May Harvey inspire our better angels

September 6, 2017
Volunteers huddle after helping clear furniture from the flooded house of a neighbor in Houston on Sept. 3. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Whenever there’s a tragedy, people unify.

That’s true of every group. It’s true of Americans during Hurricane Harvey. It’s true of Jews during every crisis in Jewish history. It’s only pressure from the outside that demonstrates cohesion within.

But what happens when the tragedy ends? What happens when the crisis abates?

If we’re not careful, we fragment again.

Take the Jewish community as an example. During the Gaza War, Jews around the world united in support of Israel; the deadly rocket assaults and brutal tunnel kidnappings from Hamas terrorists forced Jews to come to the realization that no matter their internal divisions, their mortal enemies wanted them collectively destroyed. Then the Gaza War ended, and Jews got back to the business of savaging themselves: leftists suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration was too resistant to negotiations with the Palestinians, right-wingers suggested that the left was too conciliatory.

The same will be true in Houston. As the rains fall, driving thousands from their homes and destroying the savings of thousands more; as Texans band together to weather the elements and venture out on missions to save their fellow citizens; as Americans around the country watch, heartbroken, and reach for their checkbooks to try to help in any way they can, we feel united. That’s not new. We felt united after Sept. 11. We felt united during Hurricane Katrina. But that unity will inevitably break down: There will be complaints about government malfeasance, about partisan politics. In fact, it’s already begun: We’ve seen diatribes about first lady Melania Trump’s high heels, President Donald Trump’s crowd-size remarks, and supposed hypocrisy regarding federal disaster funding.

This is the point: Crises are sporadic. But we must take to heart the clarifying truths we see during crises: that we are united, that we are family.

In the Jewish community, this means recognizing that once a crisis ends, our enemies do not disappear. Hamas is intractable, as its members prove each and every day: Last week, they moved to restore ties to Iran and Syria. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, named a youth camp in Jericho after Dalal Mughrabi, a female terrorist responsible for hijacking an Israeli bus and killing 38 civilians, including 13 children. Hard-leftists continue to call for divestment from Israel; alt-righters continue to target Jews as a cancer eating away at Western civilization. Jews must understand that the values we hold dear — individual rights and personal accountability, cherishing life above death, the perpetuation of Judaism and its adherents — will not endure further crises if we do not retain our unity.

Crises are sporadic. But we must take to heart the clarifying truths we see during crises: that we are united, that we are family.

In the broader American community, the same holds true. Houston showed us that artificial barriers of race don’t matter in the slightest — Blacks helped whites, whites helped Blacks. Color didn’t matter as first responders raced to save drowning people flooded from their homes. Neither did concerns about tax rates or Medicare funding. In the end, Americans were united because we saw that we held values of family and community in common, that we cared enough about each other and trusted each other enough to know that even in our darkest hour, we would reach out. We didn’t need a heavy hand forcing us to do so; all we required was the motivation of our own hearts.

None of this means there isn’t room for disagreements, hearty and loud. None of this means that we can’t engage in brutal politicking — the issues about which we disagree do matter. But if we see one another as enemies rather than brothers, then the true crisis will come: the crisis of division. Even as Americans braved storms to help one another in Houston, Americans beat the living hell out of other Americans in Berkeley — members of antifa attacked a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, declaring themselves anti-Nazi in the process. Antifa sees its opponents as enemies, not brothers. Some antifa fellow travelers — Mark Bray of Dartmouth comes to mind — feel the same way. That belief, in turn, will lead too many right-wing fellow travelers to make room for violent groups on their own side.

But Houston is America; Berkeley is what America looks like when external crisis becomes internal crisis. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t merely speaking to 1861 Americans when he pleaded with them to remember their “bonds of affection,” praying that “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

We see the better angels of our nature in Houston. May they inspire us to remember those bonds of affection, before everything falls apart.

BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

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