Let me offer three observations about the election now concluded and our soon to be 45th president, Donald Trump.
1. Despite the overwhelming victory for Republican candidates, we are a divided nation. Look to the popular vote. In 2008 President Obama defeated Senator McCain by some ten million votes. In 2012 he won by approximately five million. Secretary Clinton won by less than 200,000 votes, as of this writing.
I have read many commentators, and protestors, who now wish to do away with the Electoral College because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. They comfort themselves by saying that if you factor in the approximate five million votes for third party candidates you realize the majority of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump. They leave out the fact that the majority of Americans did not then vote for Clinton as well.
For me I read these numbers as evidence of how divided we are. 200,000 out of 60 million is no victory. We are a divided nation. There are some 60 million fellow Americans whose views are not my own, whose visions are not in keeping with my commitments. In the days prior to the election I felt otherwise. I imagine that many of you did as well. That was because we were only listening to other like-minded friends.
Remember that ancient rabbinic text about Hillel and Shammai? Jewish law follows Rabbi Hillel because when he taught, he always shared the opposing view of Rabbi Shammai first. Perhaps we need to forward to friends articles we disagree with. Rather than sitting in front of our computers, and reading our Facebook feeds, and nodding in agreement and liking our friends’ posts, we need to seek out opposing views. We need to engage divergent opinions, if for no other reason than to refine our own.
2. I hope and pray that President Trump is different than candidate Trump. I remain troubled by some of his campaign pledges and rhetoric. If President Trump seeks to codify some of his more bellicose statements, then you will see me protesting these policies. If he attempts to deport my neighbors and immigrant friends then I will rise up in their defense. I wish to live my life as a testament to my immigrant grandparents. My experiences are separated from my neighbors (and yes I do mean Muslim, Latino, Sikh, Asian, Hindu and the many others that call America home) but by two generations. I believe our nation is great because it is a living tapestry of color and culture. I am convinced this is the source of our strength, never our weakness.
If President Trump attempts to roll back LGBTQ rights, if he seeks to erase the gains of Roe v. Wade, if he announces plans to undo the small steps undertaken to fight climate change, then again I will raise my voice. If he continues to allow antisemitism to go un-criticized, then I will not remain silent. It is my right to protest. It is my right to criticize the president’s policies. In case one forgets, I have offered criticisms of both Democratic and Republican presidents. This is our right—and our duty—as Americans. Donald Trump will be our president. He is our nation’s choice. That does not mean we must remain silent—when we disagree. That also does not mean that we can say he is not my president if I did not vote for him. To respect our nation’s institutions means that we must accept the decision of our fellow Americans, even, or perhaps most especially when it is different than our own. I will not scream that the election results are unjust. I will not say as others said to me these past eight years about President Obama, “He ain’t my president.”
That will lead nowhere. The Electoral College is how we do things. Instead, I resolve that come four years from now I will not draw so much comfort from my far too many likeminded friends’ posts. I will not nod in agreement as I read yet another missive that affirms my views. Instead I will march off to Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or wherever the battleground states might be and I will work to make it easier for all to vote. I will work (although I am not sure how yet) to alleviate the simmering anger that Donald Trump so masterfully tapped.
There is a lot of hurt in our country—and I don’t mean the hurt of seeing your candidate defeated. We need to do a lot more “praying with our feet” as Abraham Joshua Heschel once said. Nothing will ever be solved by blaming others, by scapegoating this or that group. We can only be healed by the recognition that red or blue should never be our primary identification.
3. I will pray for President Trump’s success. I may like him. I may not. You may like him. You may not. He is, however, the president for all of us—those who voted for him and those who voted against him and even those who did not vote. Our tradition demands that we pray for the President of the United States. I pray. May President Trump be blessed with wisdom and patience. May he be quick to forgive and slow to anger. May he listen to the counsel of both Republicans and Democrats. May he become a great president for all Americans.
This week we read about the first Jew, Abraham. He is called by God to be the leader of the Jewish nation. It is unclear why he is called. The Torah tells us very little about him before the moment of his call. The rabbis suggest that God saw in him glimmers of the belief in one God. They wrote a story about him working in his father Terah’s idol shop. You know the story. He smashes the idols because he think it is silly to pray to statues. Most forget that this story is nowhere found in the Torah.
The call comes out of nowhere. He is called to greatness not by birth or belief but by circumstance. He is not a calculating politician, and schemer, like many believe Hillary Clinton to be (or I would add, King David most certainly was) but is called. Abraham is not called because he is great. He becomes great.
Many people, like the Torah, gravitate toward the outsider. That was most definitely part of President Obama’s appeal. And that is most certainly the image Donald Trump fashioned about himself. People are moved by the story of an outsider—most especially when they feel pushed outside.
This leads me to my prayer—and one that I hope all of us can share. May President Trump become great—for all Americans.