On January 6, 2021, as the armed insurgent hordes invaded the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States, my first inclination was to reach out to the members of Congress, for they had just joined the club comprising those who have been cornered, pursued, trapped, and attacked for no good reason. But before I could write any notes, it became apparent that some of those members of Congress still refused to accept or even try to understand what was happening.
This was as physical a representation of the current status of our government as one could imagine, yet many members failed to see.
Their party – the Republican Party in its current incarnation – had sold its soul in a number of different directions, and the collection agents had bonded together and come for them, and either they failed to recognize the invoice waved under their noses, or they were too afraid to walk back anything they had promised. Or maybe they agree with the insurrectionists.
These elected officials have traded their legislative power and their influence to various groups and concerns in return for cash and votes. The fiscal conservatives among them began bargaining early on with the wealthy who would fund their campaigns if they voted for lower taxes, cheap labor, and liberty for large corporations. They’ve also been selling themselves to the single-issue folks who vote based only upon such matters as amassing unlimited home arsenals or outlawing abortion. They’ve sold out to the members of the Tea Party and the folks on the Religious Right who want to see their religion legislated as the law of the land, and who also want Israel to be available to them. They have allied themselves with America First and all that comes with it, seemingly willing to bend to their way of thinking rather than merely including them in discussion.
They’ve set Donald Trump on a pedestal, conferring power upon him. Mr. Trump includes the people of all of these special interests in the tent of MAGA as if they all represent a part of why America may have been previously great. And he lets them hold sway.
In fact, the members of the Republican Party have sold their souls to Donald Trump as well. He is really no Republican in any sense. He only likes the Republican Party because its members will vote for him. He is willing to accomplish what they want to keep his power, but “what they want” has been tampered with by each of those special interest groups to whom the party is now beholden.
The fealty is in fact reversed and twisted around. Elected officials ought to pay homage and just fidelity to their constituents, to those who ostensibly elect them. It should never be that the public bows before elected officials and elevates them to lordly heights. Nor should elected officials cater to anyone (or any interest) but the general public of the United States.
So let’s take a look at those who now hold souls in their hands.
One hundred years ago the America Firsters hid behind familiar tropes: America is greater if it is white and espouses only one certain brand of Christianity as the true official religion. You may recall that American Olympics officials who were America Firsters agreed with the Nazis that Jews should not compete in the 1936 Olympics and helped to push out runners Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller. (To our knowledge, Marty Glickman was no relation to your correspondent.) These are not the sort of people to whom an entire party should sell out.
Racial hatred is nothing new, of course. In fact, “othering” goes all the way back to the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Joseph finds himself in Egypt, and a famine is coming. Through careful planning, Joseph manages to guide Egypt and the entire region through the famine, and the Pharaoh elevates him to high office. This Pharaoh is so fond of Joseph that he sends a fancy caravan to move Joseph’s whole family over to Egypt.
The very next Pharaoh, though, “forgets” all the good Joseph did, sees all these “strangers,” “foreigners” among them, and perpetrates a Big Lie that they are dangerous and must be enslaved immediately. The Egyptians buy into that Big Lie, and enslave the Israelites for hundreds of years.
Thousands of years later, we still haven’t learned. There still are those who are selling Big Lies and there still are those who are gullible enough to buy, regardless the cost.
On January 6th there were speakers outside the Capitol thumping their Bibles in horridly misconstrued interpretations. They shouted that the Good Book tells us we must kill gay persons! The Bible somehow is against Native Americans! The Bible decries abortions! As I listened to them abusing the Book to bolster their own prejudices, I struggled to envision a way out of such misconceptions. Much better that they – that we – read and study not only the Bible but everything else as well: the Bible does not preach hate, it teaches the terrible consequences of it and of so many other ill-advised actions.
The line between the politically active Pushy Evangelical Christians (as distinct from the non-pushy folks) and the America Firsters of the 1930s has long been blurred. The Christian Nation movement is alive and well and posting “In God We Trust” all over our governmental buildings as one of their first steps, sort of a foot in the door similar to putting “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s and “In God We Trust” on our money. They make it seem innocuous enough, and sometimes Jews, too, are taken in by them, but we should be wary of any such attempt to religionize the U.S. government. They are confusing their religion with the morals it teaches, and they are conflating morals with secular ethics. They are not even in favor of all Christians, only their own Pushy brand will do. And until we all adhere to their dogma (or leave), the world will suffer, they say.
So now by means of unleashed and unhinged mass communication we have added other special interest groups into the mix, who follow and propagate their own lies and perversions of the truth. And the elected officials continue to cater and kowtow to them all.
The common bond among all of these un-American individuals is their ego-centrism. They deem themselves the only ones who are correct. They brook no other notions than their own.
None of this represents good government, nor truly representational government. (It certainly should not represent the Republican Party, either.) In no way are the elected officials representing their constituents; they represent only the special interest groups to whom they’ve pledged their troth. Some recently elected individuals not only have sold out, but themselves believe these un-American credos. There are QAnon adherents now serving in Congress. There are White Supremacists in elected office. The Tea Party helped usher in some of the Christian Nation adherents, and since then the move has been solidly toward a twisted right built on Big Lies, prejudice, and hatred. And it all churns on its own, fueling itself.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump himself came into office and gave Steve Bannon, widely known for his prejudices, a newly-created role in his cabinet. Whatever Mr. Trump may himself believe (beyond his desire to have and keep and increase power), he doles out credence to these self-righteous haters in return for their alliance. How on earth could we be surprised at where we are now?
While all of this is going on among the special interests and the candidates and officeholders, the rest of the populace is being brainwashed. They easily believe that Trump actually won the election and it was “stolen” from him. They don’t need to know how or why, only that it is “true” somehow.
Of course, propaganda works, and the ranks of acolytes have grown. The QAnon followers are a good example of how folks may be roped in. They click on a link to discover how to help children, and they are taken in by a massive game-like scheme to keep them chasing after an invented cabal of baby killers. As the older hate groups know quite well, for those who are already feeling excluded or put upon, such a ploy works only too well.
And when we have a demagogue who will do anything for power and glory, all stops are pulled. This particular demagogue – like his compatriots around the world – has a way of declaring all others to be enemies and promising punishment. It is an unspeakably un-American attitude, and though he is out of office he has not stopped controlling others to his own pleasure. Thus we find ourselves back to the story of the second Pharaoh and his Big Lie.
This soul selling has all gone on so long, it was no problem for nearly an entire party to sell out to a false leader. And now they’ve elected folks who don’t just promise to vote a certain way to please the perceived masses, but who actually believe it all. In fact, both major parties have to be careful whom they are electing.
I was asked by CBS News in an interview a couple weeks ago whether it was shocking to me to see “Camp Auschwitz” shirts inside the Capitol Building. My full response – beyond my “of course it was” that they broadcast – was that seeing Holocaust symbols was no more or less alarming than seeing Confederate flags and other symbols of prejudice. Yet as I also mentioned, there are still far more good and kind and egalitarian-minded persons in the country and in the world, who are willing to share the liberties we so carefully tend, with anyone who asks. We have got to assert ourselves together, in a unified manner. It serves no one to remain divided as we are, because it is a false division, based only on meaningless prattle (“build the wall” “lock her up” “hang Mike Pence” “Jews will not replace us”), benefiting only those who seek power for themselves.
Actually, we should have seen the fact that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were so popular as a glaringly clear beaconing message that there are folks feeling left out, unheard: that our representative government is not representing everyone, nor perhaps anyone except those with influence and the electeds themselves. Perhaps the party leaders should understand that the public is finished with the wash-hands-wash-hands raise-money-for-the-next-election sort of politics, with toeing the party line, with career legislators who grow out of touch with the constituents.
Most Republicans know in their hearts of hearts that Trump is no “leader.” He flounces in his pseudo-political quest only for his own power and glory. The Republicans in general will have to pry the dignity of their party back from the slew of lies that has been fueling votes and insurrection, and actually find a way to representatively and collaboratively govern.
As I say, there are many who have sold their souls, and now it seems that the debt has come due. Taking a nip at the hand that is feeding me, I do not want to give the Fourth Estate a free pass, either. The news media have quite a job ahead of them cleaning up after giving free reign by calling it “news” when people perpetrate lies. No medium delivering the news should be allied with any political party or espouse any particular point of view. Nor should any politician – not even the President – get live coverage simply because he is talking, regardless what he talks about. We need reporters to investigate, verify, and hold up an impartial mirror in front of us, so that we might see what we have become.
And so, about the hate. We’re all people. We live lives. We do things in life. We don’t stand around just BEING – being Blacks, Jews, gays, Asian, immigrants, being targets – we actively live as parts of a functioning society. Until someone attacks us.
My late dad was a WWII veteran who taught us how to use his guns “so we wouldn’t have to,” he said. He couldn’t have imagined this. Yet it isn’t only about gun violence (which some in our country endure every day). Something has gone horribly wrong. There were military guns in the Capitol Building.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh advocates avoiding the word “hate.” He pejoratively calls it a four-letter word. He rightly wants us to avoid saying we “hate” the other sports team, or we “hate” broccoli. But beyond that I respectfully disagree with his calling it “H,” because I think we must call hate what it is. Not saying the word does not eliminate the hatred. And shining a light on it may expose its flaws.
We must continue to hold forth that pluralism is the American way. (It ought to be the way of the political parties, too.) And as we hold forth, we still must hold out our hands to others, everywhere. The good people of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston reached out to us at the Tree of Life, they came and sat with us, and we formed bonds. We reached out to the folks in Christchurch after the attack in the mosque. The folks of Parkland are battling different demons but our common bonds are strong. We maintain concern now for our synagogue friends in Uganda who reached out to us after the shooting and named their congregation Tree of Life. Folks everywhere are reaching out to each other. As we stretch out our hands, we grasp each other, forming a network of solidarity. Maybe I should reach out to the members of Congress after all.
We can do this. We are already joining together, envisioning a better world. Political parties are only meant for convenience of identity.
Connections are a much better representation of the spirit not only of the country but of each of us in our respective communities. Connections reflect Jewish teaching as well. I am partial to “If Justice is done, Truth is served, and Peace ensues.” That was said by Rabbon Shimon Gamaliel, who lived, my Christian friends, in the time of Jesus. Justice, Truth, and Peace together have to be our goals.
We have a lot of work to do. We have souls to buy back. It will come out much better if we heal the divisions, if we work, live, and dream together in harmony, diligence, understanding, and truth. Not only in the United States, but everywhere.