Posts Tagged ‘Leviticus 19:18’

WHAT NOW?

The midterms are done. President Trump hailed a great victory (see Orwell, George, 1984). Republicans did expand their majority in the Senate, but Democrats took control of the House. What now?

I’ll begin by stating there’s no better time for Americans—religious or not—to heed Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Espousing differences is legitimate, and recognition of this principle represents the essence of civility.

Alas, during the midterm campaigns, some on the left rejected the concept of civility. They viewed the other side, aka the far right or any conservatives, as inherently bad. Civil discourse cannot be permitted. Compromises cannot be reached.

Sadly, the nature of civility is misunderstood. Those who espouse it—centrists left and right—accept disagreement on policies and will work with their opponents to fashion win-win solutions, understanding that no one gets everything they want.

At the same time, civility’s proponents need not—shouldnot—accept the hateful rhetoric of demagogues and racists, including such statements as, “There were fine people on both sides” of the white-supremacist, anti-Semitic rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

What now? The House’s new Democratic majority, perhaps led by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has the opportunity to stand up for its ideals, propose legislation to transform those ideals into a reality—infrastructure for starters—and undertake governmental oversight consistent with the House’s obligations. All while reaching across the aisle.

Or, the Democrats’ left flank can inform their centrist party colleagues and Republicans that they refuse to support any legislation President Trump proposes. Period. Oh, and propose steps towards impeachment. More gridlock?

Trump and GOP members of Congress may launch their own gridlock initiative by blocking any and all Democratic proposals. Period. At least they’ll be consistent. The White House may also seek to impede the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. On Wednesday, Trump asked for—and received—the resignation of Attorney General Jeff , whose recusal from overseeing the investigation angered Trump no end.

Trump filled the post of acting AG with Matthew Whitaker, who has publicly cast doubts on the Robert Mueller-led investigation. By the way, earlier this morning Trump said he doesn’t know Whitaker—just his reputation. Then again, Trump once denied knowing who former KKK grand dragon David Duke was. A true innocent!

The Whitaker appointment stirred a hornet’s nest. Some legal scholars believe that a constitutional crisis exists: the president cannot appoint an acting head of a cabinet-level department without consent of the Senate. And while Mueller may be overseeing the writing of the final report, will Whitaker attempt to withdraw funding for its completion. Or, if too late, will he withhold it from Congress? If he’s still around? Democratic pushback is a certainty.

And bank on this: A Democratic committee chair willsubpoena Trump’s tax returns. Trump will refuse. The matter will end up in the Supreme Court. Things will get uglier.

If we actually believed in our national motto E pluribus unum—Out of many, one—we’d find ways to accommodate each other. But centrists may represent only a minority of Americans. And Trump will do everything possible to divide rather than unite a nation inexorably headed towards a majority of minorities—many whites’ greatest fear.

What now? I can only propose that civility beats civil war.

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THE CLASH OF CULTURES

I often refer to Samuel Huntington’s 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Huntington posited that the world is divided into religious and national entities that would be at odds with each other given the Soviet Union’s fall. The book has been criticized, but I believe it to be correct. In a parallel vein, it’s certainly apt to say that in 2017, America is riven by a clash of cultures.

The 2016 presidential election pitted blue coastal elites against red heartland Americans. Cultural differences played a major role. Many voters took opposite positions less on the economy and foreign relations than on guns, global warming, abortion, and a multi-gender, multi-ethnic America.

If you’ve traveled or lived in a region not your own color, you understand. Differences in culture and perception are a fact of life. This becomes a problem only when two critical factors go ignored. First, being immersed in a culture not your own is perfectly acceptable—if those “opposites” don’t force their preferences on others. Second, Americans share a common culture in many ways. Red and blue, we (if not everyone) love sports. We go to movies and watch TV in all its broadcast forms. We gobble pizza, barbecue on holidays, go to the seashore or lake, hike and bike, honor our troops and take Mom out for Mother’s Day brunch. Conservatives, like liberals, drink wine. Liberals, like conservatives, drink beer. Christians of all political persuasions decorate Christmas trees.

Sadly, red folks and blue folks come into little contact, since the nation lacks a military draft or mandated national service. So, Americans often see only stereotypes. Many adopt a philosophy undercutting the nation’s core beliefs as a democracy. They define different as bad. They consider illegitimate people with cultural preferences not matching their own. The cultural divide leads to a political divide increasingly wide and bitter. Everyone shouts. No one listens.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the Book of Leviticus. We’re now in the Book of Numbers, but Leviticus remains on my mind. Leviticus 19:18 commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Both red and blue types pay lip service to this verse. It demands more.

  • LOVE: Actions, not just words, prove the real measure of our intentions and integrity.
  • YOUR: The neighbor to whom Leviticus refers is ours, not someone else’s
  • NEIGHBOR: In a world grown more interconnected, we must expand our definition of neighbor from those nearest us to those at some distance. We can’t come to the rescue for everyone, but we can respect all people’s inherent worth.
  • AS YOURSELF: We cannot complain of prejudice and violence inflicted on us if we devalue, hate or persecute anyone else.

 

Democrats often vilify conservatives, as Hillary Clinton did in her sorrowful reference to Donald Trump’s “basket of deplorables.” Republicans eagerly point to liberals as “fake Americans” who control “fake news.” Yet most conservatives and liberals want the same things: good jobs, healthcare and education for their families, safety and peace. Because these issues cross cultural lines, good will and effort can help us find a measure of political common ground.

Yes, red and blue states—or communities—will continue to follow diverse cultural imperatives. But a closer look reveals that we’re all different just the same.

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TWO WOMEN IN BLUE

I recently met two women I can associate with my favorite color, blue. The very different experiences pointed out the fragility of human nature and the ways in which our society struggles to achieve the ideal of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Last Friday night, I took the bus home after Shabbat services at Congregation Sherith Israel. While I was reading on my iPhone, the voice of a young woman assaulted my ears—and everyone else’s. I tried not to listen to what she was loudly declaring to her friends, but I did make out something about pictures or photos and “I can be that bitch, I can be that ho.”

I might not have paid attention to whatever idiocy the young woman was disclaiming if she’d kept her voice down. She didn’t. Since no one attempted to talk to her—including the driver—I got up and approached her. She appeared to be a high-school student. She might have been a bit older. Her hair was electric blue. Three or four metal rings pierced her lower lip. But her appearance wasn’t an issue. I told her that none of us was interested in what she was saying. I wish I’d been cleverer, but I’m still developing my skills for these situations.

She declared her indignation. Quiet down? “This,” she screamed, “is MUNI!” The young woman apparently believed that anyone has the right to disturb the peace on San Francisco buses. Understanding that an argument would be meaningless and wanting to give her a way to save face, I went to the front of the bus and sat. I noticed that the back of the bus had grown quiet.

By the time I reached my stop, the young woman was talking to her friends but moderately. Did I feel victorious? No. I felt concerned. This young woman might need better parenting. I also reflected that it often does take a village, although my fellow passengers didn’t want any part of that. Was I angry? Again, no. I wondered if the young woman had problems at home, if her rudeness and self-directed ugly comments indicated abuse.

Sunday—Mother’s Day—offered something different. Carolyn wanted to go the drag brunch at the Starlite Room at the Sir Francis Drake hotel. I took her, along with my son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy. The food was good, and the show was great with enough energy to light Union Square. The emcee, Donna Sachet, changed dresses three times. Her second dress was blue. And she sang a very moving song, “Be Kind.”

Sexual identity covers a broad spectrum. San Francisco enables people, drag queens included, to live their lives as they choose as long as they don’t harm others. Other parts of the nation often fail to let their sons and daughters express who they really are. Leviticus 19:18 instructs us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Too often, the Bible’s calls for love receive only lip service.

So there you have it. Two women in blue. I wish I’d found a way to be kind to the high school girl. I hope that the world will be kind to Donna Sachet. Kindness costs so little. It does so much.

The blog will take Memorial Day weekend off and return on May 29.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

 

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