Lessons from a frac­tious U.S. vote


Is it time for spir­i­tual lead­ers to ex­press op­ti­mism and en­cour­age tol­er­ance and ci­vil­ity? Or is it time for those con­cerned about plu­ral­ism and equal­ity to act on those val­ues?

Rabbi Korobkin: I can’t re­call a more ac­ri­mo­nious cam­paign than the re­cently con­cluded U.S. elec­tion. Peo­ple are ri­ot­ing on the streets and spew­ing vit­riol on­line about the re­sults. Friend­ships have been de­stroyed, and peo­ple don’t feel safe talk­ing pol­i­tics any­more.

Amer­i­cans seem to be plac­ing po­lit­i­cal and so­cial ide­olo­gies above the basic re­spect and cour­tesy owed to one’s fel­low hu­man be­ing. If I don’t agree with your pol­i­tics, I’m not just mis­taken – I’m ei­ther an id­iot, an im­moral sell­out, a racist or a misog­y­nist. What hap­pened to civil and re­spect­ful dis­course? What hap­pened to en­gag­ing with some­one who holds dif­fer­ent ideas and views in the hope that we might learn from each other?

Do the events in Amer­ica, not to men­tion the Brexit vote, re­flect upon a larger so­cial ill, that of a cava­lier dis­dain for, and a readi­ness to dis­card, the “other”?

Rabbi Grushcow: I think that peo­ple take the step of “dis­card­ing the other” when they them­selves feel dis­carded. I am hear­ing a deep sense of vul­ner­a­bil­ity from friends in the United States who were the tar­gets of vit­riol dur­ing the cam­paign and now are fear­ful about what the next four years will bring. At the same time, we can­not ig­nore the eco­nomic malaise that led so many to take a chance on change. So what can a rabbi learn? One of the great­est chal­lenges is know­ing when to make peace and when to stand one’s ground. This has not been a nor­mal elec­tion sea­son, and I fear it will not be a nor­mal af­ter­math. Those who have been around for more po­lit­i­cal cy­cles than I have as­sure me that we of­ten think the world is end­ing, and it hasn’t yet.

Iron­i­cally, in both Brexit and the Amer­i­can elec­tion, there has been an em­pha­sis on walls and bor­ders. But I feel like our world is more per­me­able and in­ter­con­nected than ever. I hope we can find ways to re­cover the good in those con­nec­tions.

Rabbi Korobkin: Your point is well taken that this ma­li­cious be­hav­iour has taken place on both sides. Back­ers of Don­ald Trump have at­tacked and com­pletely dis­missed many on the left, while Hil­lary Clin­ton’s sup­port­ers have done the same to those on the right. No one’s hands are clean.

What sur­prises me about your re­sponse, though, is that this should in any way jus­tify or le­git­i­mate the be­hav­iours that we are see­ing in the af­ter­math of the elec­tion. Just be­cause some­one is feel­ing scared or vul­ner­a­ble doesn’t give them li­cense to take to the streets, van­dal­ize, and spew the same ha­tred to which they feel sub­jected.

In­stead of sit­ting shivah in our shuls, as some rab­bis have done, I think it’s time for spir­i­tual lead­ers to ex­press op­ti­mism and hope for the fu­ture. In­stead of re­ject­ing the elec­tions, we should en­cour­age our con­gre­gants to be pos­i­tively in­volved in mov­ing our world in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion of tol­er­ance and ci­vil­ity. While there are se­ri­ous and le­git­i­mate con­cerns about our elected lead­ers, in the end, God runs the world, not the pres­i­dent of the United States.

Rabbi Grushcow: You may be mis­read­ing me a lit­tle. I am in­deed con­cerned for all those who are feel­ing left out in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety and all around the world. But I re­ject the equiv­a­len­cies drawn be­tween the Trump and Clin­ton cam­paigns and their fol­low­ers. Yes, both were heated and per­sonal, but only the Trump cam­paign stereo­typed and tar­geted en­tire groups of peo­ple based on gen­der, na­tion­al­ity, race and re­li­gion.

The elec­tion is over. The re­sults can­not be re­jected. But we can re­spond. One way I am act­ing is through tzedakah – mak­ing dona­tions to U.S. or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Planned Par­ent­hood, the Re­li­gious Ac­tion Cen­tre, De­fine Amer­i­can and the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union.

My de­fault mode is op­ti­mism, but I also think we need to take world events se­ri­ously. In many so­ci­eties over many years, Jews have had their suit­cases packed and felt safer with more than one pass­port. I don’t know if that’s nec­es­sary now, but I’m less cer­tain than I was last month.

I think we see so­ci­eties turn­ing in­ward in a fright­en­ing way, and those of us who care about plu­ral­ism and equal­ity are duty-bound to act. In the words of Re­form Rabbi Fer­di­nand Isser­man, “Pray as if ev­ery­thing de­pended on God; act as if ev­ery­thing de­pended on you.”

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