December 8, 2019

This Election is Different

So, on Tuesday, I felt it—that little frisson of joy I get every time I join the civic ritual of casting a physical ballot next to my neighbors. I love me some voting.  I love democracy. Protecting that love has become, for me, what this election is about.

After the last presidential election, which was President Obama’s last victory, I wrote here about my warm affection for a Republican schoolmate; about our mutual love of country and the importance of care and respect for friends and colleagues with whom one disagrees.  That principle still holds, but this election carries special challenges. Donald Trump has to be defeated decisively. He, personally, has to be ridiculed, marginalized and humbled, and so do the racists and anti-Semites associated with his campaign.

Do I have any business writing this? I’m a rabbi now, no longer a student, obliged to be welcoming to every Jew regardless of politics and to behave courteously with just about everyone.

We are all obliged to hate evil and love the good, says the prophet Amos (5:15). For anyone who despises racism, this contest cannot be a matter of lesser evils—Trump and, more importantly, the coalition he now represents is a whole different magnitude of evil and must be defeated soundly.  For Jews this should not be a complex issue.

As this news outlet and others have reported, Trump represents a public intervention of white supremacists and Jew-haters in mainstream politics. Jewish journalists who speak out are being barraged with images of Jews in ovens.  David Duke, the infamous Ku Klux Klan leader and other white supremacists proclaim themselves proudly to be in Trump’s corner. Trump himself has, as everyone now knows, promised to build “a big beautiful wall” to keep out immigrants from south of the border (Canadian-based migrants being, presumably, just fine), to deport millions of people, to register American Muslims and to stop all Muslims from entering the United States.

So what now? My personal and FB friends know that I have a strong affinity for the politics and the movement behind Senator Bernie Sanders who changed the national conversation. Sanders has made it impossible to downplay the the gross concentration of wealth in the hands of the superrich along with systemic racism, the continued need for LGBT inclusion and gender justice, and the daily outrage that millions of people who work 40 hours a week or more still struggle in grinding poverty. He is proud to be Jewish—and he talks like a whole generation of relatives I remember. What’s not to like?

About the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hilary Clinton, I have more mixed feelings. On the day this country elects a woman president (so in about five months, God willing) I will be ever so verklempt. I respect the Clinton intelligence and the Clinton spine of steel. I also cannot shake my unease at what appears to be the genuine Clinton respect for Wall Street as an institution or at Hilary Clinton’s capacity to say anything nice about Henry Kissinger, a war criminal (and hilul HaShem) whose continued tenure on this planet shakes my opposition to the death penalty. But Hilary has, to her credit responded to Sanders and to other activists (her admission of fault for praising Nancy Reagan on AIDS policy and her crafting of a superior position on the subject being examples), so she has made herself accountable to the sea-change roiling the Democratic Party. She will represent the best hope for change—if the movement that Sanders represents mobilizes itself to continue its work.

Just as it is foolish to demonize Clinton by comparison with Bernie Sanders, so it is pointless to worry about her “likability” by comparison to Donald Trump. She actually knows the job and is capable to do it. Thanks in some part to Sanders—and just maybe what Sanders gives Clinton is permission to be more of who she really is by renouncing some of the “third way” digression–, she is now committed to addressing economic injustice (to “lowering barriers) and to addressing racial, gender, sexual and ability related inequality as well. There is no doubt that her feminism is genuine. (About foreign policy–well, that’s what activism is for.) She is, in a qualitative, decisive way, the better choice.

National elections are not only, maybe not mostly, about individual personalities. (One could write a much longer piece on Donald Trump’s character if one had the time or the stomach to delve into such unsavory material, but truly, who cares if he believes in the racist crap he is saying or is simply opportunistic enough to say anything?) What matters is the collection of forces that each candidate represents and whose interests will be advanced or held back if they win.

A victory for Donald Trump would be a victory for racism, Islamophobia, vulgar sexism—and Jew-hatred (let’s dispense with the “Anti-Semitism” euphemism for just this once). I will be joining the Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc in their anti-Trump Vigil Against Violence on June 21. That date is significant, because on June 21, 1964, Jewish activists Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, along with Black Christian activist James Chaney and white Unitarian activist Viola Liuzzo, were murdered by racists for participating in the civil rights movement’s campaign for African-American voting rights. In their name, we will light candles for peace and justice. And, in November, we will participate in that cherished civic sacrament—we will vote.