Three weeks ago, I wrote about “this post-election moment” and the need to strengthen democracy. Today, I want to return to that moment with a complementary message. I learned what follows from my colleague, Rabbi David Stern, and applaud him for his vision and beautiful articulation of it.
Here are some of the ideas that Rabbi Stern shared, including my own augmentation:
- “The election is not a finish line but a starting line.” The goal should not be winning the election, no matter which candidates you support. The goal is the betterment of our country, our society, our communities; the improvement of life for all.
- 3 was not the only election day. Every day, in Rabbi Stern’s words, is an election day. Each day I can elect compassion, I can elect to fight racism, I can elect to speak to the things in which I believe, in a manner that is honest and straightforward while also respectful and constructive.
- “If President-elect Biden is to be a healer, he – and we – must recognize that doesn’t mean that he should be an anesthesiologist. Dulling the pain is not the equivalent of remedying the pain. Healing is not palliative. It hurts too. We need to have deep and difficult discussions and debates over the very serious issues that confront and divide us” beginning, I think, with racism, its history, and its ongoing manifestations. Close behind it is a discussion of the obscene gap – of money and power – between those who have far more than enough and those who struggle because they have far from enough. We still maintain tax codes, employment structures and health coverage that might have been well-suited to the 1950’s but no longer bear any reasonable connection to the economic and political world in which we live. The threat of a changing world climate is of great significance as well.
- If you think you won because you’re a Democrat . . . or if you think you lost because you’re a Republican . . . or even vice-versa: you’re wrong. Having a closely divided government might be what’s best for us at this time. For one thing, it can – I emphasize “can” – prevent both political extremes from being the tail that wags the dog. That, of course, depends on the ability of our two political parties to compromise and, through compromise, fashion legislation that will move our society forward together.
- “We need to redeem and release ambiguity and multivocality.” We need to highlight the grey areas while downplaying positions framed in ‘black and white.’ Despite what we want to believe, in so many areas there is no absolute certainty about the right path forward, as if there is only one truth and only one path to implementing that truth. We need to make ourselves comfortable with uncertainty.
- In part, that begins with – as the French-Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas put it – preparing ourselves for “the shock of otherness.” To recognize the truth that resides in someone who may appear to be, and to think, entirely unlike ourselves. Someone with whom we disagree. Someone whose view of the world is so different from our own, whose starting point and ending point bear no resemblance to ours. And to then accept that otherness and to respect it. To do otherwise is hubris, an arrogance that maintains that we are in sole possession of the truth. Rabbi Stern quotes the Jewish biblical commentator Aviva Zornberg when she says that “in the place of this otherness is the opportunity for revelation.”
- Rabbi Stern gives examples. We must come to understand and respect both the importance of compassion and dignity for immigrants and the sovereignty of borders. We must recognize the right and need to protest racism and to protect individuals and their businesses and to maintain the police as officers of peace.
All of which means, finally, to recognize that there is no “they.” There is only us. We, a family of human beings trying to make our way in this world and to do it right.
Yes, our nation is divided, and our communities are diverse. While the division might not be desirable the diversity of backgrounds, faiths, opinions, and beliefs is. In fact, it is an American achievement.
So, again to quote Rabbi Stern, let’s remember that every day is election day and that it is our responsibility to elect, elect, elect.