Yesterday 49 people were killed in Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. I was heartsick when I heard the news. I cried this morning when I read the text messages of Eddie Justice to his mom before he was shot to death. I thought of my own family. My heart is with all those who lost someone they loved.
Yesterday I heard President Obama’s words and felt his deep sadness, frustration and anger. Today I listened first to Secretary Clinton speak, then Trump.
I made my decision about the election to come. Although I have not supported Secretary Clinton, I now know if she is the Democratic nominee, and it seems she will be, I will support her without reservations. If I had the option to vote for Bernie Sanders for president, I would do it. But as the candidate, Secretary Clinton is NOT the same as Trump. She is NOT the lesser of two evils. She is not different from Trump by degrees but is, rather, radically, profoundly different from him. And despite its many problems and establishment interests, the Democratic Party is NOT the same as the Republican Party to the extent that the Republican Party supports Trump and brought him near to the presidency. These are different universes.
As a Jew, at the time of a death or on each memorial occasion, I recite the Kaddish, which I would like to share here:
Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.
May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.
Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.
Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing, praise, and comfort, to which we say Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.
May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel, to which we say Amen.
These words don’t speak of death but of life. They reaffirm the values Judaism teaches and praise the God in whom we believe. In the same way, Secretary Clinton in her words today reaffirmed the American values of inclusion and our responsibility to others at home and in our global community. She reaffirmed values that I grew up with and which are dear to me. They are the values on which this country was founded even though we have never yet lived up to them. We have tried, we have made progress, and we can and must do more, a lot more — and she spoke of that. She spoke of a vision of our country at its best, of how we can be.
Trump, too, struck every chord in just the right way. The right way to generate fear and anger among Americans. He undermined the President of the United States, calling on him to resign. He spoke of exclusion. He recited his usual litany of utter falsehoods. He linked the economic fears and insecurities of Americans to immigrants. He used, as he always does, defamatory words repeatedly. Soon they will no longer sound strange and offensive but commonplace. He used the word “Islam” (not even Islamic terrorism) again and again as he spoke about terrorism and finally complained that the floods of immigrants are “promoting Islam” among their young people and ours.
Trump concluded with a statement that he pledges to “protect and defend all Americans who live inside our borders…All Americans living here and following our laws, not other laws, will be protected.”
If everyone in the U.S. followed our laws, not other laws, we would still have slavery. So I will make a pledge also. I pledge to follow American laws unless they conflict with my other laws and values, and I respect the right of others to follow the laws and values of their religions or ethical codes.
I suppose some will say that Christian and Jewish laws and values are in accord with American laws and values while Muslim laws and values are not. This is nonsense. It’s not the way religions work. Do we really want to judge religions by the actions of extremist groups that grow up in their context for a variety of historical, social, cultural and economic reasons? Do we really want to discount the evidence of 3.3 million Muslims living in the U.S. and 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, people like us who just want to live decent lives, caring for their families and communities in the framework of their religious and cultural heritage?
Trump is a German Christian (whoops, comes from a German Christian heritage). By Trump’s standards, he and his family should have been banned entry to this country and should, now that they are here, be under surveillance. His family comes from a country that sustained the murder of 12,000,000 innocents in concentration camps, masterminded and carried out by a man who could not have come to power or retained it without the support of a significant number of Christian churches and the people who were in them. I don’t know “what the hell happened there” any better today than I did when I started asking that question as a very young Christian teenager, and I doubt anyone else really does either. So I guess until we do, all Germans and all Christians should be banned from the U.S. Ridiculous and offensive comment, isn’t it?
What we do understand about what happened there is what we can hear and see in media of the time — we see a man who used media tools brilliantly to generate fear and anger among Germans. He undermined the constitutional government. He spoke of exclusion. He recited a litany of utter falsehoods. He linked the economic fears and insecurities of Germans to people he saw as outsiders, Jews, Gypsies and others. He used defamatory words repeatedly until they no longer sounded strange and offensive but were commonplace. And so the most enlightened country in Europe retrained their brains and the brains of their young people to support an evil system. As part of that, Hitler employed Christian catchwords and phrases to shape his evil ideology and used it to convince his fellow Germans that they were actually following the dictates their religion, in reality Hitler’s vile perversion of it, for his own narcissistic, opportunistic ends.
It sounds to me a lot like the man who is plastered across all our media day in and day out in this country, the United States of America. His vision of America, of what will make it great, is utterly repugnant.
The vision that Secretary Clinton presented today is the image I will support. I believe that a strong Democratic turnout is all that will defeat Trump, and I believe he must be defeated, once and for all. Then we can continue to build a progressive movement and will someday be able to support a candidate who unequivocally represents those values and that vision. As a friend said to me recently, building a movement is step-by-step. We need to keep going. We need to take our country back from the haters and excluders and narcissistic opportunists who have no value higher than themselves and their own financial grandiosity.
The Dalai Llama said, “The purpose of religion is to control yourself, not criticize others.” Those who hold to a faith tradition in this country, including myself, have plenty to do examining and re-examining the roots of our own traditions and how they have interacted with economic, social and political situations throughout history, how they have changed, what themes have been emphasized more strongly at any point in time, the extent to which those situated expressions of their religion correspond to their most deeply held values. Or don’t.
But if anyone would like to learn about other traditions, not criticize but learn, Harvard currently offers an excellent series of classes in Religious Literacy free of charge online. Islam is in progress right now. The class is a wonderful opportunity to understand some things about Islam and to meet wonderful people, Muslim and non-Muslim, who also want to learn and who share in extraordinary ways.
After listening to a eulogy by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, at the funeral/life celebration of Mohammed Ali this past week, I connected with another project with which Rabbi Lerner is involved, the Network of Spiritual Progressives. This organization “seeks to transform our materialist and corporate-dominated society into a caring society through consciousness raising, advocacy, and public awareness campaigns that promote a “New Bottom Line” based on generosity, peace, and social transformation. The NSP shifts mass consciousness by challenging status-quo ideas about what is possible.”
The NSP mission: “Instead of a bottom-line based on money and power, we need a new bottom-line that judges corporations, governments, schools, public institutions, and social practices as efficient, rational and productive not only to the extent they maximize money and power, but to the extent they maximize love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and our capacity to respond with awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation.” – Rabbi Michael Lerner
“You don’t have to believe in God, deny science, or be part of a religion to be a spiritual progressive.”
As I reflect on yesterday’s events, I know I need to respond with more than reflection. I will redouble my own efforts to be a better person and to make the world better. I’ll work the fields in my local CSA not just for my own pleasure but because it supports a back-to-basics spirituality through engagement with the earth. I will cook at home from local and organic foods because it supports spirituality through the most basic mechanism of providing healthy, sustainable, life-giving food. I will do what I can to recognize and call out racism and bigotry. I will support any candidate, even one very flawed, who can possibly beat Trump in the election and who offers a vision of caring and inclusivity. I will continue to reexamine my values as they apply to situations in this country and around the world. And I will find ways to support a spiritual reawakening in America, such as that promoted by the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
It is not a virtue for a leader to say what people want to hear. It’s not leadership. Sadly, what too many people want to hear is a vision of this country that will lead only to dead ends and more tragedies, here and around the world.
I want to thank President Obama for inspiring me with his vision and reawakening me to the value and importance of politics and political leadership.
And I want to thank Bernie Sanders for broadening my vision and revealing me to myself as a Progressive. I didn’t know.
I want to thank friends and my rabbi of the last six years who have shared their thoughts and wisdom as I try to find my place.
And I want to say thank you to Secretary Clinton for saying the right thing today. After the tragic death of so many, I wanted to hear words that presented a vision of the best we are capable of being in this country. Words do count.
There is only one path to healing this world and this country: inclusivity and respect for all people, every race, every ethnicity, every nation, every gender identity or sexual preference, every religious and cultural heritage. All people.
6/14/2016 Update: This morning President Obama spoke again about Orlando and reflected on Trump’s words yesterday and throughout this campaign season. Here is part of his presentation. I will miss him when he is no longer president. His beautiful intelligence, his dignity, his humanity, constantly inspire me and make me proud to be American.