In a time of contentious and confounding politics, we have a clear choice: work toward a more perfect union or settle for an imperfect one.
The day before the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, I got checked for speaking of President Trump and his supporters with the same sort of overheated language they often levy against the president’s detractors.
The person who was calling me out advised me to meet hatred with grace instead, to see the humanity and potential for redemption even in people who display no interest in either of those things at Trump’s inflammatory midterm rallies.
His advice didn’t sit well with me initially. Isn’t it also their responsibility to see my humanity, and that of the vulnerable and historically oppressed people they laughingly scapegoat and malign, right along with the president, right through moments of collective dismay over demonstrations and attacks by racists? And isn’t it the job of any president to tamp down, not ramp up, the resentments that sabotage our society?
The next morning, an anti-Semite boiling over with xenophobic conspiracy theories massacred 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
I sat there reading the early reports of the murders in Pittsburgh, processing what could’ve been if yet another racist killer in Kentucky had made it into a black church that week, and wondering what chaos might have been unleashed if those mail bombs had actually harmed their intended Democratic and media targets. And I reflected on my reaction the day before.
It became clear to me that as a citizen I can’t just look to the president for comfort and insight when I’m grief-stricken and angry, that I have to be the vehicle for those things in my own life.
Likewise, my job as a journalist whose focus is social justice is not just to ask our leaders for compassion, empathy and grace. My responsibility is to use this space to demand those things of myself — and you.
But when I believe you should be outraged, it’s my responsibility to say that too, even if some readers of this column (OK, many) don’t see the world the way I do.
Over the past two weeks, there have been countless calls for unity in the wake of hateful attacks on individuals, and on human decency. The gathering of thousands for a vigil in Seattle last week to mourn the victims of the Pittsburgh massacre was a beautiful act of solidarity in the wake of tragedy.
But before we can achieve unity, we have to seek clarity.
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We have to be crystal clear, above all, about what kind of country we should be.
Pitifully, that seems to be up for debate as we re-fight social-justice battles that have already been waged so many times before.
It’s 2018 and we’re talking about birthright citizenship, anti-Semitism and white supremacy. We have a whole section of the public cheering as our president speaks of brown-skinned migrants as if they’re an invading army, or even animals, and who calls the free press the enemy when it is he who has gone to war against reality.
I wrote two weeks ago that personal identity is not in and of itself political. But America’s identity is.
Trump, who has optimistically said that the midterms are a referendum on him, owes his awesome power to the people who believed he would be a competent steward of the Constitution and our shared ideals. They have been proven spectacularly wrong, though most of them don’t seem ready to admit that.
What happens next is our call.
The president is basically daring us to prove that this is not “Trump’s America.”
We have to show him that America is ours. By voting, we’ll decide what it looks like, who’s welcome and who’s not, what we hold most dear and what we expect in a leader.
It takes courage to look at one’s country for what it was, because we may be implicated in its worst sins. It takes even more courage to see the country for what it is, because we are undoubtedly implicated when it fails to live up to its highest principles.
We can and will disagree on many issues.
But we ought to speak with one voice on this: We are better than what we’re seeing.
We need to repeat that to ourselves, say it to our loved ones at home, remind our friends and co-workers of it, pray on it at our houses of worship.
If there was ever a time to let your vote be driven by your own moral outrage, it’s right now, whether you’re on the left and mad as hell, on the right and disaffected, in the center and undecided, or just haven’t cared much about politics in the past.
Each of us has a choice. We can either stand up and help make a more perfect union or sit back and turn the other cheek as a more imperfect one rises.
We should at least be able to agree that we have too far to go to waste time retracing steps we’ve already taken.
Let’s not place America’s future back in the hands of the pugilistic and morally incoherent man in the Oval Office.
We can decide it for ourselves with our ballots.