Turning Mourning into Action: Reflections on the Election

Posted by on Nov 11, 2016 in Blog | 2 comments

safetypinI, like everyone else I seem to know, have been shocked, speechless and overwhelmed by grief. I appreciate R. Sydney Mintz’s words yesterday on a call for Bend the Arc’s We’ve Seen This Before campaign: we all entered Tuesday thinking we were going to a wedding, and when we arrived, it turned into a funeral.


And so we mourn.


And then we organize.


But first we analyze, (after we acknowledge—Hillary won the popular vote (by almost 400,000 votes at this point, and growing) and I have been reading so many different versions of analysis. First ashamed of my white sisters, who turned away from Hillary toward Trump; proud of my Jewish tribe, who voted for light 76% to 24% for fear. This was not a working class vote for Trump, it was a white vote for Trump.


But it doesn’t seem to be about economics, so much as the conditions that have arisen from economics—communities laid waste, but not so much from NAFTA as robots; drug addiction that is devastating (and how much of this belongs at the feet of drug companies?); factories and mines closing.


But the argument I found the most compelling came from cultural psychologists (and Jon Stewart!)—that fear of terrorism and the Other, as promoted by talk radio (and Fox News), has driven people to want a “strong man” who would save them from the Other and ISIS. Michele Gelfand and Joshua Jackson argued that Trump successfully used a psychological formula that works well in areas suffering such catastrophes as natural disasters, warfare, and famine. It capitalizes on fear (talk radio, Fox, the RNC Convention, all of his rallies), panders to the vulnerable (people who have lost their standing in their world), attack existing civic institutions, and then convince voters you are the only one who can save them.  (For a better understanding of the “vulnerable people”, we can read Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, or JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, or Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash, or talk to them ourselves.)


Ezra Klein, in a quite humble analysis, noted that exit polling showed two important points. One was that Trump’s supporters were concerned about terrorism and immigration—both fears fueled by Trump and the right. The other point was that talking about race makes white more conservative, and so every time it came up (which was a lot, given the shootings and court cases and ongoing institutional systemic racism that is finally being talked about (although not well)), white folks moved to the right (this is called racial priming).


Keeping in mind, again, that Hillary won the popular vote, and many people were looking for change, and the media were complicit in giving Trump all that free exposure, and misogyny, the support of Comey, WikiLeaks, the Russians, and the vast right wing conspiracy that has discredited Hillary for decades, and Hillary’s lack of charisma in the political speaker sense, I still find this particular argument to be compelling—that people were made to be afraid, be very afraid, and to feel that a strong man would save them. I don’t believe Bernie would have been any more effective than Hillary in this regard, because he was also not taking up fear of the Other. He was also living in a fact-based world of compassion and kindness and equality, even as he was rightly railing against the banks and corporations.


Now that I have some partial analysis, that is certainly open to reevaluation, I am still looking for ways to move forward. Because I am not at all sure we are not, as a friend described it, at Year Zero of our version of Nazi Germany. (I’m hopeful we’re not, but I think we need to be prepared.) Thanks to Masha Gessen, we have some important clues for living under an autocrat: 1) Believe what he says; 2) Do not be taken in by small signs of normalcy; 3) Institutions will not save us; 4) Be outraged; 5) Do not compromise; and 6) Remember that this too shall pass (eventually).


Jews have been through lots of catastrophes in our time, and we are still here (small but mighty (sometimes I wish for a moment that we were as mighty as the antisemites think we are)). I have a dream that Ivanka will save us from state sponsored antisemitism, although she won’t do much good against the people who are already responding to the election by individual acts of outrageous racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia.


We cannot stand idly by the blood of our family, the human family. I cannot do it. I find that I feel like I have finally found that moment when there is something I would die for (I have plenty people to live for): I cannot imagine letting what Trump has promised come to be without challenging it. I cannot imagine sitting around quietly outraged without doing what I can. I pledge to practice being an ally, wear a safety pin as a sign of being a safe person as a first step, maintain my ability to be outraged rather than becoming inured to it (and so I’ll read Shaun King’s updates regularly), while still holding a place for love of all.


I pledge to remember every day that each of us is made b’tzelem Elohim—with the divine spark within us. And the remember Rebbe Nachman’s real words (rather than the ones we sing), in his Likutei Moharan (II:48): k’she-adam tzarikh la-avor gesher tzar m·od, ha-k’lal v’ha-ikkar shelo yit-paheid k’lal: “When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the general principle and the essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.” We have plenty to be frightened of—for ourselves and the people we care about (personally, locally, globally)…but we have to tamp it down, not frighten ourselves more than is real. And let’s remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt teaching us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.


I pledge to be involved as I can to stand up beside our neighbors, near and far. I pledge to hold that we are all part of a oneness that is fractured at the moment. And I pledge to listen when others tell me their truth, while challenging what is hateful to others’ rights.


May we go into this Shabbat with a sense that there is still hope. And so I end with one of my favorite writings from one of my heroes, Leonard Fein, z”l, about hope:


Our challenge this year, as every year, is to feel the Exodus, to open the gates of time and become one with those who crossed the Red Sea from slavery to freedom.

Our challenge this year, as every year, is to know the Exodus, to behold all those in every land who have yet to make the crossing.

Our challenge this day, as every day, is to reach out our hands to them and help them cross to freedomland.

We know some things that others do not always know – how hard the struggle, how very deep the waters to be crossed and how dangerous their tides, how filled with irony and contradiction and suffering the crossing and then the wandering.

We know such things because we ourselves wandered in the desert for forty years. Have not these forty years been followed by 32 centuries of struggle and of quest? Heirs to those who struggled and quested, we are old-timers at disappointment, veterans at sorrow, but always, always, prisoners of hope. The hope is the anthem of our people (Hatikvah), and the way of our people.

For all the reversals and all the stumbling blocks, for all the blood and all the hurt, hope still dances within us. That is who we are, and that is what this seder is about. For the slaves do become free, and the tyrants are destroyed. Once, it was by miracles; today, it is by defiance and devotion.

— Leonard Fein



  1. As well-thought-out an analysis as any among a sea of thoughtful political and social statements published everywhere, this week. Congratulation, dear Rev.

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