Our democracy is surprisingly fragile and yet remarkably durable. It has survived many tumultuous episodes, the Civil War and Vietnam War come to mind.
It is also far more fragile than anyone cares to admit. It depends on the belief that each of our votes matter and that each and every vote counts. And while states have the right to determine the rules by which they tabulate the results, every ballot must be counted. It is this tenet that binds us together, whether we call ourselves Democrats, Republicans or Independents.
Let no one declare that votes should not be counted. Let no one proclaim victory before every vote is recorded.
Each of us entered the voting booth, or sealed the envelope weeks ago, believing that the future of our country rides on the results of this election. Regardless if one voted for President Trump or Vice President Biden all appear to agree that their vote was a matter of saving the republic from the dangers of the other side. It is a remarkable, and somewhat frightening, thing that despite our political affiliations everyone seems to agree that victory for the other side will doom the country.
Come the day (may it be very soon!) that Biden or Trump wins the presidential election, half of the country will rejoice, and the other half will mourn. And that fact remains one of my greatest worries. We are divided and polarized. I recognize this is not an insightful or revelatory observation, but I wonder how are we going to rally together to fight this current pandemic, or any of the many other looming challenges, if half the country will be devastated by the election’s results and believes the country is doomed because their guy did not win?
I believe. The most important, and consequential, way to fight a life-threatening, and world shattering, crisis and is through unity.
We can of course argue about how we arrived at this point. Watch “The Social Dilemma” if you want to place blame with social media. Listen to the shouting and screaming on cable news if you want to discover more evidence of how we talk past each other rather than to each other. There is indignation, and vitriol, sitting before you on your computer or TV screen. Walk around any corner and you will find it. And while I too have offered indignation aplenty, on this occasion I wonder more about how such attitudes are tearing at the fragile threads binding us together.
So, let the unity begin here with us. Let us resolve to argue with friends, and even family, not to convince them how wrong they are but to understand what they think and why they believe different than we do. I wish to imagine a world where we argue not to convince or level judgement but to understand.
Sure, vote as if the other side is misguided and the life of our country depends on your guy wining. Talk to friends, however, as if your life depended on their love. Sure, protest as if the other side is dangerous and destructive. But sit down with friends, most especially those with whom you disagree as if your community, and country, cannot withstand the end of your friendship.
Our tradition elevates argument to the level of the holy. Abraham even argued with God for the sake of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 18) The rabbis called such disagreements as machloket l’shem shamayim. This is translated as argument for the sake of heaven and understood to mean that we must always argue with heaven in mind. We argue to understand the other. We argue to better ourselves and sharpen our opinions, as well as the commitments of our ideological foes. Disagreement does not make someone an enemy.
It instead means this is someone from whom I can learn.
I recognize how difficult this attitude can be, especially as we anxiously await the election results. And I do not proclaim myself to be a saint, empty of partisan commitments, devoid of exasperation with my ideological foes, and renouncing of indignation with my political opponents. I do however proclaim this commitment. The way forward is through unity.
The way forward is to reclaim our heritage, to argue with each other while loving each other.
I pray. May the person who recites the oath as president of these United States come January, come to recognize that the way forward is through unity, and the way out of despair is to argue as if your life, and the wellbeing of the nation, is dependent both on the justness of your convictions and the love of your disagreeing friend.