I do not portend doomsday scenarios, but the world in which we live is certainly getting more extreme and has been trending this way for at least a decade. If we do not recognize the trend, we cannot begin to change.
I recall having very serious debates about the rising wave of Political Correctness 10 years ago. At the time, people were concerned just how far this concept could invade our freedom. Five years ago, we were discussing whether or not freedom of speech was defined as “only speech with which I agree.” These were very heated discussions and with almost no middle ground. Three years ago, President Trump’s election severely polarized our nation. You either liked the president or didn’t, and that translated to you being a good person or an evil person; and again, with no middle ground and no option for debate. Today, amidst riots and extreme racial tensions, there is a call from some to do away with one of our most important institutions: the police. An institution that protects all of us and our rights and allows us to live in a civilized fashion. Our viewpoints, on the left and the right, are becoming narrower, with less room for discussion and less ability to compromise, leaving almost no ability to draw consensus. And if that is not enough, we have become contentious, angry and distrustful.
We are losing our basic guiding principles. We are missing the point that only in America (and a handful of other countries) can we even have this conversation. Only in America can we talk about how and why we disagree, and now, even hate.
Only in America can we virulently discuss our leaders’ faults, or even elect officials in our democratic country that want to roll back our democracy, reduce our freedoms and move away from capitalism, which built this nation to be the strongest in the world. Only in America do we invite people into our country that want to radically change our country and how we live; and, only to America does the whole world still want to immigrate. Why do people still want to flock here?
For two basic reasons: because of the freedoms, democracy and capitalism they do not have where they live; or, to undermine us and change us to their way of thinking. Think about that. It is either because our system is great compared to theirs, or they have nefarious intent. In my opinion, that means for all of us here, we have forgotten how great we are, we take our freedom for granted, and, we are so free that we are blinded to others’ intent.
We must begin to learn to live together again. We must begin to learn to compromise again. We must relearn to love peace more than we hate difference.
Most important, we must agree again that freedom to live in harmony, without hurting or violating others, is consummate and is what made this nation different from all others and compelled others to join us. Our nation is not perfect. Each individual in our nation is not perfect. There is no perfection out there, but people stream to our borders because it is the best option. We do have to agree on some basic principles to make this system work. We all have to want freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have to agree on a democratic government to perpetuate our freedoms. We have to accept some sort of mechanism to protect us from ourselves, such as the concept of police. And, we have to accept all the faults that are inherently human. If we cannot agree on a few basic principles, our system will come crashing down. We have to agree to disagree, with integrity and respect, so that we can continually fix the faults that are embedded in our system and ourselves.
One of the hurdles that makes it harder for us to agree, even upon basic principles, is the size of our population. Let me give you an example. Under President Obama, about three-quarters of Americans agreed with him pulling out of Iraq. That means that 75 million people disagreed with that action. That is more than the population of the U.K., or Spain, or Italy. Spend a moment thinking about the difficulty in running a country when you obtain the support of the vast majority of the country, yet tens of millions still disagree.
I challenge all of us, and especially the Jewish community, to think about how to be part of the solution. I do not have the answers, but I can see the problems, I see the trends, and they do not look good right now.