In 1800, Americans were warned that if Jefferson were elected, American wives and daughters would be victims of legal prostitution. John Adams was accused of being a hermaphrodite. In 1824, Jackson was accused of being a bigamist and John Quincy Adams was accused of having a mistress while he was ambassador to Russia. In 1860, Douglas accused Lincoln of being a drunk. There was a lot more mudslinging in each of those elections that is too harsh to repeat in print. (As far as I know, the only accusation that was close to true in these elections is that Jackson did marry his wife before she finalized her divorce.) The negative presidential campaigning since the invention of the TV has taken even darker dimensions where the negative message can be augmented with music and images, like Johnson’s “Daisy” ad.
So, the tone of our 2016 presidential election is not without precedent. Independent of your feeling of the outcome, the rhetoric over the past two years has normalized hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center and law enforcement have documented a spike in hate speech and hate crimes since the election. In October, the ADL published a detailed report of anti-Semitic slander against journalists. They identified over 2.6 million such tweets sent between August, 2015 and July 2016. The total reach of those tweets (just adding up all the followers for each tweet) was 10 billion. This is only looking at anti-Semitism and only against journalists. There has been a renormalization of hate speech against Jews in this election. If you include speech against Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants (legal or otherwise), homosexuals or transgender people, we see the deep and divisive nature of this election.
As distressing as this situation is, the work before us as Jews is the same as it has always been. We act as partners in creation by working to heal the world. We sew together with understanding the rips in our social fabric. We remember the stranger in our midst because we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We step forward to work for a just society; justice, justice shall you pursue. This is our call as Jews no matter who is president, no matter in what nation we reside, no matter in what age we live.
To be effective in this task, we need community. Ours is a strong community already. Let us continue to strengthen our community with fun, learning, compassion and action. We must also stand up to hate against others. Say something. Step in. Then report hate to your local law enforcement, to the ADL and to the SPLC who all keep statistics on hate speech and hate crimes.
Finally, let us look for new opportunities to communicate with each other and with our neighbors. Only through effective listening can we hope to overcome mistrust and stand as an ally with others. In the end, there is no “us” and “them,” only “us.” Beth HaTephila means the House of The Prayer. Let that prayer be a prayer of peace, let that prayer be a prayer of action.
Peace and Love, Sam
If you would like to send a comment to the President, please fill in this form and hit send.