Editor’s note: The upset victory by Donald Trump in the 2016 elections stunned a Jewish activist and leadership class that is at times as divided as the electorate at large. JTA asked some of those leaders to describe their concerns and expectations in a series of brief essays titled “Worst fears, best hopes,” that will appear regularly between now and Inauguration Day.
(JTA) — I fear that the Donald Trump we saw in the campaign will be the person who serves as our next president.
We are just now starting to see what the incoming administration will look like, but already the choice of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist is a clear indication that concerns about Trump — among Jews and people of all faiths and no faith — are well-founded. The earnest discussions of my younger days about hypothetical changes to civil rights laws and protections are no longer intellectual exercises.
Time is of the essence. We cannot afford to wait and see if President Trump makes good on his campaign promises to roll back religious freedom protections, LGBT rights, protections against discrimination, the rights of Muslim Americans and so much more. And we have already seen that the “religious right” is willing to be complicit in the face of bullying and bigotry if its agenda of legislating love and intimacy is supported.
The Interfaith Alliance and others are working to unite diverse voices to challenge extremism and build common ground. The country is in desperate need of reconciliation and healing even as we stand guard against efforts to undermine precious rights and freedoms. My firm belief is that what unites us is far more powerful than what divides us, and no president is powerful enough to change that fact.
For that to remain a reliable truth, we must listen to and protect each other.
Your vote matters more in this presidential election than in any other since 1868. That was the first national election since the Civil War, an electoral contest to determine whether this nation, so conceived and so dedicated, could endure. The winner was Republican Ulysses Grant by a wide margin. He was a war hero (to the northern voters and southern freed slaves) and did not carry the burden of being in the party of Andrew Johnson, the first chief executive to be impeached.
Grant turned out to be a decent if not exceptional president, at least when he was sober, and Horatio Seymour, his opponent, had to be satisfied with his legacy as former New York governor. But the importance of voting in 1868 was not as much about the candidates as it was about the vote itself. The Reconstruction was underway, a tumultuous and controversial time in America. Three states had yet to be readmitted to the Union. The former slaveholders of the south were resentful and disenfranchised.
We all know the cliché about winning the battle but losing the war. In 1868, our country might very well have won the war but lost the battle. In that election, a vote for president was also a vote for the United States. It was more than a vote for a candidate. It was a vote of confidence.
Certainly, the reasons to cast such a vote in 2016 are very different, even if there are some similarities of attitude among those who feel disenfranchised. I will cast an enthusiastic vote for my candidates; I am not holding my nose or voting against the other person. But I know how fatigued I am by this awful campaign season in which the issues facing our nation have been completely obscured by personal issues of tax returns and emails, foundations and investigations. One candidate started it and made it the cornerstone of a cesspool of a campaign. The other candidate did precious little to redefine the terms of the contest.
At the core of this slugfest is really the only issue that has been debated, and indirectly at that. Do we believe in the inherent goodness of our government? There are all sorts of ways to understand my question, and I intend every one of them. Do we have a good form of government? Does government do good things? Is it good to have government? Are the elected representatives, appointed officials and civil servants who make up government good people? Are the purposes of government admirably good?
The continual message of the contrarians in this campaign has been a resounding “no.” The government wants your money, your rights, your religion, your guns, your security, your privacy. In fact, the government wants your very freedom. What may have started as a revolutionary idea in 1776 and 1789 now requires a revolution of its own. Throw out the whole lot of them because they are interested only in preserving their illegitimate power for themselves. Lest you be tempted to pin this on libertarians, don’t be simplistic. Libertarians are principled. The contrarians are just angry --and probably afraid.
This missing response from the opponents has been genuine patriotism. A few voices have been raised – Gold Star parents, a local candidate who is obsessed with his responsibilities, a smattering of party dissenters. But I am embarrassed by my previous beliefs that so much was at stake in earlier elections; as deeply as I may have disagreed with policy proposals by some candidates, they were all committed to a more perfect union.
Let me be explicit: I believe in the goodness of government. And I believe it not just because government is necessary, but because I believe in the goodness of the people who make up the government. Oh, not all of them and not all the time, but almost all of them and almost all the time. I am one of those folks who can be fooled some of the time, but not for the 43 years I have been voting.
Your vote is a repudiation of the idea that our very system is rigged, crooked or unreliable. Your vote makes crystal clear that there is a distinct difference between imperfect and evil. Your vote is an insistence that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
No excuses. Vote.