It’s the Saturday night before the most consequential presidential election of my life, of possibly the planet’s existence, or at least humanity’s. I’ve spent hours this week on the frustrating task of calling voters on behalf of Hillary Clinton, someone I’ve admired for decades, a strong, tough woman who puts up with more nonsense, more attacks, more slander than anyone I know of.
But it’s her opponent who has sucked most of the oxygen during this campaign. I hate to repeat the list—opening his campaign with the slander against Mexicans (and the absurd wall), the ban on Muslims, mocking of someone with a disability, insulting prisoners of war in the person of John McCain, through to his fight with the Khan family, and his apparent refusal to accept election results if he loses.
He uses antisemitic dog whistles, the latest in a closing ad, showing photos of George Soros, Janet Yellin and Lloyd Blankfein as he discusses global conspiracies that we Jews are evidently at the center of.
His treatment of women deserves its own paragraph…. how he treats and has treated women, insults us, measures us, gropes us, assaults us. I can’t go there.
He won’t release his tax returns, which in and of itself should raise red flags.
He lies constantly, more that anyone in else in American politics, he lies even when a fact check can roll the tape immediately.
He incites violence at his rallies, gathering his army of brown shirts to attack anyone who insults him or them.
There is clearly something going on with Russia that makes him appear to be some kind of Manchurian candidate. Kurt Eichenwald’s article in Newsweek this week made me quake in my boots. How can any American want a President whose connections to Russia haven’t been explained to us?
We know all this. Nothing new here (except the antisemitic closing ad and the Newsweek article).
But the thing that keeps me up at night is what his candidacy has done to us. Yes, the divisions were there before (and that’s a hearty discussion to have). Yes, people have been left behind, thanks to robotics and automation and change. Yes, we have to look at class issues that we claim don’t exist or at least don’t want to face. And yes, Americans have always been more violent than we’d like. And as the Dalai Lama and Arthur Brooks pointed out this week, we have to make sure people can meet the human need to be needed. If you’ve been unemployed for a long time and haven’t found your way to find ways to help others, your anger and happiness quotients are completely out of whack.
We need to find some way to see the humanity in the Other. (I always seem to return to the Other as a topic.) Find some radical way to peace. This week Krista Tippett’s On Being hosted a conversation with Dr. Natasha Trewethey, a former US Poet Laureate, and Dr. Eboo Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (totally worth an hour of your time). Dr. Patel noted that “Diversity is not just the differences you like; diversity is the differences you don’t like.” He discussed that a healthy democracy meant that if we disagree with someone on some fundamental issues (think abortion, criminal justice reform, etc.), that doesn’t mean we can’t—or shouldn’t—find other areas where we can and must work together. We live in our enclaves now, all the progressives in the Bay Area, or around coasts, with our “opposites” living together elsewhere. We don’t even remember how to talk to each other.
The Jewish practice of Mussar, which asks us to learn to strengthen our personality characteristics that lead toward good, offers us much in the areas of anger and patience as we enter the post-election period. Even as we speak to people on the other end of our calls for our candidates. If, as my teacher R’ David Jaffe urges, we learn to “sweeten our anger with compassion,” (as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught), we might make a step forward. As Moshe Cordovero taught (again thank you David for this), we can teach ourselves to be able to say, “Despite being insulted I will not withhold my goodness from you.” It won’t be easy, but it may be necessary.
I can’t bear the idea of a President Trump, in ways that far exceed my feelings of President Nixon, Reagan or GW Bush. I genuinely fear the world will suffer in ways I can’t bear to think about. Climate change, our alliances, nuclear warfare, terrorism, bans on refugees, immigration reform, the treatment of women and people with disabilities, religious freedom, freedom of the press all hang in the balance.
One of the people I spoke to today on my Hillary shift—who somehow equated Hillary and Trump—told me that God would decide this election, and she was not planning to vote. I suggested that God needed us to vote for the candidate who most embodied Godly attributes. But she couldn’t bring herself to do this. I did not withhold my goodness from her, however much I disagreed with her.
I pray that when I go to sleep on Tuesday night, we know that President Obama will be followed by President Hillary Rodham Clinton. And I have been praying this more than I have prayed for anything in a long while. I pray that when people go to their voting booth, or complete their ballots, they recognize that the fate of the world is in their hands. And that they choose wisely, so the next generation gets to grow up in a world that addresses climate change, college debt, poverty, women’s rights, and makes an effort to do the most good we can do for as long as we can.