We should all be ashamed and embarrassed. We all should be very ashamed and very embarrassed by our part in the political climate, rhetoric, and lack of civility in the United States. We have reached a point where only lip service is paid to diversity, because true diversity of thought is not allowed. If you are conservative, differences are not applauded if you dare to come out as being pro-choice and in favor of gun control and against school vouchers. If you are liberal, differences are not applauded if you dare to come out as being pro-life, pro guns, or pro-Israeli settlements.
The Republicans and Democrats don’t have big tents. Instead, they have a Big Top, where those with the loudest mouths, who are willing to insult anyone in their path, get the most attention. These demagogues rose to the top of our political consciousness by doing exactly what our mothers told us not to do — by putting others down so they could rise up. It is the complete opposite of our Jewish teachings about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It doesn’t matter that some people on the left and others on the right have many ideas that offend the majority of the people. Some of these ideas are so scary and beyond the pale of what is acceptable in a capitalistic republic that in any sane time in history most of them would be marginalized. Instead, these charlatans, who claim to have magic elixirs to cure our country’s woes and who yell loudly and obscenely at any opposition, have risen to the highest offices in our land.
During my lifetime there have been massive disagreements over policies. These included the Vietnam war and affirmative action. Each side was vocal about its position, organized people and politicians to garner support and advocated vigorously for its side. Sometimes your side won and sometimes your side lost. When you won, you took your victory and savored it, but you did not lord it over those who did not. We were one nation. And when you lost, you accepted the loss and either let it go, or, if it was important enough (for example, civil rights cases before the Supreme Court), you re-energized your side for a fight at another time, when politics might be more in your favor. Then you worked to elect officials who supported that position. But then we moved forward together as one country, committed to working to make our nation great.
Alas, the time of acceptance and civility has passed and vitriol is the name of the game. This occurs now through the relative anonymity of social media, where people (myself included) feel that it is not only proper but actually required to argue with people we don’t know, using more emotion than facts. If posting articles relaying other people’s thoughts passes as support for a position, then we are headed toward the death of independent thought and intellectualism. Both parties are quick to grab the mantle of the Holocaust or fling the name of Hitler to put down a person or position on the other side. Jews often stay silent on this, and at their worst are accessories when their partisanship causes them to participate in this bastardization and degradation of the crime against our people. Until a party or politician advocates the murder of an entire group of people, we ought to keep these terms on the sidelines. Simply not promoting policies that you like, or even promoting policies that are offensive to you, isn’t enough.
Like South Africa in the 1940s, as brilliantly captured in Alan Paton’s novel “Cry, the Beloved Country,” our beloved country is at a crossroads — but we seem to be heading toward a time of separation, not reconciliation. It’s not that we “can’t handle the truth” as Jack Nicholson famously said in “A Few Good Men.” It’s that we are too lazy to take the time to figure out what the truth is for ourselves. We would rather have the talking heads of CNN, Fox, or MSNBC feed us the party.
When cities and states set up sanctuaries to protect illegal aliens who are accused of crimes rather than following federal law (whether you like the law or not), protesting has moved toward anarchy. It is not about politics, it is about the rule of law. This time it is immigration, but for another president it could be about paying taxes to support universal healthcare or abortion rights. We can’t have states refusing to follow federal law. If we do, we will no longer be the United States; instead, we will be a confederacy of states. And, ironically, we are heading this way not as a result of a war that was won 150 years ago, but rather by an intolerance of others. As a result, through conduct not war, the Civil War’s results may reverse, 150 years after its last shot was fired.
Most disappointing of all is that we can’t accept the concept that issues are nuanced, and at times we must accept the fact that there can be two competing and seemingly contradictory truths that co-exist. Without this understanding, there is no way to negotiate a compromise between these positions. Some competing truths are that our country has a history of immigration, and immigrants’ rights need to be supported. At the same time, we have a right to limit immigration and to protect the safety of those living in the country. Similarly, the Second Amendment allows for gun ownership. At the same time gun ownership must to be regulated and limited to protect our citizenry. Also, Israel has a right to a secure Jewish state but the Palestinians also have a right to a state, as long as they can accept the existence of a Jewish one.
If we do not accept that our adversary is motivated by good intentions and just does not share our vision, there is no way for us to continue to exist as one indivisible nation.