Like so many of you, I’m stunned and disheartened by the results of the presidential election. I can understand that we are a politically diverse, even divided country and that candidates for the presidency, and voters, usually embrace vastly different political and social views. I can understand that this election was unusually contentious and divisive, with rhetoric that inflamed passions on both sides. In a democracy, sometimes the person you didn’t vote for, the one whose views and plans you don’t agree with, gets elected. But I keep asking myself how it is that we just elected a man whose campaign for the presidency was widely seen as racist, bigoted and xenophobic, someone who, even unintentionally, gave cover to bigots and racists to come out from hiding, and whose divisive tone unleashed an ugly and worrisome anger that seemed to pit people against one another. As if that weren’t enough, how did we just elect someone who seems to be lacking a serious understanding of global politics and social policy and who seems unwilling and even unable to be prepared for the presidency, someone who offered almost no indication of how he would govern this great country? I find myself walking around in a haze, wondering what America will become in the next four years.
As the days go by, the haze will surely lift and I, and those of you who may feel the same way, will be able to reflect on what we should do and say as Mr. Trump becomes our next president. I’ve begun to do so already…here’s what I’m thinking.
- It’s important to affirm, through words and actions, that bigotry and racism are unacceptable in our communities. That a candidate who seemed to espouse such traits won the presidency does not legitimize hatred or an “us vs. them” attitude. Now, more than ever, it’s important to stand up for tolerance, inclusion and co-existence. Get involved with the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, whose mission is to nurture tolerance in our towns and set an example for others, most especially our children.
- It’s important to affirm that we live in a democracy. That is both a privilege and a responsibility. We can live each day with the reassurance that, unlike other places in the world, those who support a losing candidate face no recriminations or threats from the government. We can say what we think knowing that our country upholds each person’s right to freedom of speech.
- It’s important to use our freedom to work for change and to continue to fight for what we believe in. Our democracy calls forth from each of us a civic duty to work peacefully within the political process to advance what we think is right and to not give up or walk away and become apathetic. We must nurture a productive dialogue in our communities, which is the only way to create mutual understanding between people.
In this week’s Torah portion—Lech Lecha—we read of the beginning of Abraham’s journey to a new physical and spiritual place in life. As he sets out, God charges him with these words:
“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
Some commentaries note that the Hebrew text says “veh-yei bracha…you shall become a blessing,” rather than “you shall be a blessing.” My teacher, Rabbi Harold Kushner, wrote the following about this passage:
“We learn to drive, to swim, to throw a football, or to play the piano not by reading a book about how to do it, but by watching people do it correctly and trying to imitate them… The Jewish people were chosen by God to be a “pilot project,” a demonstration community. God would give them explicit instructions about how to carry on the God-centered life. If they did it…they would bring the other peoples of the world to see how satisfying it is to live that way.”
We can think of America in the same terms, for we are, in many ways, a “demonstration community.” Like Abraham, we are, as a nation, called on to become a blessing, to bring others to see how satisfying life can be we create a society based on values of mutual respect, tolerance and freedom. Each one of us, whether we are pleased with the election results or not, are called on to empower America to continue to evolve as a blessing for its citizens and for the world.