It doesn’t take a genius to see how angry so many in our nation feel these days. People work harder and earn less. Decent citizens pour sweat into their jobs and can’t find a way to send their kids to college take a vacation or buy a car. So many of us feel insecure and wonder about our safety as it relates to the random nature of terror and its potential to reach streets which once felt safe. We dutifully pay our taxes and wonder about fraud and waste. Indeed, rusted pipes in modern day cities bring poisoned waters. Politicians ask for our votes and more, our trust and we are no longer sure about their ability to provide the most basic of services. Minorities across our nation don’t feel safe, sensing institutional racism. If we agree with the premise or not, millions of people on both sides of the political spectrum feel like our political system is rigged for the few, as the many are left to wander through the abyss. We can disagree, but not to notice means we are simply not looking.
I tend to trust; I want to trust, but I am steadily losing confidence myself. I feel grateful for my bounty in life, but times feel harder than they once were for my family. We can’t save as easily and we worry about our future. More, I don’t intrinsically trust that government officials are doing the right thing with my hard earned income, which I use to dutifully pay my taxes. I can see the waste in front of my eyes and wonder how many politicians care about everyday, law-abiding citizens. I sense our elected officials are intoxicated with power, caring more about their next election than they are with our ability to flourish and prosper. They say they want our children to do better than my wife and I do, but I don’t necessarily believe them. And this is me…I am wired to believe. Too many of them don’t speak to each other in any manner which resembles civility and they want me to give them my money, my trust; my vote?
And, so I understand how easily any of us who feel disaffected at any level, thirst for leadership; for change in the political winds. I understand how redeeming and good it feels to hear strength and want to cleave onto their words. They are channeling our anger and appear poised to set us on a path, which finally feels free. But, we must also beware. Hunger can cause us to eat what we later regret. Desperation has historically caused base instinct to run awry.
Pretenders use strong language with no substance to back up their words. Fakers allow violence in their midst and even encourage the same when they have the chance to boldly demand peace. Stealers of confidence play on our fears, stoking what we might hate instead of nurturing the part of us, which might know the other as self. Those who make believe swoop us into a mob, so we can fantasize about it all feeling better instead of inviting us into partnership to climb the hard and civil road back to prosperity.
We should have known when he wanted to build a wall. We should have known when he wanted to register an entire religion. We should have known when he wanted to bar an entire People. We should have known when we no longer allow our children to watch debates because of his barbaric language. And so, we have to know right now, as he encourages bullies to swarm and punch those who protest his ways. You know a real bully when he won’t fight himself. He stands protected, while he champions the sucker punch.
As a political junkie, I enjoyed the carnival show at first. I wondered how it would all play out. Like watching sports, I craved a battle and anticipated strategy. The difference is baseball games end and eventually we move on from wins and losses. This is not a game and indeed I fret that everything I care about and work for will be washed away by a narcissist who cares about stroking his ego more than he will the welfare of good, patriotic citizens.
We deserve to flourish. We deserve meaning. Let’s make sure in this season when we must look deep into our heart of wisdom to choose wisely, so we are not fooled by the dangerous Donald J. Trump.
Matthew D. Gewirtz is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. He is the author of The Gift of Grief: Finding Peace, Transformation and Renewed Life after Great Sorrow? (Random House). A strong advocate of social justice, Matt Gewirtz is a founding executive committee member of the Newark Coalition for Hope and Peace, an interfaith organization of Jews, Christians and Muslims that is committed to ending gang violence in Newark. Matt Gewirtz strives to find joy and meaning in his daily life and is committed to helping do the same for others. His greatest joy comes from his wife, Lauren and their three beautiful children.