Purim revelers in the Nahlaot neighborhood.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
President Donald Trump may not know this (although his daughter Ivanka might), but Purim is his holiday. The tale of Queen Esther and Mordechai’s salvation of the Jews from Haman’s “final solution” is filled with themes that have permeated the Trump administration and his election.
Circumstance and personality make Trump most akin to Ahasuerus, the Persian monarch who is introduced to us through a royal carnival meant to impress upon the people his wealth and greatness – and to give them a part of the action. But after an assassination attempt, Ahasuerus realizes that throwing massive parties for the people won’t earn him their loyalty, and so he appoints the Jew-hating vizier, Haman, who’ll intimidate his subjects into submission.
Thankfully, Trump has appointed no Haman, and has skipped to hiring Jewish advisers, but Trump comes across as an amoral, vulgar man who loves the good life and who slowly evolves into a moral man who embraces righteous causes, especially that of the Jews.
Here are some common themes:
Obsession with news: When Queen Vashti refuses to appear with the king at his banquet, he calls upon his advisers to troubleshoot this scandal. Thus begins his own “news factory.” He won’t wait for outside gossip: the news will be what he makes it. They decide to banish Vashti and spin the story, as it says: “Dispatches were sent to all the provinces of the king, to every province in its own script and to every nation in its own language, that every man should rule in his home and speak the language of his own people” (Esther 1:22). The Purim tale is filled with instances of the kingdom sending out its own “news stories” in the language of all subjects. Trump’s Twitter feeds are like his “dispatches,” spoken in simple language the people will understand.
Obsession with sex and beautiful women: it was Trump’s hot-mic scandal that instigated the current media obsession with stories of men exploiting beautiful women. No one was more talented at exploiting women than King Ahasuerus, whose beauty pageant in search of a new Persian queen was basically a rape pageant. This is not to accuse Trump of being a rapist, but Trump, as a pageant-owner, shares with Ahasuerus an admiration of beautiful women, and their respective tales of power are full of hotties.
Showmanship: people often accuse Trump of being a braggart, but that’s his game and strategy. He’s a showman. Even before winning, he set up press conferences in which it appeared as if he was already president. He’d post photos/videos of the massive crowds at his rallies. He understood the power of optics – so did Ahasuerus and Mordechai. When Haman comes up with a plan for being honored, in which an esteemed courtier would parade him through the capital, Ahasuerus seized upon this idea to honor Mordechai instead, understanding that to impress people with an idea, you must show rather than tell.
Mordechai, for all of his wisdom, embraced this principle as well, making sure that the people of Shushan understood that “winning” would come to those who stand up for the Jews, as it says: “Mordechai left the king’s presence in royal robes of blue and white, with a magnificent crown of gold and a mantle of fine linen and purple wool” (8:15). And so, when Trump is upset that the media misrepresents how many people show up at his rallies, he is simply following the principle that you must give people a good show.
Reversals of fortune: A major theme in the Book of Esther is reversal of fortune, when the opposite of what was expected happens (“v’nahafoch hu”). Instead of rising up, Haman fell and was hanged. Instead of being hanged, Mordechai was raised up as vizier. Instead of being murdered, the Jews killed those who attempted to murder them.
“V’nahafoch hu” is a hallmark of the Trump victory. Instead of Trump accusing Hillary Clinton of voter fraud, Hillary accused Trump of voter fraud. Instead of bringing Trump down for sexual harassment, Democratic leaders (with Harvey Weinstein leading the pack) fell to their ruin. Instead of catching Trump in Russian collusion, the Democrats were exposed for unlawfulness. As for “fake news,” Trump adopted the term for himself and cast public doubt on media integrity.
Standing up for the Jews: one of the more important themes is Trump’s position on the Jewish people. Accusations of him being an antisemite (or catering to them) have proven unfounded. He has emerged as a great champion of the Jewish people, calling out the antisemitic violence of the Palestinian cause and publicly recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In doing so, he has continued to create reversals of fortune.
The Haman-like Jew-hatred endemic to the Palestinian cause has been exposed through Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s deranged speech denouncing Trump for his decision. US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech to the Knesset, on the other hand, has brought light and happiness, joy and honor (ora v’simcha, sasson vi’kar) to the Jews.
Winning: Purim is a story about winning, and while we wait to see what will happen under a Trump administration, the Esther tale ultimately teaches us that it is our own actions that will lead to goodness and winning for the Jewish people. Mordechai and Esther took brave action, speaking out against hate and genocide, making Ahasuerus see that true justice and stable rule occurs when Jews can live safely and in freedom. Their moral victory was the victory of all the people of Shushan, who the text describes as “glad” when Mordechai won. Let this Purim season and those to come see more “winning” against evil and dictatorship and more ora v’simcha, sasson vi’kar for the Jewish people, Americans and all of humanity.The writer is an author and journalist based in Berlin. She holds a BA and MA in Bible and Jewish thought and has written two books on Esther: Ayn Rand & Esther, a comparison of the Book of Esther and The Fountainhead, and The Settler, a modernization of the Esther tale.