Richard Friedman
Jewish Federation director, Journalist

An American Lamentation

Over the horizon, in a distant and sad voice, I hear America calling. It is my country’s turn, again, to be messy, divided, angry. We are a society in pain, with many manifesting profound discomfort toward many. Debate, if it even exists anymore, is divisive: a zero sum game.

Whether in the air or lurking beneath the surface, this tension has been building for 10 years. But this year’s Presidential election is ripping the mask off our American faces, revealing a glorious country angry and in pain.

Who is to blame for this 2016 version of America? We Americans. Those who shout down others, those who hate, those who circulate angry and often factually flawed articles on the Internet, sent to people who think just like them, who then share them with like-minded people as the beat goes on.

TV news of the cable variety borders on the non-sensical with too many knee-jerk shills being promoted and aired by these stations as “expert commentators.” What they say is often marked by absurdity as they talk angrily over one another behind, bizarrely, plastic smiles on their faces.

This is our America, 2016: the one we Americans have played a shameful role in creating, a nation where our national discourse is becoming increasingly toxic and extremist; where close-mindedness is now the American way of life, and tense and irreconcilable differences are compounded by a void of singular leaders who have the capability of bringing us together.

We all are to blame. Which means we all can create change. Read something different, keep an open mind, dialogue with someone with whom you disagree. Imagine two reasons why they may be right. Ask young people what they think; teens, Millennials, nieces, nephews, grandkids, and ask in such a way that says it’s safe for you to tell me how you feel. Think of yourself as a leader and then lead — and live a life of leadership.

Challenges indeed. Yet there is so much at stake. We, The People, are the inheritors of traditions unique and distinct; openness, discourse, reasoning, reasonableness, and, of course, compassion. These precious and transcendent ingredients have allowed our country to embrace and overcome flaws, and to introduce and institute a way of living freely that is unparalleled in the history of the world. Fight for it, claim it, own it, and celebrate it. It is our American inheritance, it must not be squandered — or surrendered.

Move away darkening clouds — we are a better country! We are Americans: a people with a loud and vigorous voice who believe, like the Jewish people have throughout our existence, that something noble and God-given has been bequeathed to us — that’s right, you and me! — something that is worth fighting for.

America is there, lonely, not hiding behind the clouds but looming above the clouds, waiting for us to come home; to reunite anew in a pact of respect and love and purpose; to say to all who demean our country and profit from us demeaning one another, that we are true to who we are and will not be deterred.

We are Americans. Let’s all be Americans.

About the Author
Richard Friedman is Executive Director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation in Alabama. He also is a well-known Alabama journalist.