually think that it is our moral responsibility as Jews, to vote for Donald on November the 8th.

  10. Nathan Ironstone says:

    Thank you Rabbi Feldman for well written article. Over the years, I have appreciated your perspective and writing beginning with “Tales Out of Shul”. Your summary of the better of 2 evils seems to me to be right on.

    Here’s the question: If the nominee who has a history and reputation of being dishonest (which is pretty common in politics) is running against an individual who is introducing fascist rhetoric and positions and promises to execute them as Commander in Chief–who do you choose? It seems to me that the lesser of 2 evils is the dishonest politician.

    Finally, as Jews (and particularly as religious ones) we are well aware from World History that instability is one of the most common instigators of anti-semitism. It seems to me that a Trump presidency has the potential of introducing instability in a variety of different ways and it would not be an anomaly of history if we as a people, or the state of Israel, become the scapegoats.


  11. David Ohsie says:

    @DF: What informs us is not someone on stage telling us that he hasn’t got racist bone in his body.  What informs us is that he explicitly said “racists, please vote for me” when he denied knowing who David Duke or white supremicists are.  And why should be we saguine about his promise to gut the first amendment and allow publishers to be sued for political speech?  His support for birtherism, the Cruz-Oswald connection and other conspiracy theories are also quite scary.  He’s the only person who’s ever prevented me from voting Republican in a major race.

    @Aaron:  SSM is pro-family and anti-libertine.  The anti-SSM position says to put the value of enforcing a traditional religious norm over bringing more people into a legally recognized family structure.

    @Y. Ben-David:  The US is still quite a favorable place for Jews as it has always been.  Aliyah is a Mitzvah, but the Yetzer Harah for a comfortable American existence remains in full force, I’m afraid.



  12. Erwin Posner says:

    As Jews we have great sympathy for refugees who have great difficulty finding refuge from dangerous situations.  We’ve been there where the doors don’t open.  But we did not proclaim our animosity towards our would be saviors.  At an interview with a Wall Street Journal editor based in London Sohirab Ahmari wrote (June 18,2016) about “The Bedouin Billionaire fro Muslim Integration”.

    The Billionaire quoted was Mohed Altrad, the 2015 winner of the World Entrepreneur of the Year Award as saying, “When you are born in Syria you grow with ideas that are not necessarily correct.  For example, they educate you that you have to kill Jews wherever you find them.”

    Mr. Altrad is all for integration but even he can’t bring himself to say the ideas he was taught as a child are incorrect.  That they are wrong.

    How much more so can these murderous  ideas be adopted those who choose not to integrate.  Would you or any sane person welcome someone into their home who feels the need to kill you if the opportunity presents?  Why do you think  it’s outrageous for Donald Trump to suggest a moratorium on immigration from areas that foster these ideals?

    The entire text of this Weekend Interview with Mohed Altrad can be found at:


  13. Kevin in Chicago says:

    I respect Rabbi Feldman, I agree with the gist of his judgments here, and I relish the expression, “evil of two lessers,” which aptly describes our predicament.  But I question the comfort he offers at the end, while acknowledging that I am an am ha-aretz and willing to be set straight.

    Accepting that ultimately everything is in the hands of Hashem, how can the pasuk from Mishlei,  “lev melech b’yad haShem,” as Rabbi Feldman apparently understands it, be any solace?  Does not N”ch  tell of many “melachim” — kings over Judah and Israel no less!– who did not follow in the ways of Hashem?  Is the elected President of the US a “melech” k’halachah?  If so, was not Hitler (y”sh) who achieved power democratically, also a “melech,” r”l?  I respectfully suggest that we dare not hope that Hashem will make good our choice, if we choose wrongly.

  14. tzippi says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Feldman, and I hope your brother is doing well.

    Many of us are going through the stages of grief as we head towards an uneasy peace with voting for Trump in November should Moshiach not be here. We are not smug Beltway elitists of whom talk show host Mike Gallagher said, he is looking forward to a Trump win to wipe the smugness off their faces. We are people who see G-d intervening in history. Because there is no other reason for Trump’s popularity. This morning Trump read off a litany of Clinton’s failings, which I have no trouble agreeing with. The he said that careers have been ruined over much less egregious actions. I couldn’t help but think of Trump’s bullying, his awful comment about McCain, and so much more.

    Anyone have any kryptonite? That might work…

    • Raymond says:

      To Tzippi and anybody else who might be interested, Mike Gallagher is just one of several really good radio talk show hosts. Some of them are not only Jewish, but are either Orthodox Jews, are politically conservative, or both. Here are some examples: Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Ben Shapiro, Barak Lurie, and Mark Levin.

      • tzippi says:

        Gallagher? He’s ok, I guess. I’ll leave it at that.

        I would recommend that anyone who listens to talk radio do so discriminatingly.

  15. tzippi says:

    Could you include, “the moral failings of his personal life”? Thanks.

    • DF says:

      The man is running for President, not Chief Rabbi. With the exception of Jimmy Carter [who had plenty of other problems] every US Democrat President since FDR inclusive have been awful philanderers and committed adultery on a regular basis.  Multiple divorces are nothing to be proud of, but whatever morals they represent, they are par for the course in the presidency. Probably more to the point, given the terribly  low moral standards currently in the country, Trump simply reflects the populace.

      • tzippi says:

        Sure, it’s why I’ll probably be able to hold my nose and vote against Hillary.

        And if immorality was rampant, bragging and bullying wasn’t. (I will leave multiple divorces aside; we’re not Catholic.) As someone said though, considering how much the culture has devolved in general, why are we surprised that it’s spread to politics…

        At least we can console ourselves with the knowledge that he takes small bites, and has passed that down to his children.

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