Forty years ago, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural festivities for President Jimmy Carter. As a freshman at Goucher College, I spent my January term as an intern in the office of Akron area Congressman John F. Seiberling. As a daughter of the Cuyahoga Valley, I was thrilled to be working in my congressman’s office, so close to the seat of power at a very exciting time in our country’s history. Diving into “real politics” after having spent four years in the youth group politics of United Synagogue Youth fueled my passion for being of part of the public process that translates the public interest into the public good. My major in political science at the University of Michigan, coupled with my love of constitutional law (and a wild crush on my con law professor) gave me the analytic and legal tools to understand and engage in the process. My foundational understanding of how Judaism is at the essence of democracy allows me to wear my Jewish lense as I view the world. And so, once again, as an American Jewish Zionist Female Artist Activist, I offer some comments on this day which truly is the Dawn of the Days of Donald the Demagogue.
I never would have imagined that 40 years after I danced at Jimmy Carter’s inaugural ball, I would be hypnotized watching the ascendency of a demagogue to the office of President. I am dizzy at the thought of anyone dancing to celebrate President Donald Trump. To make it even more absurd, leaders of the Israeli “settlement community”, i.e. right-wing nationalist Israelis who believe in the ideology of Greater Israel, will be dancing at Trump’s party. If of course, those who are in Bibi’s camp who attend the festivities are OK with mixed dancing. After all, let us remember that Bibi Netanyahu’s very thin coalition depends on an ultra-Orthodox view of the world and in that view of the world, men and women should not be dancing together. Or praying together. Or singing together. In other words, the status quo must remain as it is, no matter what changes there are in the world around us. Even if those changes are reflected in an agreement between the State of Israel and the People of Israel. According to the view of the current religious political establishment, this is the unchanging Jewish law that has been handed down from Moses on Mt. Sinai, years ago.
This abuse of religious power is the main reason the government of Israel has not begun to implement the “historic” Kotel Compromise Agreement made last January. Recently, the Israeli Supreme Court has weighed in very strongly on the issue of what is “the custom of the place” at the Kotel as it exists now, and on how it will exist in the future. Responding to a complaint filed by the Original Women of the Wall, not only has the Court told the Government to get moving on the Kotel Agreement, now the government has to show cause why women should not be able to pray and read Torah as a group at the Kotel, shifting the burden of proof. In legal terms, this is a very big deal. The demagoguery of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich is coming to an end and with it one of the pillars of the decayed and outmoded “religious political establishment.” Just when the demagoguery of Donald Trump is beginning here in the United States. Ah, what a strange state of affairs. Having said that, I do think that Jared Kushner should pay attention to this issue as it is becoming a flashpoint for American Jews who see the world differently than David Friedman and Sheldon Adelson.
In one of those beautiful sacred synchronicities, the Trump Era begins just as We begin reading the Book of Sh’mot, Exodus. In these chapters of the Torah, we move from being a group of tribes to a People, ready to settle a land and create a nation. We know that our Sacred Story was foundational to our American Founding Fathers, as evidenced by the language on the Liberty Bell proclaiming freedom throughout the land, “U’k’ratem d’ror b’aretz”. This “majestic” feeling, brought to humanity through our Moses, has been a part of every peaceful transition of power here in US that I can remember. Especially eight years ago when the first black man was sworn in. Regardless of whether I voted for the candidate or not, since I can remember I have always loved this moment in US history. Like the beginning of the Exodus Story, this is always an auspicious moment in time.
However, this year the feeling is so very different. Now, I just want to sing patriotic songs as I take to the streets to protest Trump’s ascendency to the most powerful position in the United States of America. He is utterly unprepared and irresponsible. Just as I am sickened at the thought of dancing at Donald’s party, I am sad that so many children are viewing this moment in US history with despair. Yet out of that despair is arising a wake up call to the citizens of this country who understand that Donald Trump’s behavior and his words, yes Kellyanne, his words, are offensive, repugnant and can have adverse consequences. And so, citizens are taking to the streets in these Days of the Donald the Demagogue in ways like we haven’t seen since the 1960’s in this country.
To those surrounding Mr. Trump, please remind him this behavior is not civil disobedience. Before he takes to his twitter account, Mr. Trump needs to understand that embedded in the First Amendment is the right to peacefully assemble to express grievances. This is a core First Amendment value Mr. Trump. Kellyanne, perhaps you can get that copy of the Constitution from Khizr Khan for Mr. Trump. While you are at it Kellyanne, please remind Donald that battering the press does not make Friends of the First Amendment feel very good. And Kellyanne, perhaps you can remind Mr. Trump that TWITTERING IS FOR THE BIRDS. LITERALLY. No matter what is in his heart, it is his words, that matter.
On the subject of words that matter, I turn to the synchronicity between Moses and Mozes. This feels like a moment in Jewish time when our Torah reading and current events are colliding on an almost cosmic scale. Just when Donald Trump is offending and insulting every icon of the United States from our intelligence agencies to Rep. John Lewis, and accuses credible news sources of “fake news”, in Israel the news is breaking that Israel’s Prime Minister has also been dancing with some of the core elements of Freedom of the Press. That the name of the publisher of Yediot Achronot is Arnon Mozes, that it is “Mozes” on record negotiating with Bibi to manipulate the news is just too shocking, when you think about it. While there have been many instances when the Netanyahu’s have danced around improper behavior, this blatant disregard for freedom of the press may be the steps that crossed the boundary of what is acceptable. At least in Israel.
Here in the US, as this afternoon melts into Erev Inauguration Day, many hearts become heavy knowing that we are at a moment of deep transition. Those who live in Israel, where the macro moment and the micro moment frequently merge into a historic moment, know that heavy feeling. The essence of the story that our Moses brought to the world is that in every moment, we should pursue a society of justice and equality. So it is that the Jewish tradition has always been about creating a moral society based on notions of justice and equality. Quoting that great scholar Tevye, “On the other hand,” the American tradition has always been about creating a political society that allows the free market to operate in a system that respects individual liberty as well as the power of the government to act in the common good. The art of good governance is of course, balancing all of the competing interests in a way that respects “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I am not sure what Donald Trump knows about the American traditions that underly the job he is about to assume. I am sure that Mike Pence is just counting the days until the Vice is removed from his title and he assumes the reigns of power – perhaps those days will number 40. I am confident that Mr. Trump will continue to behave like Mr. Trump and that something will create the conditions that are ripe for impeachment. Until that happens, let us pray that the good judgment of those in power and the strong institutions of our democratic republic guide the US to do what is right. Or else, the world may be wandering for what feels like a biblical 40 years.