The following is a sermon I delivered to my congregation this past Friday night, November 11, 2016, after the shock of the Trump electoral victory.
The impact of this now concluded presidential campaign and the election results have shocked not only this country but the world. One either has been lifted up upon wings of eagles or plunged into despair like Jonah in the belly of the great fish.
I don’t presume to know the hearts and minds of every member of our community. I know only my own mind and heart, and it’s from there that I speak to you tonight.
I hope my words will reflect the thoughts of many, and if they do – good! If not, it can’t be helped.
My challenge this week, like yours, has been to cope with an election result that has caused me deep distress and anxiety, and then to find a way to convert my mourning into meaning.
This election, unfortunately, has shined a light into the darkest recesses of the American psyche and revealed how divided is our nation. It should be clear to everyone that we Americans live in two worlds with two understandings about what it means to be an American and about the meaning of morality.
For those who are happy with the results, I congratulate you. As I suspect, however, this is not the case for far more of us in this congregational community. Like many of you, I’m bereft and left with a sickening feeling of disgust and fear about our nation’s future.
I worry that every advance the Obama Administration made these past eight years will be thwarted as promised by the President-elect, that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, that twenty million people will lose their health insurance, that those with pre-existing conditions will be uninsurable, that a fundamentalist Supreme Court will be solidified for the next generation and overrule Roe V Wade and protect Citizens United, that the United States will dismantle its trade agreements, cause instability in the international markets and in our economy, that we’ll withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and set back all efforts to contain the emission of fossil fuels that cause global warming, that the NATO alliance will be weakened at best and unravel at worst, that Russia’s influence will expand, that many more innocent Syrians will die in indiscriminate American bombing of ISIS, that the US will back away from the Iran agreement and enable Iran to march quickly toward full nuclear capability and threaten Israel, that Muslims will be banned from America, that American citizens of Middle East origins and other people of color will become suspect and cower in fear, that LGBTQ rights will be set back in the courts, that sexual assault upon women will be tolerated, and that eleven million undocumented immigrants will be deported.
All these actions were promised by Donald Trump in his campaign and, if he is like all past Presidents, he will succeed in implementing seventy percent of his campaign promises.
The extremist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic, nativist, authoritarian, and demagogic bigotry that he has unleashed this year has been shocking, disheartening, frightening, and immoral.
That Trump received sixty million votes is beyond my ability to comprehend. That being said, I know that many who voted for him are good and decent people, but I also can’t help but conclude that their morality has been deeply compromised. We have to accept this fact and then try and understand if we are able, what were their reasons and motivations so we can be efficacious in helping to bring our country together in common cause and purpose.
I fear that Trump’s policies will fundamentally transform the heart and soul of this country, that we will no longer be regarded around the world as the shining city on the hill and the last refuge for the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
And so – what do we do?
First, it’s important that we take the time to give voice to the anguish we feel. Those who need to grieve must do so. In this I’m heartened by Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom when he said:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall – always.”
Gandhi was probably right, but tyrants never fall voluntarily. They fall only when they encounter stronger more persistent forces of good.
And so, when we conclude our grieving, I suggest we do the following at the very least – that we try and understand those who voted for Trump beyond the bigotry, what are their narratives and aspirations? What are their needs, passions, and dreams, anger, and resentments? What did their candidate embody and how did Hillary Clinton and the Democrats fail them? Though Hillary won the majority of the popular vote and should be president, in my opinion, she did not fail in any significant way in drawing the majority of the voting public to her and her vision – just in certain key states.
Nevertheless, if you feel as I do that her vision is better for Americans and the world, then we need to expose the harm that Trump’s initiatives champion and what they will do to the American people. We need to fight to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care, to good education, to protection from climate change, to good, sustaining and meaningful jobs, to equal pay for equal work, to freedom from sexual assault and harassment, to safety in their communities, to freedom from prejudice, bigotry and bias, and to a fair shot at the American dream.
We have to frame the conversation going forward in ways that the American people will understand what is really at stake, to speak positively about real solutions, with detailed policy proposals that are workable and that can gain bipartisan support. This kind of communication and education about the issues includes political lobbying on their behalf, using the media strategically so that as many Americans are reached as possible, and focusing specifically on the deleterious impact that Trump’s policies and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will have on people’s lives.
We cannot do this alone. We have to organize with other groups in coalitions of decency and be certain that our collective voices are heard on issue after issue.
There are already so many advocacy organizations working that can use our individual and collective help. Google broad themes and you will find them such as civil liberties (ACLU), women’s rights and advocacy organizations (National Organization Of Women – NOW), the environment (Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Sierra Club), peoples of color advocacy groups, LGBTQ rights and anti-bullying support groups, criminal justice reform and abolition of the death penalty, getting money out of politics, health care advocacy, hunger and food insecurity (MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger), and many others.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. (RAC) addresses virtually every social justice issue of concern to the American Reform Jewish movement (see – http://www.rac.org).
I wrote this week to our synagogue members’ Congressional representatives and offered not only my own personal support for them but our congregation’s support for all efforts to dissuade Congress from enacting legislation that would set back a fairer, safer and more just America. I encouraged them to reach across the aisle to moderate, practically-minded members of the Republican Party and find ways to join together and advocate initiatives that can do some good, save the environment, raise the minimum wage, secure Medicare and Social Security, and help ordinary people.
As Jews, we have a special moral duty, inspired by the ancient Biblical prophets’ concern for justice, compassion, peace, and the rights of the vulnerable, to dig deeply into our tradition’s wisdom for insight, courage, and strength, while keeping our hearts open, our minds clear and our moral principles strong.
We Jews and all peoples of faith and moral purpose need to put one foot in front of the other and not get lost, to perform deeds of loving-kindness constantly, to pursue justice and peace unrelentingly, to be agents of hope always, and to be an “or la-goyim – a light unto the nations.”
The Pirke Avot (2:6) teaches – “B’ma-kom sh’ein a-na-shim, tish’ta-del li-hi-yot ish – In a place where there are no human beings, strive always to be a mensch!”
That must be our purpose, our response, our cure, and our hope!
Leonard Cohen (z’l), who died this week, often parted company from his Jewish friends saying, “Chazak chazak v’nit’cha-zek – Be strong, be strong and together we will strengthen one another.”
I wish that for all of us now.
Read – “How America got it so wrong – Journalists and politicians blew off the warning signs of a Trump presidency – now, we all must pay the price” – by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone Magazine – http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/president-trump-how-america-got-it-so-wrong-w449783