The politics of division espoused by Donald Trump and his party buddies have brought American Democracy to the verge of collapse. Democracy is fragile, and always has been. As Benjamin Franklin said, The United States is “a democracy, if you can keep it.”
American Democracy has always required some semblance of unity in order to survive. In fact, that’s why its founders wanted to avoid the creation of parties, though these sprouted shortly after the country was formed. The ideals of the country that even divergent parties could agree on became defined as “American values”. Ideals such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, all representative government became basic tenets that all Americans agreed upon – no matter what party they belonged to.
Yet, we are witnessing an utterly confounding and dangerous precedent in America right now, where the word “freedom” is being coopted by the president in order to not only sow division but also to directly put American lives at risk. The entire world, in the throes of a pandemic that has affected 4 million Americans, is adopting norms of mask-wearing and social distancing, measures that are vital for saving lives. Yet Trump goes on national television and says that he is not promoting mask-wearing but rather “freedom”. All over America, his logic-defying and compassionless followers are screaming in Targets and Starbucks that they are not wearing masks by invoking this twisted concept of “freedom”. They are treating life-saving measures as a reflection of one party’s values, planting this treacherous notion that masks are some kind of secret plot by the Democrats. Who could have imagined such divisiveness that wearing or not wearing a mask during a pandemic reveals your political party?
American Presidents have traditionally striven to be the leader of all Americans –Republicans, Democrats, Independents, voters and non-voters, everyone –that is, until this president. Donald Trump has been dividing us since he came down the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy in 2015. He started with slurs against Mexicans and Mexican Americans as murders and rapists. He has continued to divide the country between black and white Americans; into Blue States and Red States; into Suburban and Urban areas. He does not miss an opportunity to blame Democrats for his own mistakes. He continuously promotes the idea that he would be doing a great job if not for Democrats. Even in his recent interview with Chris Wallace, when asked how he sees his work, he complained about Democrats. Blaming others and promoting the narrative that the “other” party is destroying “his” country is his most favorite tactic for divisiveness, and one of his most toxic.
Perhaps the most terrifying example of the way Trump has divided the country into “us” versus “them” is in his response to #BLM and other peaceful protesters. Trump is using paramilitary federal forces to quell peaceful protestors. CNN concluded that his, “efforts to divide America along racial lines are testing both the nation’s conscience and his own political fortunes in November.”
Trump uses these politics of division because he thinks they will help him get re-elected. The politics of division that Trump exemplifies and uses for his own cynical objectives will crush our democracy. If we do not put an end to Trump’s machinations of divisiveness, we will fail to keep our form of government, and the American experiment will fall, becoming a shadow of its former self.
Americans who care about the long-term well-being of our democracy must see past this. Even members of his own party understand how dangerous this is – which is why the anti-Trump Lincoln Project is spending tens of millions of dollars to get Republicans to see straight.
The Jewish people know a lot about the destructive power of divisiveness. This week, as we mark the destruction of the Second Temple on the ninth day of the month of Av, we are reminded of the words of our Sages who warned that baseless hatred brought this devastation, a devastation that lasted nearly two millennia.
Baseless hatred of one American against another, forgetting that our greatest strength is our shared aspiration for a more perfect union, will destroy our precious temple of democracy. We must be heartened by the words of Congressman John Lewis, our beloved civil rights hero and conscience of the Congress, recently departed, “I believe as Dr. King and A. Philip Randolph and others taught you, that we’re one people and it doesn’t matter whether we’re black, or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American. That maybe our foremothers and our forefathers all came here in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now,” Lewis says. “John, you understood the words of Dr. King when he said we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, if not we will perish as fools,” he says.
Heed John Lewis now and save our temple of democracy from crumbling. We are all Americans and we are all in this together. Do not allow politics of division to set us asunder. We are indeed better than this.