The remarkable success of President Donald Trump's electoral campaign, against nearly all expectations, has raised profound questions about American and global political and cultural life, and these questions continue to multiply as the new administration flexes its executive power. Though the efficacy of the young Trump administration may be questioned, the pace of news, at least, is undeniably dizzying.
With the circulation of tropes of Jewish financial power and perfidy during the 2016 campaign, with the rise in power and influence of white nationalism, with a postelection upswell in Islamophobia, antisemitism, and other hate crimes, with the assault on immigrants and the undocumented, with an assertively Modern Orthodox Jewish family proximate to the White House, with the seemingly spontaneous presidential embrace (however crudely developed) of a single state of Israel/Palestine, with, even, the president's rude bungling of Holocaust Remembrance Day—with this and so much more, scholars of Jewish Studies are called on to take stock of the current moment.
What does the time of Trump look like from the vantage of our diverse field? What questions ought scholars of Jewish culture, history, thought, and practice be asking of the present moment? We editors have posed to each other various questions and have at times disagreed in our answers. What relationships are taking shape within this new dispensation between antisemitic impulses, anti-Zionism, and, conversely, support for Israel in the age of Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett? Have American Jews moved toward the political right or remained, for the most part, supportive of liberalism? We have debated these and other questions. Indeed, pressing questions sometimes seem to shift with every passing hour. Despite our own disagreements and uncertainties (or all the more because of them) we agreed that Jewish Social Studies ought to make space for an assessment [End Page 139] of the 2016 election and the ascendance of the Trump administration by scholars who think and write about Jews.
Informed observers of every stripe, academics among them, have already begun to comment on these matters in opinion pieces. Others have embarked on research projects inspired by the current situation, but these will, in the nature of things, yield fruit only in a few years' time. It seemed to us vital to help foster a third variety of discussion in the pages of Jewish Social Studies: one that brings to bear scholarly expertise and knowledge not reducible to an op-ed, but that takes the risk of trying to define and delineate complex phenomena even as they unfold.
The contributors to this discussion represent a range of expertise and speak in a variety of idioms. Some have already demonstrated a scholarly engagement with aspects of the current political moment or have written foundational work that deserves an expansion or rethinking in light of current events. Others have developed a profile as public intellectuals, writing for a wide readership on topics that pertain to Jewish culture and politics. All, in our view, have scholarly expertise that will help us make sense of contemporary America, the Trump administration, and Jews' place within local, national, and global politics, all of which have shifted dramatically in recent months and may shift more dramatically still in the years to come.
This roundtable, unique in the history of JSS since its new series began in 1994, affords an opportunity to meditate on the influence of a Moroccan Jewish mystic in the orbit of the White House, to consider the embrace of Trump by an Orthodox Jewish voting bloc, to reinterpret American Jews' relationship to the left, to rethink the legacy of the Enlightenment and liberalism, and to reevaluate Jewish political culture and the role of Jewish philanthropic organizations in our society. These essays start a conversation that will no doubt take decades to develop. Yet they mark a beginning and in so doing honor the legacy of a journal created in another momentous year for Jewish history, 1939, when the founding editors saw fit to capture the energy of a burgeoning field and to use scholarship to help make sense of the world around them. [End Page 140]