The outcome of the 2016 presidential election has evoked lots of emotion. Several of my rabbinic colleagues are devoting tonight’s Shabbat service (November 11) to give congregants an opportunity to express their feelings in a safe space. And I think that’s something we should do tonight as well. So let me offer a few observations to get the conversation started:
The response to the outcome of the election mirrors how divided our country is. Many feel pleased, even elated. Many feel sadness, even despair.
And the elated don’t have any sympathy for why some are despairing. And the despairing can’t comprehend how anyone could be elated.
This election brings home to me that we are not only a divided nation. We are two nations and neither side gets the other – at all. We are not unique in this respect. Every democratic country is going through this.
What half our country sees as disqualifiers for one candidate over another are no deal breakers for the other half of our country. Half of our country is willing to overlook stuff that the other half of our country will not.
As a result of this election, many in our country feel threatened. Will Muslim Americans be attacked? Will undocumented Hispanic families be rounded up and deported? What about the anti-Semitism of the alt-right movement?
Some dismiss these concerns. But when we see the pictures of swastikas painted on walls with the verbiage “make America white again.” When we see videos of high school students shouting “white power” and “build the wall” — we have reason to be concerned.
That said, our worst fears don’t have to come true. We must not panic.
We cannot build a better America by ignoring those who disagree with us politically and hoping they will just disappear or go away. We are all Americans and no one is going away.
Yes, we must absolutely stand up for the values we cherish. But we can speak up for our values without mocking, disparaging, or shaming.
How, then, do we build a better America?
It begins when all Americans stretch ourselves to understand how the other sees the world, even when we see the world differently.
It begins when all Americans push ourselves to feel sympathy for the concerns of the other, even when we don’t share the same concerns.
I want to conclude our conversation tonight with a quote that captures the perspective we need in this anxious and trying moment. You will recognize it. It was written by President Abraham Lincoln: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Rabbi Stuart Gershon, D.D.