For four years, polling has documented that the president’s strongest support demographic is America’s Orthodox Jews. The support runs between 70 percent in radical Los Angeles to 90 percent most everywhere else. This has been documented here and here and here and here and here. Although much of that support stems from a deep affinity with his stands on the whole gamut of traditional American cultural and social issues, an underestimated factor is that community’s natural acquaintance with Borscht Belt humor. Those who “get” that humor know precisely how to understand Trump, what to take seriously, what to brush off, and what deeper messages to take away from his speeches and tweets. Those who do not get the style and nuance end up completely misunderstanding him and then attacking him for communicating thoughts he never contemplated.
As is manifest from Trump’s yuuuuge crowds from Alabama to Iowa to everywhere else he goes, one does not have to be from 1950s Borscht Belt New York or of Orthodox Jewish orientation to “get” him. All it takes is an open mind and a sense of humor from a time in the not-so-distant past when people could joke about things and could say ridiculous and absurd things without being taken so literally and without being hunted down by the PC police.
Trump comes out of New York City’s outer boroughs, mostly Queens with a good dollop of Brooklyn. Born in 1946, he is a child of that milieu circa 1950s and 1960s. His language, his syntax, his pronunciation is pure BQE — straight out of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway. Although born to wealth and now even more wealthy, he also associates with construction workers at his projects, with “common people,” and naturally talks their talk. Like people on the assembly line and in union jobs, vocational workers and even white-collar stiffs who have become successful in life without suddenly taking themselves too seriously, he occasionally is off-color and barely realizes it. That was evident, for example, during the years of The Apprentice.
Much of that speech pattern derives from his father’s and his own lifelong associations with Jews who come out of the same boroughs. It is not only that he does not pronounce the “h” in “huge.” It is his lexicon, his tempo. He is pure Outer Borough. He will not carry today’s New York State, but do not doubt for a moment that he could fill Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium together with wildly cheering supporters if he wanted. It just would be a waste of his campaign time and money to do so because of the nature of the electoral college rules.
The first real blow-up during his presidential campaign that derived from his Outer Borough style of tawking came when Trump stated that Hillary Clinton got schlongged by Obama in the 2008 Democrat contest for the presidential nomination. He absolutely was correct: she got schlongged by Obama. For those of us who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens in the 1950s and 1960s, we understood exactly what he meant, and we were absolutely dumbfounded when the Corrupt Journalist Corps erupted the next day and accused him of using profanity and a vile sexual epithet manifesting sexism and gender bias. Huh? We did not know what in the world they were talking about. In Brooklyn parlance, if the Mets lost a baseball game by a wide margin, the next day in school we would say they got schlongged. If someone could not get a fair trade-in price when selling his used car back to the dealership, he had gotten schlongged.
That’s what “schlongged” meant to naifs like us. It meant that they got “made into mincemeat” (another outer-borough expression even though none of us knew what mincemeat was). And what we American second-generation kids all had in common then with the Trump of 50 years later is that we all did not actually understand Yiddish because all our parents spoke English at home, but we all grew up in an environment where so many immigrants around us still spoke Yiddish that we unconsciously incorporated maybe a hundred descriptive Yiddish words into our American English lexicon because those words are so flavorful. Trump, like us — and we, like Trump — did not know what the words literally translated as meaning, only how they commonly were used for impact. It is akin to a non-Anglophonic newcomer to America who teaches himself by learning all the words to West Side Story, including the lyrics to “I Feel Pretty,” and then expresses his happiness to people by regularly saying “I am gay.”
Thanks to the Corrupt Journalist Corps, the bits of Yiddish from my boyhood were blown out of context when the media frenzy to attack Trump went into overdrive, reporting that the word refers to the male reproductive organ. I had no idea that all my yeshiva classmates and I, throughout our teens, had been castigating the Mets (until the Miracle of 1969) as having been assaulted regularly by male genitalia. Waddyaknow — go figure!
Amid the “Hillary got schlongged” national media circus, I got “curiouser” so I looked up the word in my 826-page Comprehensive English–Yiddish Dictionary. It turns out that the word literally means “snake.” Der schlahng means “the snake.” Schlenglen zikh means to “snake around” (whatever that means). A snakebite is a schlahnggenbiss. A snake charmer is a schlahnggenfarkishuffer. (Kishuff is magic.) Well, now it all comes together: the structural dimensions of a snake, the structural dimensions of the male reproductive organ, and I guess “schlongged” was adopted as a vulgarity by those who actually knew what they were saying. But we did not know its literal meaning, and neither did Trump.
The thing is this: words take on a life of their own. Talk to a millennial today about how you got the last box of Cocoa Krispies on the grocery shelf, and the response is, “Awesome!” But really, not all that long ago, “awesome” meant something evocative of awe. A gorgeous sunrise. A baptism. In Judaism, the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah (the two-day New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), are known as the “Days of Awe.”
Or take “hook up.” My then-college-age son once accompanied me to attend a session of a course I teach at law school. Amid the lecture, a female student asked a question, and I answered her. Apparently, my answer was not clear to her, and she asked me to repeat it, which I did. For whatever reason, she still did not grasp the concept and asked me a third time. I am deeply solicitous of my students, but I did not want to consume more class time on a third-go-round, and I realized I would need to offer her a much more extended explanation, so I innocently said, “Tell you what. Let me proceed now, and we can hook up after class.” There was a hush in the classroom. On the drive home, I learned from my son that “hook up” no longer means what it did in an era when American culture was less coarse.
In the same way, there was no way on Earth that Trump, when describing how Obama had crushed Hillary into mincemeat, was using the word schlongged in a vulgar way. If Donald John Trump has demonstrated anything to the American public, it has been that he lacks no dictionary skills in articulating vulgarity in the Queen’s English — or, to be more accurate, in the Borough of Queens English. He simply used a Yiddishism that was current all around him to convey a trouncing. That was the earliest sign that the Left and their Corrupt Journalist Corps would stop at nothing to twist his every word. To really understand what Trump is saying — not only his meaning but his deeper intent — it really helps to know the lingua franca of New York City’s outer boroughs and its accompanying “Catskills humor.”
There is a certain kind of humor that is associated with the 1950s “Borscht Belt” of resort hotels that dotted the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York in that era. Long before there was “Sandals” or “Beaches,” there was the Concord and Grossingers, the Pioneer and Kutshers. We Orthodox Jews, restricted to kosher food, went there because that was the only place in those days where we could get gourmet kosher food while vacationing. Those places brought in comedians for entertainment. Ah, the kibbitzers! Although the subject requires a book, one key to Jewish humor is that it blends irony with a clever but bluntly outrageous comment that the listener never saw coming and cannot believe he just heard — yet the surprise has to be clever. We developed comedy as a defense mechanism because, after all the persecutions, pogroms, and holocausts, we were left with either of two choices: either go through life like Greta Thunberg, angry at everyone and blaming everyone for everything — or just suck it up, “deal with it,” move on, and make new friends. If you “get” New York Jewish humor (think: Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Jackie Mason, Neil Simon), you can have a good healthy laugh. But if you do not get it, then you are left perplexed as to why someone would say something so outrageous and incomprehensible. That latter concern is why, for example, Jerry Seinfeld no longer will do college gigs for “woke” snowflakes in today’s cancel culture. They take the absurdity so literally and then proceed onto social media to destroy the comedian. One errs by interpreting his outrageous punchlines seriously or literally.
I offer a personal example: Having attended yeshiva schools and having initially been a rabbi and organizational executive at national Jewish organizations through the first part of my life’s career path, I never had worked in a mostly non-Jewish environment until I started practicing law at Jones Day, an internationally prominent firm. Suddenly I was in the midst of people who spend their every Friday late afternoon at a bar, their weekends hunting for deer or possum or whatever they shoot for fun besides home invaders, and who put mayonnaise on deli and then make sandwiches of that with white bread. (Jews use mustard and rye bread, and the only possum I know of is the late George Jones.) One day, the litigation partner who had been heading a team on which I was assigned asked whether I was feeling OK. He noted (correctly) that he had been assigning me to daily 15-hour workloads for the prior three weeks. I replied with a broad smile, “Actually, every day when I come into the office I feel like I am with my closest family!” He smiled, reassured. And then I added, “The thing is, I absolutely hate my closest family!”
A few hours later I got a visit from the managing partner of the Los Angeles office: “Dov, I understand that you are having certain personal family problems. I want you to know that we have an Employee Assistance Program if you need to see a therapist. Just call this number. It will be kept completely confidential.” That was thoughtful but was my first exposure to the perils of exercising New York Jewish humor in an environment of people who eat pastrami-with-mayonnaise on white bread when they are not hunting in the woods for it. And that is Trump’s yu-u-u-ge peril, because Trump is an ethnic New Yorker from the outer boroughs who, if he had not gone into real estate, could have knocked ’em dead on the Borscht Belt circuit. When Trump says “Maybe I will run for a third term,” we totally get him (and ruefully wish he were serious!), but the Corrupt Journalist Corps go into heart palpitations expecting that he literally will suspend the 22nd Amendment. When Trump says, “I don’t know, maybe I will ask Vladimir Putin to check Hillary’s server and let me know what’s in it,” we react by laughing at the clever and ironic meshing of themes: (i) Hillary has the illegal server with the 33,000 emails including some of top-secret national security, and (ii) because she left it cyber-hackable alongside her toilet at home, the Russians and Putin probably have all those emails. But the Corrupt Journalist Corps demanded his impeachment for “soliciting Russian interference” — they actually took him literally. As though he actually were asking Russians to interfere with our elections, just as Hillary did when she paid Perkins Coie who paid Fusion GPS who paid Christopher Steele to get dirt from the Russians. But Trump was just kidding.
Idiots. If he really wanted to mess up an election, why bother Putin when the Democrats mess them up so much better?
Trump is a marketer, a showman, a kibbitzer. When he does a rally of 25,000 people, it is America’s last redoubt of the Catskills memory mixed with the “Best of Johnny Carson.” Anything goes — because he is entertaining the crowd and kibbitzing, not merely campaigning. When he makes up stories — and he makes up plenty of them — it is not like Biden plagiarizing someone else’s biography as his own or Hillary, who consciously cannot stop lying. Hillary was not named for Sir Edmund Hillary, did not land in Bosnia amid gunfire, etc. Her life is one lie after another, and she is not kidding but is dead-serious. Biden even fabricates acts of personal courage like that bizarre falsehood about how he supposedly risked his life to give a medal to a hero in Afghanistan. Biden a hero? Aw, c’mon, man! Joe,“You’re a damn liar, man!”
The thing is, when those liars tell their stories, they expect to be believed. Their falsehood is meant literally, like fraudulently presenting a falsified résumé for a job application. By contrast, Trump speaks in bombast and puffery. The crowd knows it just as we know that Henny Youngman never actually was inviting anyone to take his wife. Please! We get that Trump’s stories are metaphors and schmaltz-flavored Aesop’s Fables aimed at conveying deeper messages while also getting laughs. The hyperbolized anecdotal details do not matter; rather, the moral of the story is his purpose. That is why he attracts 25,000 to a speech, with another 10,000 waiting outside in the rain, while Kamala Harris down the block would attract maybe 16 people per speech after her initial roll-out, with Kirsten Gillibrand pathetically having to go to gay bars wearing a T-shirt that says “Love Is Brave” and shouting “Gay rights!” to get people to notice her.
We all know Trump’s flaws and sometimes roll our eyes. But we love him anyway because he is the best kind of New Yorker and thus now is a New York expatriate: real, straightforward, a bit in-your-face but with a good heart if not attacked, takes no baloney, fires people who are disloyal or who simply demonstrate that they cannot get the job done, outrageous at the great peril of being misinterpreted by those who do not get it.
And best of all: When, all kidding aside, President Trump makes a serious promise, you can disregard the surrounding bombast and exaggerations while knowing that, unlike any other politician in our lifetimes, he will do everything he humanly can, within the constraints of the American Constitution’s checks and balances, even amid non-stop enemy fire, to keep his word and get it done.