I’ll raise my hand first. And not only because Arthur and I contracted a horrible non-Covid virus while on a quick driving trip to see the grandkids (and their parents). Mainly because events in our nation and the world have been smacking us around like Cher slapping Nicholas Cage in “Moonstruck.”
In some ways, the results of the election last week were a good kind of slap in the face. Like Cher’s dressing-down of young Nicholas, they sent a message to “snap out of it.” At least for a few moments.
For many years authoritarians have been wreaking havoc with our country and our psyches. We’ve watched the ascent of Nationalist Christians (can I call them Nat. C’s?) and the breakdown of church-state separation. Our Supreme Court now regularly dismantles long-standing precedent and, for the first time in American history, revoked a long-settled constitutional right that impacted millions and millions of people. Immigrants were pursued, separated from family members. People of color and LGBTQ+ people have been harangued in the public square and murdered by law enforcement or in darkened alleys. A president attempted a coup that included an uprising at the Capitol.
And let's not forget the unprecedented rise in antisemitism.
Yet last week’s election was a rare and much needed reminder that the future may not be as bleak as we have feared. Record numbers of midterm voters lined up to refuse purveyors of 2020 election-denial the levers of power. From left to right and in between, voters came together in the name of sanity and democracy. I don’t know about you but I have been moved beyond words to watch conservative defenders of democracy like Liz Cheney (R-MT), Adam Kinzinger (R-MI), Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD), and so many more pull together with those from the other side of the aisle on the one issue that simply must unite all Americans: preserving our democracy from an authoritarian takeover.
As a proud Michigander who misses his sun-soaked single peninsula-ed homeland a great deal less than you might think, I was ecstatic to see the results of our own ballot initiatives, especially the enshrinement of reproductive rights in the state constitution. I was also gratified to see how well the de-gerrymandering process instated by voters in 2018 worked during this its first test. In just a few short years Michigan has emerged as a model for how a divided state can govern itself without anyone’s thumbs on the scale.
These victories for democracy make the exhaustion feel worthwhile.
Of course, the battles are not over. We still have lots of work ahead of us. (We Jews perhaps more than some owing to the dramatic rise in attacks on us from left, right, center, and now ... oddly ... popular culture.)
But rational America showed up and, for the first time, included a whole new generation when Gen Z lined up to enthusiastically cast their very first votes. Their influence will only grow as they help their nation ensure that the trajectory toward a more united American democracy continues.
Next week is a time of gratitude for our nation, a well-deserved break to remind ourselves of the blessings we have.
I, for one, am grateful for family, for community, and for the gift I have found in Humanistic Judaism. For the first time in several years, I am also feeling grateful that the world’s oldest experiment in democracy, flawed and battered and beaten though it may be, may very well emerge from this darkness to fulfill the words of the poet Amanda Gorman who wrote:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat,
but because we will never again sow division.
In her famous poem Ms. Gorman went on to cite some words from Jewish tradition that have inspired people across the world for millennia:
וְיָשְׁבוּ אִישׁ תַּחַת גַּפְנוֹ וְתַחַת תְּאֵנָתוֹ וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד
And then everyone shall sit beneath their own vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid. (Micah 4:4)
כֵן יְהִי ... Ken y’hi … May it be so.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.