Posts Tagged 'Trump'

Purim Today: Xenophobia, Sexism, and Violence

At a town hall meeting last Wednesday night, Senator Marco Rubio was grilled over gun control by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people. On Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Trevor Noah argued that Rubio was “totally out of sync with the entire room,” also pointing out the clip about assault-rifle loopholes. “That was such an epic fail. Rubio said the solution like it was the problem.”

Then Noah related the moment to the “Me Too” movement: “It reminded me of the reaction that a lot of men had to  the ‘Me Too’ movement, you know, when people were like, ‘If we carry on like this, we’re going to live in a world where men can’t even hit on their female staff. Oh, that is what we want? Okay. OK, fair enough, I misunderstood.'”

I was thinking of this when reading Megilat Esther. At the start of the story Achashverosh is having a series of parties. Amidst the revelry the king instructs his wife Vashti the Queen to show up to his party to display her beauty. She refuses and a crisis ensues. The king has no idea what to do when she refuses to obey him and calls on his advisers. Memuchan steps forward and advises that the king.  He warns: “Queen Vashti has committed an offense not only against Your Majesty but also against all the officials and against all the peoples in all the provinces of King Achashverosh. For the queen’s behavior will make all wives despise their husbands…“( Esther 1:20). The fear is that the Queens sleight of her husband’s unreasonable request will have implications all over the kingdom that women will not obey men.

This in turn becomes interesting in that one of the critical moments of the Megilah is when Mordecai beseeches Esther to proactively meet with the king without being asked and reveal her hidden identity to save her people. After the whole Vashti affair Esther knows that it is risky but relents on the condition that the people fast with her in solidarity. There we read:

“Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan, and fast in my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast. Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!” So Mordecai went about [the city] and did just as Esther had commanded him. (Esther 4:16-17)

Esther is courageous and as we know the whole plan comes together and the people are saved. The story turns on Esther’s leaning in and also Mordecai doing what he was commanded to do. At the start of the story the fear was that women would not obey men, and here in the end we see that we were saved because a man obeyed a woman. Like Rubio and Trevor Noah’s making fun of Rubio, the perceived problem is actually the solution. Throughout history  xenophobia, sexism, and violence are mixed together to distract people from the real problems facing their lives. The more things change the more they stay the same. These forces of division are just out of sync.


Judging A Tragic Cycle

In Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the nature of the Israelite law system. There we read:

18 Judges and officers you shall make yourselves in all of your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, tribe by tribe; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shalt not wrest judgment; you shall not respect persons; neither shall you take a gift; for a gift does blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. 20 Justice, justice shalt you follow, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you. ( Deuteronomy 16:18-20)

It seems pretty clear that for a judge to be successful they need to be beyond reproach. I was thinking about the role of the judge in the Torah which looks a lot like our aspiration of the Western justice system as compared to the role of the judge in the book of Judges. There in the book of Judges we see divinely inspired leaders whose direct knowledge of God’s will which allows them to act as champions for the Israelites against oppression by foreign rulers, and models of the wise and faithful behavior required of them. They seem more like military leaders then sitting bench judges from the Torah or our legal system. The stories in the book of Judges follow a consistent pattern:

  • The people are unfaithful to God
  • God therefore delivers them into the hands of their enemies
  • The people repent and entreat God for mercy
  • God sends in the form of a leader or champion
  • The judge delivers the Israelites from oppression and they prosper
  • Soon they fall again into unfaithfulness
  • The cycle is repeated.

Both the image of the just judge from our Torah portion and the leadership judge from the book of Judges shed light on harrowing time we are in today.

We will see what comes out of Mueller’s investigation, but it is likely to exhibit that the current administration is not beyond reproach. There is mounting lack of confidence in the leadership of our country. Since Charlottesville people doubt the administration’s moral leadership. When we look at their “accomplishments” in total since the start of their administration we have to ask if they have any type of leadership needed to govern? In response, Trump has been playing to his base. It is scary to realize that he has been casting himself in the image of the judges from the book of Judges and that his base is locked into living out that tragic cycle again and again. It is even scarier to realize that he does not have what it takes to pursue justice. History will judge Trump poorly.

Bring Down and Lift Up

In Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the upcoming shmita, Sabbatical year. There we read:

For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, saying: ‘You shalt surely open your hand unto your poor and needy brother, in your land.’ If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold to you, he shall serve you six years; and in the seventh year you shalt let him go free from you. (Deuteronomy 15:11-12)

Here we see a connection between the remission of loans and the freeing of the slaves on the seventh year. If some one is down on their luck regarding a loan or having been in slavery, the Torah commands the community to take responsibility to help them . Here we are called to look out for the needs of our fellow citizen. But what does it mean that, “poor shall never cease”? Why can we not imagine a time when poverty is over?

It seems that this question is answered in Isaiah’s Messianic vision in our Haftarah . There we read:

Ho, every one that is thirsty, come you for water, and he that had no money; come you, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your gain for that which satisfied not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.( Isaiah 55:1-2)

The ideal for the future is a time in which our needs are met without the disparity inherit in a society that is built around privilege, debt, and the imbalanced nature of currency. I am not foolhardy enough to think that our world can survive without the forces of capitalism, we just need to recognize that inherent in that system is perpetual poverty. It is also possible that our approach to poverty cannot be limited to any single community looking out for their own.

These ideas came home for me when you look at what happened in Charlottesville last weekend. There we saw the painful reminders of a country still ravaged by its history in slavery. There we saw the ugly display of White Nationalist, Alt-Right, and neo-Nazis spewing their hate. It seemed to reach a horrific nadir when one of those white terrorists plowed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators killing one and injuring many others. And if we thought it could not get any worse the President lent legitimacy to this world view. Clearly the current administration does not have a path forward, so what can we do?

We need to dig in deep to our prophetic tradition. We can leave no room for hatred, but at the same time we need to try to find a space of empathy. There is no room for bigotry, racism, or ant-Semitism, but we need to find other ways to hear the pain in the voice of these white men. Listening to their voices does not make them right or even legitimate, but there is no doubt they are experiencing difficulty. Do any of honestly believe that the current administration will do anything substantive to support poor white America?

What would it look like to live in a society our Torah portion is describing? What would it look like to live in a place where we all looked out for those who are less fortunate? What would it look like if every seven years we rebooted the economic structures of society and gave everyone a fresh start? This is a complicated process of rewriting our collective story and who is part of “us”, but surely it is worth it. Yes we might have to bring down some statues, but in the process we would lift up a lot of people.

Wake Up Call: Life After the Election

Last Wednesday morning when we woke up Yadid, our 12-year-old, he asked for the results of the election. In response to hearing that Donald J. Trump was elected by the electoral college as our 45th president he said, ” Wake Me Up in Four Years”. At first I encouraged him that we need to open-minded to the president he might yet prove to be and at the same time ever vigilant to ensure that the most vulnerable are not hurt. But then I let Yadid’s words sink in a bit more. I have so many privileges that I have been ignoring those who have been vulnerable for years.  I am a white heterosexual male educated blue-state elite. How long have I been asleep?

I have been living in unconsciously in the bubble of the American Dream.  Yadid’s comments reminded me of something that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his moving book Between the World and Me. There he wrote:

That Sunday, on that news show, I tried to explain this as best I could within the time allotted. But at the end of the segment, the host flashed a widely shared picture of a 12-year-old black boy tearfully hugging a white police officer. Then she asked me about “hope.” And I knew then that I had failed. And I remembered that I had expected to fail. And I wondered again at the indistinct sadness welling up in me. Why exactly was I sad? I came out of the studio and walked for a while. It was a calm late-November day. Families, believing themselves white, were out on the streets. Infants, raised to be white, were bundled in strollers. And I was sad for these people, much as I was sad for the host and sad for all the people out there watching and reveling in a specious hope. I realized then why I was sad. When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option, because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country, but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you. (Between the World and Me)

The election of Trump is a real wake up call. But it does not change the fact that for many of us, it is our fault that we have been slumbering through the misery of others.

Interestingly the Talmud deals with a related issue. There we read:

Rabbi Yohanan said: This righteous man [Honi] was throughout the whole of his life troubled about the meaning of the verse, A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream. ( Psalms 126:1)   Is it possible for a man to dream continuously for seventy years? One day he was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children. Honi sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him. As he slept a rocky formation enclosed upon him which hid him from sight and he continued to sleep for seventy years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, Are you the man who planted the tree? The man replied: I am his grandson. Thereupon he exclaimed: It is clear that I slept for seventy years. (Taanit 23a)

In the Talmud’s  version of the goes on to recount the Rip Van Winkle tale Honi is lost in his learning contemplating the 70 diaspora of the Jewish people. What does it mean that our diaspora could pass as a dream? As we have seen with the resurgence of antisemitism this is no dream. But have we been asleep and complacent while people have been targeting of Muslims, Mexicans, people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBT, and women? Like Yadid, I am tempted to roll over and try to sleep through the next four years, but we need to wake up.  I realize that I am somewhere between grumpy and bewildered about the amount of work that needs to be done. And shame on me because it was there to be done before the wake up call while I was sleeping in my cozy bed. Now that I am awake how will we ever bring about justice? As Rabbi Tarfon says,“You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.” (Avot 2:21) And as we learn from the grandfather planting the carob tree for his grandson, there is not quick fix for anything that we want to sustain. We must think in terms of generations if we want to do the work of bringing about true justice.

So I tell myself and my children, “Good morning. Wake up. There is much to do. We have to dig in deep and do the good work.”

The Tower of Trump: On Civic Ignorance

In a 2012 appearance in New Hampshire  former Supreme Court Justice David Souter made some striking and prescient remarks about the dangers of “civic ignorance”. This video has been circulating and worth seeing:

 I was most struck when he said:
I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’… That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.
Civics is important. We need to know who is responsible and then we can demand performance from those people. If we are ignorant of civics, we are at risk of peril. This is not a risk from the outside, but the inside. Like Augustus, with little regard for democratic norms and political institutions, Donald Trump has come forward seeking power, assuring the public that he’ll solve our problems, exploiting fears and civic ignorance. Trump will not make American great again. He is an outgrowth of our civic ignorance. Trump really just wants to make his name great.
I was thinking about this in the context of Noah, this week’s Torah portion, where we learn about the Tower of Babel. There is says:
And they said one to another: ‘Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11: 3-4)
Modeled on his gauche Trump Towers his campaign is built on the disturbing idea of building a wall on the Mexican border.  Trump is not offering solutions to real problems, rather he is offering the confused ( read here mivubal) masses a just a place to  ” let us make us a name”.
In Souter ‘s remarks he references a quote from Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson said:
If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.
I think we need to reflect on this before we vote on Tuesday. We need to vote against the bigoted  anti-Intellectualism of Trump.  I am not saying that Hillary is beyond critique, but she is no Augustus. To save our republic we need to elect Hillary and bring down this Tower of Babel on which Trump is trying to put his name. On Wednesday we will have to do the hard work of dealing with our widespread civic ignorance.

Politically Incorrect: Trump and VaYikra

There is a lot of talk recently about the limits and challenges of being politically correct. Being PC describes language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has said:

I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.

One could claim that being PC is just a thin band aid on top of  much larger societal problems. Even if Trump wants to pull off this band aid, he has offered no cure for the festering wounds underneath. In fact it seems that the opposite is the case. While Trump’s bluster is clearly resonating with a large group of frustrated Americans, his politically incorrect speech is inciting violence. How is this a cure? Worse than the blind bigots who support him, Trump is a shrewd opportunist who will try to harness their anger and fear for his own benefit. Sucked in by his promise of “Making America Great Again”, this school yard bully will default on these empty, meaningless, and self serving promises leaving his supporters even worse off.

 Image result for anti trump swastika
I was thinking about about this in the context of Vayikra, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:
or if any one swear clearly with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall utter clearly with an oath, and it be hid from him; and, when he knows of it, be guilty in one of these things; and it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that wherein he has sinned; (Leviticus 5:4-5)

When Trump swears that he will “Make America Great Again” he is being a politician making empty oaths. When his hateful rhetoric incites violence and he is unable to confess his responsibility, Trump has sinned. David Brooks has opined in the New York Times that Trump is unfit to lead. There he wrote:

History is a long record of men like him temporarily rising, stretching back to biblical times. Psalm 73 describes them: “Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. … They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.” ( NY Times 3/18/16)

Maybe Trump is right that this country has a big problem in being politically correct. But a true leader knows when you put away the political for what is correct. The end of civility and the rise of violence is inexcusable- we need to work in earnest to solve the problems beneath the surface- not just stoke those fires for personal gain. These underlying issues are real and need our attention. To be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time for Trump.


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