On the morning following Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States, Pittsburgh native Dara Stern donned a T-shirt sporting a rainbow over a Steel City bridge, with the words “We are family, Pittsburgh, PA” below the image.
“Putting on that shirt was really the only thing that got me up today,” Stern said while driving from Spring Hill to the trade school she attends in Moon Run, where she is training to be an electrician.
Dismayed by Trump’s win, and particularly his triumph in Pennsylvania among working class voters, Stern said she did not “feel safe going to school today. I’m an hour late for class, because I’m so apprehensive to be surrounded by the very people who made this a reality.”
She acknowledged, though, that Trump’s win was a wakeup call to liberal America.
“We live in our cities with our college degrees and our cars and our organic food, and we don’t think about what else is out there,” she said. “We live in a bubble — lots of people do. Even the pundits and the predictors got this wrong. We underestimated the fervor of core white America.”
Trump’s victory highlights a “great divide in this country,” observed Hillary Clinton supporter Meryl Ainsman, adding that his election should serve as a lesson to Americans of varied convictions to listen to one another.
“We have to really understand what that other half is all about,” Ainsman said. “And they have to understand what we’re about.”
Stern, who voted for Clinton in the general election, supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. She speculated that if Sanders had won that primary, “there is a decent possibility he would have beaten Trump,” because of Sanders’ appeal to those negatively affected by “wealth inequality.” Scores of Sanders’ supporters refused to vote for Clinton, she added.
“At the end, a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or for Trump,” Stern said. “The general sentiment was that Hillary Clinton was not to be voted for because of what the [Democratic National Committee] did to tip the scales. A lot of people felt that she sold out and that she cheated.”
Just a few hours after the election results were confirmed, many in the organized Jewish world were ready to move forward and to support the president-elect, despite the fact that 71 percent of American Jews voted for Clinton, with only 24 percent casting their ballots for Trump, according to a New York Times exit poll. Mitt Romney won 30 percent of the Jewish vote in 2012.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which represents 125 local Jewish community relations councils and 16 national organizations, congratulated Trump on his victory in a prepared statement.
“We wish President-elect Trump well moving forward,” said David Bernstein, JCPA’s president and CEO. “We commend him on the message of unity he conveyed in his acceptance speech, and urge him to continue to work toward bringing the country together.”
The Zionist Organization of America’s president, Morton A. Klein, also issued a statement congratulating Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on their “historic victory,” and highlighted the Republicans’ pro-Israel positions, calling Pence “a great friend of Israel and America’s pro-Israel community.”
The message of Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, to his constituents was considerably less optimistic.
“For tens of millions of Americans who share a core belief in tolerance, decency and social justice, the election results are a severe shock,” wrote Ben-Ami. “We woke up yesterday with high hopes, only to go to bed feeling grief, anger and despair.”
Fears about Trump’s presidency played out on college campuses throughout the country with riots and protests, including at the University of Pittsburgh. The combative atmosphere made matters uncomfortable for those who did cast their ballot for Trump.
Pitt sophomore Gabriel Kaufman, who voted for Trump, opted to “go low profile” following Trump’s victory.
“I didn’t want to be labeled a sexist or a misogynist or a racist,” he said, adding that a female friend of his who wore a “Trump/Pence” T-shirt the day after the election was pelted by slurs including “slut” and “whore.”
Kaufman, a Republican who is originally from Israel, said he “voted for the party rather than the man,” adding that he believes Republican policies are better for the Jewish state.
He was surprised by Trump’s ultimate victory, he said, and also surprised at his fellow students’ reactions, which included many donning dark masks and storming Hillman Library.
“They put up a sign outside the library that said, ‘No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA,’” Kaufman said. “I don’t understand it.”
Like Kaufman, Elhanan Abrams, who voted for Trump, was in the minority among Jews and among residents of Allegheny County. While his neighbors were mostly despondent over the win, Abrams “laughed pretty hard,” he said.
“When Obama won, everyone told me to ‘get over it,’” Abrams recalled. “I feel the same way. I am enjoying people having to realign their expectations. This was actually an election, and not just a rubber stamp on Hillary Clinton.”
Although Abrams found some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric offensive, he nonetheless cast his ballot for the Republican candidate because he was “looking for someone with new ideas and a somewhat economically conservative outlook.”
Despite much of the media portraying Trump as sexist, Abrams said he was impressed with the fact that Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign and that the women Trump employs are compensated equal to or better than the men who work for him. The fact that Trump was promising to “clean house” when it came to big government was also appealing to Abrams.
Pittsburgher and Trump supporter Hirsh Dlinn said he was “big time” optimistic about the future of America with Trump at the helm.
“People went for Trump because he wasn’t a politician,” Dlinn said. “He was a breath of fresh air.”
Because Trump is not a politician, he will have a lot to learn, Dlinn added, but “you can’t say he doesn’t love America.”
Dlinn opined that Trump will be good for the Jewish people and good for Israel, pointing to Trump’s vow to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and to his daughter Ivanka’s recent visit to the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Queens, N.Y., to seek a blessing for her father.
“She goes there and asks for a bracha for her father, and he ends up winning,” Dlinn said.
Pittsburgher Eric Weingrad, who campaigned for Sanders in the primary and ultimately voted for Clinton, remains “very much against Trump being president,” but is ready to move forward while remaining vigilant.
“I’m going to be very heavily active in making sure we hold this guy to task,” Weingrad said. “If that hate speech starts showing up in policy, I’ll be on the front lines to fight this guy.”
While the vast majority of Jews, as well as Allegheny County residents, voted for Clinton, the only course of action now is to support our newly elected president, said Ainsman.
“I don’t think we have any choice but to be hopeful,” she said.
Josh Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh agreed.
“This has been an incredibly divisive and contentious presidential campaign,” Sayles said. “We hope upon hope that this divisiveness is not carried over into the presidency, and we have to assume that President Trump, now that he’s been elected to the highest office in the land, understands the magnitude of his responsibility.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.