Tomorrow

I write this before the 2016 U.S. Presidential election is called, but at a point where it’s all but certain that Donald Trump is the President-elect.

I’m no longer sure who is reading me. I’ve been a strong Clinton supporter, and given the divided state of our politics, it’s possible that I drove away any of my Trump-supporting readers a long time ago. It’s possible that my readership are all liberals or progressives of some sort (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, curious non-believers, and none of the above). I hope that’s not the case, and I write this based on the possibly false assumption that people of all religious and political beliefs are reading. I write this, knowing that some of you will be frustrated that I’m not targeting the side you feel deserves my scorn. I apologize in advance for my failure to be partisan.

During the election, I felt the need to finger-point. I found it appalling that a substantial majority of white Christians (in particular, white Protestants) supported Trump, some with great enthusiasm. I also found it appalling that any Jew could support Trump, and I was disgusted beyond words when the Jewish establishment offered him a forum and a measure of respectability.

Most acutely, I felt that for the most part, people of faith failed the country, each other and themselves. Sure, I know there were exceptions. But with all the talk of American greatness, I didn’t hear enough about goodness. Mostly, the religious figures that appeared most prominently in this campaign seemed more interested in whether the candidates were on their side, or on the side of their congregants and constituents. As a result, religions presented themselves (or were represented) as “interest groups,” as in, “We need to win the Jewish vote,” or, “We need to win over the evangelicals.” I saw relatively few people ask which candidate was on the side of the Torah, and the Gospel, and the message of holy scripture.

At least, this is how I saw it. A political campaign is an opportunity to teach and promote religious values. I think, for the most part, we squandered that opportunity. You might disagree, but if you do, ask yourself: are people more likely, or less likely, to embrace religion after this election season? I think to people on the outside of religion looking in, we people of faith (for the most part, on average) came across looking more hypocritical and self-serving than ever before.

But the election is over. There’s no changing the result. And my mood has changed, from the nervous anxiety I described in a previous post, to something more like a nauseous but grim determination to face what is to come. No, I don’t have any better idea what is coming than any of the pundits I’ve seen on TV. But it is the Jewish experience to take seriously the things our leaders and proposed leaders say they’re going to do, no matter how fantastic, improbable or horrifying those things might be. I assume there is some terrible stuff coming. Mass deportations? Religious discrimination? Will we turn our backs on victims of war seeking refuge? Will we compound our failure to cure the sick and feed the hungry? Will we abandon our fledgling efforts to heal an overheated planet? Will we persecute people based on their race, religion, ethnicity or who they choose to love? These questions address MY Torah values; your religious values may differ, and if your candidate won this election, your values probably DO differ. But my guess is, whatever your values might be, you might not be feeling so good about how well they’ll fare over the next four years.

In the face of what strikes me as an all-out assault on the values of Torah, Gospel and the Qu’ran, not to mention the sacred books of all other faiths and the greatest ideas of philosophy and humanism, it seems stupid to waste my energy assigning blame to this-or-that demographic or denomination of voters.

It’s a new day. We people of faith (and that includes whatever power or ideal you hold faith in) have a renewed opportunity to show our faith and put it into practice. I get that this is the slimmest of silver linings in what seems (and may well be) the darkest of clouds.

My first action will be to call my local mosque and offer my services, see how I can help. How will you demonstrate YOUR faith tomorrow?

  • Jim Youngman

    Amongst people of all religions there are extremists. Most prominent in the media today are ISIS and al Qaeda. Amongst Christians too there are belicose extremists. Two such groups in the USA are Christian Patriots and Christian Identity (look for them on Wikipedia). These are included in the white supremacists who would be supporting Trump. However, their theology is a long way removed from mainstream Christianity or even that of the majority of fundamentalists.

    Oh, and I do know of one American Muslim who could not bring himself to vote for Clinton.

    We must hold to our faith and love for one another.

  • But with all the talk of American greatness, I didn’t hear enough about goodness.

    Great line!

    My “tomorrow” plan is to do what I can to promote better understanding between people. And that includes getting to know Trump voters and their concerns. Trump is essentially a salesman, and one of the most effective ways to make a sale is to speak to people’s fears. Which is what he did. He mirrored back the fears and concerns of a large swath of the conservative electorate. The mistake of the liberal-identified public (and not just a “strategic” mistake, also a “spiritual” one) was to remain aloof to these concerns, and to ridicule these people and their concerns as necessarily being racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, uneducated, etc.

    Yes, there is an alarming dose of the above among certain constituents, and that has to be vigilantly opposed. But we make a mistake if we dismiss it all as the ravings of 59 million paranoid hate-mongers, and don’t take the time and effort to actually listen. Where the fear is paranoid, without basis, instead of responding with scorn we might share a theoretical concern (if it were real) and do what we can to offer reassurance. Where it’s a legitimate issue of concern, instead of being callous and dismissive, we might express understanding and solidarity, and pledge to address that concern, together.

    Where we succeed in trading in ridicule for genuine care and concern, animosity will decrease. Distrust will dial down. Fear will dissipate. With less fear, there’s less of an anchor for racism and xenophobia to attach themselves. And there’s at least a possibility of achieving the “healing” to which President-elect Trump alluded in his acceptance speech.

    To reach out and try to understand someone on the “other side” – even if they don’t (yet) want to reciprocate, and to apologize (do “teshuva”) for ridiculing people and their concerns, that’s at least one aspect of “faith” I’d like to exercise. And since it’s already “tommorow,” I guess you can count this comment as my first go at it!

    • I apologize for the delay. I assure you, I have been listening to Trump supporters. They don’t speak in one voice. Most were traditional Republican voters who just voted the way they always vote–some happily, some reluctantly.

      I think you’re wrong to think of Trump as a salesman, or to imagine that you might have changed the mind of a single Trump voter by talking to him or her with understanding and compassion. I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but it’s hard to say this without being blunt: it is a form of ridicule, a kind of aloofness, a variety of scorn, to see people on the other side as people with “legitimate” concerns whose fears led them to act in the wrong way.

      I think it is more accurate to think of voting as a human activity like just about any other, where we process information and act to preserve and enhance our survival. I am in the process of digesting information published by the Cultural Cognition Project, and I think their model explains how we vote. I am going to try to write further about this. But think about how we process information. Mostly, we process information in a way that’s oriented to survival. So if we encounter a strange plant growing in the woods, we don’t roll it up and smoke it. That kind of behavior is too risky. However, we also process information in a way that maintains and enhances our status in the cultural peer groups to which we belong, because group belonging might be the most important factor in our survival. So if the group we’re in smokes tobacco–a plant we KNOW is dangerous–we’re likely to smoke it too. It has been bred into our DNA–the risk of smoking is not as great as the risk of rejection by the group. We resolve the conflict between the risk of the behavior and the risk of exclusion from the group by downplaying the risk of the behavior.

      Here’s the thing everyone need understand who hopes to talk reason to Trump voters in an effort to get them to change their vote. The science here is clear: if you present our hypothetical smoker with good, rational, reasoned information on the danger of smoking, our smoker is (on average, but it’s a strong average) not going to perceive smoking as more dangerous. He is not even going to stubbornly persist in his old opinion on the risk of smoking. No. He’s going to actually perceive of smoking as LESS dangerous. Why? Because, group belonging almost always wins out. And each time the smoker has to process the information in a way that allows him to remain a member of the group, the risk he perceives in smoking is dampened further.

      This works in reverse, of course. If your group is anti-smoking, you’ll be more and more anti-smoking if you know more about smoking. If your group does not believe in global warming, then the members of the group who most strongly disagree with global warming will be those who know the most about it. So, as perverse as it may seem, you are only going to push Trump voters deeper into Trumpland if you try to present them with information about how terrible Trump is.