It happened here

A narcissistic, paranoid, mendacious, and manipulative leader has surrounded himself with sycophants and incompetents. They offer nothing constructive, and are only capable of making situations worse, rather than better. They stand by, or applaud, when their leader embarks on disastrous policies, bolsters avaricious autocrats, betrays allies, exhibits heartless cruelty, indulges megalomaniacal fantasies, lies repeatedly, and recklessly crushes one convention after another.

Finally, though, their leader’s destructive choices become so obvious that even they (at least some of them), with timidity and trepidation, express their frustration and fears. Faced with ever mounting deaths, financial ruin, a total breakdown of the social order, and a desecration of all that they held holy, they ask their leader, in bewilderment over his obliviousness, “Do you still not know Egypt is lost?” “Still,” in spite of all the evidence that should be obvious at this point. “You still don’t get it? We are lost. You lost.”

And no, he does not get it. He continues down a path where boundary after boundary continues to be broken until, in the end, every single household in his country is touched by death.

“Do you still not know Egypt is lost?” This line from the Book of Exodus is among the most tragic in all of world literature. And now, we are living in that tragedy. In recent days, a plague descended on the hallowed “citadel of our liberty,” a plague of darkness. Blood was shed. Sacred objects defiled. Horrible images have been seared into our minds, with the same endlessly corrosive power as 9/11, the student facing the tanks in Tiananmen Square, the napalmed girl in Vietnam, or the kneeling protester at Kent State, asking, “Why?”

Police, guns drawn, preventing a mob from invading the halls of Congress –a mob that was put there by the President of the United States of America.

“Do you still not know Egypt is lost?”

Some knew. Some recognized that they had been defending, or using, the same lies and fantasies that had energized the mobs from which they had been forced to flee, and said, literally, “Enough is enough.” Lofty rhetoric filled the air. Instead of the disgusting reality of people wearing “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirts, we were hearing about “The shining city on the hill.” “The greatest democracy on earth,” “Upholding the Constitution,” “The resilience of American democracy,” and even “Shoveling snow off your neighbor’s driveway.” (Senator Ben Sasse. Seriously). And we were reminded of American exceptionalism, how we can do anything as long as we work together since we are the United States of America, and the conceit that “We are better than this.”

No. “Do you still not know Egypt is lost?”

No, we aren’t better than this. We are this. Know it. Recognize it. Accept it. Embrace it. And understand: we won’t be better than this until we recognize who and what we are. We are the people that excused the inexcusable for four very long years. Who tolerated endless boldfaced lies. Who tolerated endless flirting with violent and racist behavior. Who tolerated the denigration of science, professionalism, good governance, and decent character. Who tolerated the deaths of our fellow Americans (by Jan. 20, as many as died in all of WW II) while refusing, like our President, to tolerate masks and social distancing because they were “an assault on our freedom.” Who indulged in an irresponsible “what-about-ism,” deflecting any criticism of the President’s actions with something (irrelevant) that Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, or Bill Clinton, or Hunter Biden, or Mark Zuckerberg, or antifa, or China, or anybody handy did or was rumored to have done. We indulged in a completely unjustified denigration of (admittedly imperfect) media as “fake news,” thereby furthering the dangerous delusion that truth is synonymous with “information I like.” And above all, we indulged in the fantasy that, in spite of all these societally destructive forces, forces that we—for whatever reason—actively unleashed or passively tolerated, “it can’t happen here.”

It happened here.

About the Author
Rabbi Wolkoff serves Congregation Bnai Tikvah in North Brunswick. He has published hundred of articles and lectured internationally on Jewish topics, and has been active both in interfaith work and in the struggle against anti-Semitism, both in the United States and in Sweden, where he served for a decade. He is a JNF Rabbi for Israel.
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