Several months ago, I shared with my kids a story about their grandfather. He ran a company that fabricated steel. And he dealt with many developers. But there was one who sought to do business with him, whom he refused. Fred Trump. That was back in the 1970s, before social media, before gossip and dirty secrets were so easy to reveal and to share. And yet, Trump’s reputation for being untrustworthy in business and just an all around dreadful human being was bad enough to warrant saying “no thanks” to doing business with him.
I shared this story with my kids because I wanted them to understand and to appreciate the stock they come from. It’s so easy, it seems, for some folks to compromise their values, to cast a blind eye on things they know are unsavory—or worse. When you do that, beware the slippery slope, because chances are, the first time you sell your soul won’t be the last. And when you look in the mirror first thing in the morning, you’ll start to see little cracks, the external manifestations of the little rendings in your soul.
My kids were delighted to hear this story, knowing that their grandfather didn’t hesitate to do the right, upstanding, true-to-his-values thing, even if it meant losing business.
And that brings me to my larger point. We live in a time, it seems, when the notion of values is a peculiar, malleable thing, almost a quaint artifact of a bygone era. But here’s the thing: even if you put your values out with the recyclables, they’re not really gone. How you behave; what you stand for; what you stand up for; what you refuse to challenge; what you mutely accept–these are all reflections of your values. And right now, there are some pretty profound values deficiencies to be found in America. And sadly, some are to be found in the heart of the Jewish community.
When I look at the current politics of our country, and I see Jews associated with the present administration in Washington, I shudder. I feel sick, realizing that people who claim fidelity to Judaism and Jewish values can have even a passing acquaintance with anything connected with Trump, much less be at the epicenter of his administration.
I feel somewhat comforted knowing that the vast majority of Jews did not vote for Trump, and that many are actively involved in efforts to resist him and his destructive policies. But regarding those who did vote for him, and those who work for and with him, I find myself dumbstruck. Are some among us so desperate for a seat at the power table that they will jettison everything that represents being humane, dignified, decent human beings? What robes do they don to sit at a table set by a mad king, robes they then remove when they go home, where they try to tell the mirror that they are indeed good people, and still good Jews?
The alternative to living a bifurcated life, one in which cognitive dissonance is the operative mode of being, is actually believing in and embracing Trump and the agenda he has put forward. One is hypocrisy; the other is moral suicide.
I know that life can present us with complicated, fraught options at times. But there are also times when life puts almost ridiculously simple choices before us. When we fail to choose well in those moments, it feels like all hope is lost. So I will keep coming back to our family story about Fred Trump. I want my kids to know how easy it can be to do the right thing. I want them to carry that memory, hard-wired as it is in their DNA, out into the world. I want them to know that they always have the power to choose right over wrong, and that the only way to corrupt your soul is by choosing to. If you don’t believe me, just look in the mirror.