November 9th, 2016 was not the end of the world.
This isn’t the first time a demagogue used an existing system to take control of a country. It certainly isn’t the first time a critical mass has felt unsafe because of the hatred pouring out of a government and into the streets.
Even so, when I awoke the morning after the election, the grief and disbelief were palpable. The hatred and finger-pointing were already rife on social media and in conversations with friends. The divide that had cleaved America had endured the long night.
I have, unfortunately, seen this before. I came of age in Israel–a country that has been divided since before day one–amid expressions of both implicit and explicit violence. I’ve had ample time to see how division is created, and why. And I have to say that we are definitely being played.
It’s in the interest of a centralized government to divide its citizens as much as possible. This division keeps the population weak and disorganized, unable to challenge a status quo that is harmful to basic rights and dignity. A disorganized crowd mills around aimlessly, while a unified one becomes a battalion of forward motion. Those promoting this divide want us to hate each other because it distracts us.
But unified doesn’t mean the same. It means a group of people with a deep bond. It means working together towards a common goal, regardless of disagreement, and allowing our differences to encourage growth. When our discourse excludes those we disagree with, we become stunted. There’s no one around to sharpen our understanding of the world. We need to work alongside people with whom we disagree, even those whose opinions make our blood boil.
There are no Republicans and Democrats – that’s part of the ruse. I know that it sounds banal, but I actually believe that this is the highest truth. There are only people, with real fears and discomfort.
All humans want to be acknowledged as legitimate and to be spoken to as people. If we ignore the fears, discomfort, and anger of others, those feelings won’t go away. They will fester and ooze poison into our society until we see what we’ve seen in the past months: Fear-mongering, hateful speech, violence erupting as though from nowhere.
President-Elect Donald J. Trump isn’t an anomaly. He’s the result of anger that hasn’t been acknowledged or dealt with. People really do feel disenfranchised and abandoned by their government. People really don’t know who to blame, and feel as though their sense of self is being threatened, helpless in the face of a world in which they feel unwelcome. As liberal-minded people, we’ve been naive and even paternalistic to think that these feelings would just go away.
As a gay, Jewish, liberal woman from a Middle-Eastern country, I have to summon all of my humanity to find compassion for the masses I’ve seen at Trump rallies. Many people I know have loudly denounced (or unfriended) anyone who voted for Trump as inexplicably blind to the rights of minorities, women, LGBTQ individuals, people of color and more. But our task now is to explain the inexplicable. To demand that those with whom we disagree listen to our explanations, and to continue fighting for the rights of those who have been blatantly disowned and abused by Trump’s campaign. I refuse to take part in the hatred. Communication is the only way to heal these fractures.
Judaism believes that there are thirteen Attributes of Mercy that denote Godliness. In a time that defies divinity these attributes can be a map to our own best selves. They are as follows: Compassion before a sin, Compassion after a sin, Compassion according to individual needs, Mercy, Grace, Slowness to anger, Kindness, Truth, Kindness for the masses, Forgiveness for iniquity, for transgression, for sin, and Pardoning.
Let us be the Free and the Brave of which our anthem speaks. Let’s see through this dark night of division and rage to a morning where our flag continues to wave.