Oct. 19, 2020
By JANICE ARNOLD
MONTREAL – The weakening of American democracy and status of the United States globally is “bad for the Jews,” whose flourishing has been tied to the country’s founding ideals, says Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine.
The influential journalist offered a bleak assessment of the state of America in a virtual lecture hosted by Congregation Shaar Hashomayim on Oct. 13, and he placed the blame squarely on President Donald Trump.
Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis has not only been disastrous for Americans, but accelerated the United States’ waning prestige in the eyes of its allies and those who hold it as a model, Goldberg said.
“The last four years have been a slow-rolling catastrophe that has profound consequences for the world…I think it is too early to say that America is in a kind of decline, but it is on a downward slope and headed to a bad place if we are not careful,” he said.
Undemocratic China, Russia and Iran are moving in to fill the vacuum left by the U.S.’s retreat from dominance, he said, and these countries are not “models of good behaviour.”
The trend is “not irreversible,” though Goldberg stopped short of predicting the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.
If Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins, Goldberg’s advice to him is to first get control of the coronavirus. “We will have no respect in the world unless we do that.”
Then, Biden should set about repairing the country’s reputation by going to its friends and essentially apologizing for what had been a “weird” episode in American history, he thinks.
The U.S. can and should resume its “exceptional role” in the world, Goldberg believes.
“Trump could have coasted to re-election if he had taken the virus seriously and gotten it under control,” he said. Instead, Goldberg regrets that his country has been “a sad joke over the past four years.”
The U.S. is accustomed to sometimes being hated or feared, but not to being “pitied” as it is today, especially in Europe, said Goldberg, who finds it shocking that a country so advanced could account for one-fifth of the world’s COVID deaths but only 4.25 percent of the population.
The situation is particularly worrisome for Goldberg because the “American dream is very much intertwined with the Jewish dream,” and the loss of the former puts the future of the latter in doubt.
“Historically, extremism and polarization have been bad for the Jews,’’ he said. The bitter fracturing between the political right and left, and the pitting of racial groups against each other do not bode well for the community, Goldberg said.
Trump, whom he called a racist and xenophobe, became president because he appealed to white reactionaries frightened by the change in the country’s racial makeup.
American Jewry represents almost half of the world’s Jewish population, he pointed out. A diminished U.S. is also not good for Israel, for which the United States has been a “blessing,’’ he added.
Even Jews in Canada are affected, he suggested.
“The Canadian Jewish community is unusually unified and organized, but it is still small. It benefits from having happy, secure brethren to the south.”
Goldberg was praised for being “fiercely courageous” by Lewis Dobrin, co-chair of the Shaar’s Tuesday Night Learning series, of which this talk was a part. He referred to Goldberg’s “bombshell” article in The Atlantic in September reporting that Trump had called American war dead “losers” and “suckers” during a 2018 visit to a French military cemetery – a report the president vehemently denied.