September 22, 2018

Meager Post Election Wisdom from Rabbi Mordecai Finley

Very Meager Post Election Wisdom


Those who read my weekly messages will perhaps note that I have not commented in writing on the election. I broached the topic briefly at services on November 12th, and bit more extensively last Shabbat, the 19th.  I won’t be discussing the topic at Shabbat Morning services any further.
Many people have asked me what I think, I believe for two reasons. First, people are curious to know what I think, and second, because maybe I have some wisdom for them.


I should say first that I did not want Trump to be president (as I have stated many times), and I was surprised that he won the election.


What to do now?


Let me make one thing clear: I have no interest in telling anyone what they should do or not do. If people want to be angry, fearful and resentful, to protest, flame others on social media, and engage in acrimonious debate, carry on!


My role, as a rabbi, is to inform others as to what the Jewish tradition says.  Jewish ethics tell us that we are forbidden to insult one another, embarrass one another or hurt the feeling of others. Therefore, engaging in such behavior, a staple of social media, is wrong by the Jewish tradition.


People ask, “What if other people deserve to be insulted and called nasty names?”  Well, I looked up the laws of speech again in the Jewish tradition, and it turns out that there really aren’t exceptions. If you need to warn someone about somebody, describe a behavior, don’t attach a label.  (By the way, I was gently rebuked by a synagogue member regarding the adjectives that I have used regarding Trump. I apologize, and I am stopping. I have said what I have to say).


Further rabbinic counsel:  The Mussar tradition – our teaching on habits of mind, heart and behavior – counsels against maintaining anger, fear and resentment. Such emotions are bad for our health, mental and physical, and are not good for our thinking. Such emotions create inner biases that make it hard to actually understand what is happening.


There is plenty to be concerned about, in my opinion, but anger and fear color our thought. Our thoughts and feeling should mostly be based on what people say and do, not inferences, extrapolations and imaging what we think they might say or do.


Whenever I hear news that concerns me, here is what I ask myself:  What specific act of government, at the federal, state or local level, is being contemplated in the near future that is a violation of our rights? Remember, not something that we disagree with, but is actually a violation of our rights? Our Miranda rights are safe. Segregation is not on the table. We can still protest. The press is still free to express.


I have read that this or that appointee under consideration is racist, or an anti-Semite, so I check it out. There seem to be lots differing opinions. Remember my counsel if you are interested:  Don’t only read your cheering section. I read the NY Times, the Washington Post and New Republic. I also read the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard and National Review. If you want to expand your thinking, read widely.


Right now, I am just concerned, not afraid, and I look forward to the confirmation process. I will let the system we have in place a chance to work, before I get angry or afraid. I will just remain concerned, for now.


I am asked what I think of the Electoral College. I consider myself an informed student of constitutional law. Based on what I know, I approve of the system of government that we have. If we don’t like how the Electoral College is working (not as it was originally intended, from what I can see), we can petition our own political parties and state government to change the rules regarding electors.


I accept the fact that there are some segments of our population that do not like some other segments. There are racists, bigots and sexists out there and have been out there for a long time. It is not against the law to be a racist, bigot or sexist. People of low character also have the right to free speech.
It is against the law, however, to commit crimes based on those prejudices, and I don’t see any evidence that the long arm of the law is not addressing hate crimes. It is also against the law for any governmental agency to discriminate. When we see that happening, then we will respond.  (I know we are up for a debate on what counts as illegal discrimination, and when that debate happens, I will offer my opinion if anyone is interested.)


Personally speaking, I have three main concerns with the domestic agenda of a center-right government:  abortion rights, marriage rights, and the situation of illegal immigrants (I lean left on these issues). As far as I can determine, Trump has no agenda against gay marriage. I don’t there is much chance that abortion rights will be abrogated. I am, however, concerned about the treatment of illegal immigrants, but again, I will wait and see. (I approve of what our local government is doing.)


In sum: Jewish tradition says no flaming. Wisdom says don’t walk around with anger, resentment or fear. The golden mean says, I believe, that instead we should be concerned and vigilant.  If and when it is time to act, have a plan – not just a lot of complaining.


President Obama and Secretary Clinton have both said to give the incoming administration a chance. We may not like what it does (or what Trump has said in the past), but that is a far cry from a constitutional crisis. I hope that the worst we are looking at is just acrimonious politics as usual.


So, this is what I think, in case you are curious. Or in case you want some meager advice. If you already know what to do, do that. I am not trying to persuade anyone.