A mob, including a man with a tee shirt saying Camp Auschwitz, incited by the President of the United States, ransacked the US Capitol. Some of them may well have been the same “good people” who marched with torches through Charlottesville shouting, “Jews will not replace us.” As rioters trashed the Capitol, carrying the Confederate battle flags, others placed that same symbol of racism on the Museum of Jewish Heritage here in New York.
If we are outraged when athletes disrespect our flag and national anthem, what are we to say about people who attack the Capitol, the very symbol of our democracy, and a President who tweets his “love” for them, calling them “very special people.” This is where the politics of hate, anger, grievance, and demonization have led us.
What may well be a majority of the public now subscribes to one of the following points of view:
1) The Presidential election was marred by “fraud,” and the incoming President is illegitimate.
2) The United States was founded on the principles of protecting slavery and white supremacy.
3) The economy is “rigged” by Wall Street bankers who are preventing ordinary people from getting ahead.
What these ideas have in common is that they question the very legitimacy of the institutions that are the bulwark of protecting our liberty.
In Pirkei Avos, Rabbi Chanina, the Deputy Kohen Gadol, taught us to pray for the welfare of the governing authorities, because without them we will be consumed by violence. When the very legitimacy of government is challenged, society breaks down.
The 21st century has been characterized by a dizzying pace of change. Technological advances and the growth of the global economy have destroyed many of the jobs that were a ticket to the middle class. Climate change threatens the planet. Terrorism threatens our safety. Government has failed to meet these challenges. Rather than work together to solve problems, politicians have tried to win votes and attain power by appealing to the very real grievances of large segments of the public.
This situation is especially threatening to us as Jews. When society melts down, it is often Jews who pay the price. Much of the anger is aimed at “elites” in the media, finance, and academia. Over the years, anti-Semitic propaganda, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has spread the myth that Jews control the media, finance, and academia. When radicals on both the left and the right speak about taking on the “elites,” they mean Jews.
Unfortunately, we sometimes tend to condemn violence and anti-Semitism when it comes from those who disagree with us politically while rationalizing or ignoring it when it comes from those we agree with. So, let’s be clear. People across the political spectrum have the right to protest. No one has the right to loot, vandalize, or block traffic. The anti-Semitism of some people involved in the Black Lives Matter protests does not reflect on all people who believe that Black Lives Matter. The people who ransacked the Capitol do not reflect on all Republicans or Trump supporters. We should stand firm in fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry, and violence wherever it comes from. But we should not demonize entire political parties or movements based on the actions of a few of their number.
Seventy-four million people voted for Donald Trump. Many, justifiably, believe that a “woke” has contempt for their values and seeks to impose its will on the rest of us.
African Americans have been subjected to the degradation of slavery and segregation for hundreds of years and the legacy of that endures today.
Large corporations have eliminated good-paying jobs through technology and offshoring. The result is more wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer people, while too many others are struggling to meet their basic needs.
These are all concerns that need to be addressed. Otherwise, we will see even more loss of trust in government and our institutions and a further unraveling of civilized society.
It is time to replace the politics of anger and demonization with the politics of problem solving.
The Problem Solvers Caucus in the House of Representatives was founded by the No Labels movement. It consists of 50 Members of Congress, divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, working together to achieve bipartisan solutions to some of America’s toughest problems. There is a similar group forming in the Senate. When the President, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader could not get their act together on a COVID relief package, it was the Problem Solvers Caucus and the bipartisan group of Senators that came up with a bipartisan proposal that forced leadership to come together to forge an agreement. The package that was passed was different from what the Problem Solvers proposed. But it was the Problem Solvers who forced leadership to act.
In the coming Congress, the Problem Solvers Caucus and the bipartisan Senators can have more influence than ever. The Senate is split at 50-50. The Democratic majority controls only 222 of the 435 seats in the House. This means that while Democrats have a small majority, they do not have effective control. The Problem Solvers Caucus will hold the balance of power in the House, and the bipartisan group will hold the balance of power in the Senate. The only way to pass legislation in the next Congress will be through bipartisan cooperation.
The main obstacle to bipartisanship, especially in the House of Representatives, is that the overwhelming majority of districts are drawn to favor one party. This means that for most Representatives the main obstacle to re-election is the primary. Activists from groups like the Democratic Socialists and QAnon tend to dominate the primaries in both parties and often push for ideological purity rather than compromise. No Labels provides the political infrastructure of fundraisers and volunteers to back the Problem Solvers Caucus and the bipartisan Senators. The current makeup of Congress provides our best hope yet for passing the kind of bipartisan legislation that can begin to address the concerns of the public and restore faith in our governing institutions. This makes the work of No Labels and the Problem Solvers Caucus more important than ever.
It will take Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, from all ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds working together to make it happen.