Citizenship, truth, lies, murder, and voting

We shouldn’t forget the pipe bombs. That was just over a week ago, but somehow it seems like a purer, more innocent time.

They didn’t explode, there were so many of them that over the course of two days we somehow became desensitized to them and, well, whatever. Just a stupid stunt, right?

We somehow have managed not to deal with the fact that a deranged if thankfully incompetent bomber sent packages of potential death to two former U.S. presidents, a former presidential candidate, a senator, at least two members of Congress, and a former attorney general. This is not funny; the idiotic bomber’s meme-speckled van made it odder but not more amusing. Just more pathetic and worse.

During that dark time, something good happened in my family. My son-in-law, David Vaisberg, who was born in Canada, was naturalized as an American citizen. I joined my daughter and sister at the courthouse in Newark last Thursday, as we went through stepped-up security (that entailed our standing single file in a long queue winding around the building in the surprising cold), through a few stages, each one more hopeful, in a string of fluorescent-lit rooms, ending in a partially wood-paneled room where the candidates for citizenship sat in front and the rest of us perched behind them.

The woman in charge told us that there were 80 people about to become American citizens, and that they came from 34 countries. She asked everyone to stand when she read the names of their countries of origin aloud. It turned out that there was someone from every continent except Antarctica. When she asked them to stand again, this time for the Pledge of Allegiance, she asked everyone to remove their headgear, unless it was for religious reason. Dave, a Reform rabbi, was wearing a kippah, and there was a woman wearing a headscarf. Both were able to stand proud and covered.

That was what American should be, used to be, we hope will be again. I cried, with pride and joy. (Yes, that cliché turns out to be true.)

And then the murders in Pittsburgh happened, just three days later. The unspeakable evil really happened.

And then all those things that we’d allowed ourselves to overlook came flooding back. The hateful words that have assaulted all of us. The insults. The lies. The cesspool that has become our public life. The environment that has led to this day, to these 11 murders, to the hatred oozing up through our drains and clutching at our ankles.

There are not good people on both sides here. There are good people on one side, and bad people on the other.

We know what truth is. We know that words matter. We know that insults burn, and empower people to move from violent words to violent actions. In Pittsburgh, the murderer was exposed to hatred and insults and lies; he believed them and grew in their dank night soil. He moved from writing hateful posts on a far-right platform that acted as an incubator for evil, and turned foul thoughts into foul actions. His hideous thoughts turned into hideous reality.

Happily, there is something very real that all of us — at least those of us over 18, lucky enough to be American citizens, and registered — can do and that is to vote.

Voting always matters, but this year it matters more than ever.

Think about your values. Think about the values of truth and honesty and decency and love. Think of the real-world harm done by lying and demeaning and dehumanizing. Decide which candidates and which party lie, demean, and dehumanize. Decide who represents your values.

And then go vote. Vote as if your life depends on it.

Election Day is November 6. Go vote.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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