Shame on Trump? Shame on us

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPIN­ION - Dana Milbank is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. Dana Milbank Colum­nist

WASH­ING­TON >> Last week, I took a break from re­port­ing on the Trump cam­paign’s well-de­served and long-awaited im­plo­sion to ob­serve Yom Kip­pur, the Jewish Day of Atone­ment.

On this day, we sym­bol­i­cally beat our breasts with fists as we say the Ashamnu (lit­er­ally, “we are guilty”) con­fes­sion: “We be­tray. We steal. We scorn. We act per­versely. We are cruel. We scheme. We are vi­o­lent. We slan­der. We de­vise evil. We lie. We ridicule. We dis­obey. We abuse. We defy. We cor­rupt ...”

The con­fes­sional reads, in short, like a sum­mary of Don­ald Trump’s strat­egy over the past 16 months.

But it also is a road map to re­cov­ery.

This an­cient rit­ual is based on the con­cept of col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity: Each of us may not have com­mit­ted ev­ery sin, but we atone for all sins any­way, be­cause we are in­di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the sins of the com­mu­nity. The con­cept comes from Deuteron­omy 21:1-9: If a mur­der vic­tim is found and the killer is un­known, the el­ders of the near­est town must per­form an an­i­mal sac­ri­fice to atone for the blood­shed. Me­dieval rab­bis de­vel­oped the con­cept fur­ther in the Tal­mud, giv­ing us the Ara­maic phrase, Kol yis­rael are­vim zeh bazeh: All of Is­rael is re­spon­si­ble for one an­other.

At the end of the ugli­est po­lit­i­cal sea­son any of us has ever seen, the need to be re­spon­si­ble for one an­other has new rel­e­vance. Trump, those run­ning his hate-filled cam­paign and the weak lead­ers of the Repub­li­can Party are di­rectly to blame for the dam­age they’ve done to democ­racy and civil so­ci­ety. But we are all re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the en­vi­ron­ment that al­lowed Trump to rise. And we are all re­spon­si­ble for re­pair­ing our bro­ken pol­i­tics so this can’t hap­pen again.

But the Trump fi­asco has been more than two decades in the mak­ing, go­ing back to Newt Gin­grich’s de­struc­tion of ci­vil­ity; Bill Clin­ton’s per­sonal mis­con­duct; a Supreme Court that, in Bush v. Gore, dele­git­imized democ­racy; Ge­orge W. Bush and Dick Cheney squan­der­ing the warm courage of na­tional unity af­ter 9/11; a bi­par­ti­san cy­cle of re­venge in Congress; an­gry lib­er­als por­tray­ing Bush as a war crim­i­nal; the fury and racial an­i­mus of the tea party and the birthers; GOP lead­ers too timid to tamp down the ex­cesses; and Supreme Court de­ci­sions that al­lowed anony­mous groups to spend un­lim­ited sums poi­son­ing the air­waves with vi­cious and false po­lit­i­cal speech.

My col­leagues and I in the news busi­ness de­serve much of the blame. Fox News es­sen­tially cre­ated Trump as a po­lit­i­cal fig­ure, val­i­dat­ing his birther non­sense and giv­ing him an un­par­al­leled plat­form be­fore he launched his cam­paign. The rest of the news me­dia, and most vis­i­bly CNN, gave the en­ter­tainer undi­luted and un­crit­i­cal cov­er­age (at least un­til he se­cured the nom­i­na­tion), sac­ri­fic­ing jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity for view­ers and read­ers. If you don’t re­port on Trump’s lat­est ac­tion, ut­ter­ance or out­rage, you won’t get the clicks or the rat­ings. And the com­bi­na­tion of so­cial me­dia and a news in­dus­try frag­mented by ide­ol­ogy al­lows an in­creas­ingly po­lar­ized pub­lic to choose only in­for­ma­tion that con­firms their po­lit­i­cal views.

Trump ex­ploited all this. Shame on him. But shame on us for let­ting him.

So how do we atone? Make sure he’s de­feated, and re­sound­ingly, to limit his hold over the GOP go­ing for­ward. At the same time, we bind up the na­tion’s wounds by help­ing those non-col­lege-ed­u­cated work­ers who grav­i­tated to­ward Trump be­cause they’ve been hurt by trade, ur­ban­iza­tion and a chang­ing econ­omy; a huge in­fra­struc­ture-andt-rain­ing bill would help. The Se­nate needs to re­turn the Supreme Court to full power, and the jus­tices need to con­sider how their cam­paign-fi­nance rul­ings are de­stroy­ing the elec­toral process. Pres­i­dent Hil­lary Clin­ton needs to help House Speaker Paul Ryan, or who­ever passes for a rea­son­able voice in the GOP, to iso­late the ex­trem­ists. We in the me­dia — and I fault my­self for this — need to find a way back to civic re­spon­si­bil­ity rather than re­ward­ing the most en­ter­tain­ing can­di­date or who­ever leads in the polls. And all of us need to rec­og­nize that our in­sti­tu­tions are more frag­ile than we sus­pected.

“We all own a piece of this,” my rabbi, Danny Zemel, told me the morn­ing af­ter Yom Kip­pur. “The com­mu­nity has to own it.” Just as the Old Tes­ta­ment re­quired city el­ders to atone for an un­solved mur­der in their ju­ris­dic­tion, “the day af­ter the elec­tion, we all face the col­lec­tive chal­lenge of what we do next to make sure that this does not con­tinue, to get our­selves out of this morass.”

Trump is to blame, but we are all guilty. Ashamnu.

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