Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An Affirmation of Democracy

Dear Friends,
In the day following the most startling election since Truman-Dewey, America has had much to think about.  I would like to reflect briefly on the import of the moment, and the path forward for all of us.

For Clinton supporters who saw the election as a referendum on pluralism, globalism and (most importantly) women's dignity, the surprise loss shatters not just political ideals but wounds a sense of identity and security. The loss is personal and devastating in a way most elections are not.  How can healing be afforded in the presence of such a loss, when the cause of the loss stands to hold such power? It is frightening, frustrating or even maddening.

For Trump supporters prior to victory, they often felt ridiculed or degraded. There were called racists and bigots. In NJ, where they were a minority, the affirmation of national victory is sweet.  How can someone surprised by sudden validation have compassion for those who are so pained by the very same result?
First, I believe that this is a natural part of the fabric of American culture.  There have been rapid and unprecedented changes in liberal social norms in the country over the past decade and, much like the stock market, it is not surprising that a “correction” might occur. Social change takes time, and it comes with forward, backwards, and sideways developments.  That process is understandable, no matter our individual views in the moment. I believe the historic trends towards social liberalism will continue, but not unabated. Those who wish to advance and protect that trend will now need to work hard again as if the gains of the past 50 years had not occurred. Those who think those developments are not positive, will now have the opportunity to influence policy in a way they have not had in many years. But the arc of History is forward.
Second, as both Secretary Clinton and President Obama have said in their own ways, this is an affirmation of the democratic process.  The change in policy and vision between Obama and Trump will be dramatic, to be sure.  But in most countries such a shift would come from violence or oppression.  Here, it occurred on a peaceful election day, unmarred by intimidation or injustice. Those who came to vote were counted, and the result is just. As Americans, the obligation is to support or oppose the President as a participating citizen. It is a noble and important role, whether your party is in power, or you are the loyal opposition. Just as those who said Obama was not their president were wrong, so those who say Trump is not their president are wrong. The election was decided by people who got off the couch, went out of their homes, and did something.  The future will be decided the same way.
Third, the Jewish People are divided.  Know that in a typical election 2/3 of the Jews vote Democratic and 1/3 vote Republican.  In this election, due to the issues of civil rights, immigration and others, it seems more like 75% to 20%, with 5% choosing other options.  But that is 1/5th of our people voting for Trump and 3/4's of our people in the category of loss at this time.  How do we care for everyone?  We have significant internal differences regarding social norms, family structures, economic policy, national security, immigration, how best to support Israel, and what our relationships with other people and religions should be. These differences are as deep as those we saw in this election campaign. Yet they do not destroy us.
The answer is community.  Week after week we join together in synagogue for Shabbat, holidays, Torah study or fellowship.  We accept our differences, sometimes teasing and laughing, sometimes ardently engaging the topics, and sometimes politely avoiding them. We have a common bond, and noble ideals in our religion that we share.  And these core beliefs define us not as people who are right and wrong, but as a people who holds many paths to truth and justice and experience of God.Our variety as a people is part of our integrity and our strength, and it is called upon today – whether you “won” or “lost” in the election.

The other answer is activism.  Now is the time to commit to engagement in our synagogue community, our local community and our nation as participating citizens. These are the places where America is experienced and you can have the most profound impact. We are all united by a common commitment to civil liberties and tikkun olam - justice for all and care for the disadvantaged among us. Think globally, and act locally together.
In common love of America, I wish you well, I hope to see you in shul.
Rabbi Robert L. Tobin

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