On Saturdays in synagogues across the United States, Jews recite a prayer for our country. In my synagogue, the custom is that the congregation stands, and says the prayer in unison.
Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask Your blessings for our country — for its government, for its leaders and advisers, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach then insights from Your Torah that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.
Until Donald Trump’s run for the presidency, this moment in the liturgy felt like boilerplate. It was a nice expression of patriotism; certainly, in the edgy days after Sept. 11, our country felt in need of joint and fervent prayer. But its exhortations to justice and tolerance seemed superfluous. No one could disagree with them.
Until Trump, and Trump’s divisive rhetoric, upended the assumption that politicians of both parties share an essential platform of agreement on matters of basic decency, of respect for those of other religions and backgrounds.
And until Trump’s election made the prayer for our country all the more relevant — and all the more imperative.
Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country.
Banishing hatred and bigotry? Think of Trump on Mexican rapists flooding into the country; on a “Mexican” judge supposedly disqualified by reason of his background from fairly hearing a case; on calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country; on disrespecting Gold Star Muslim parents (“His wife . . . maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say”). Think of Trump mocking a disabled reporter, demeaning women for their looks, asserting his freedom to “grab them by the p---y.”
Safeguarding ideals and free institutions? Think of Trump on “open[ing] up our libel laws.” On ordering torture (“I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”). On encouraging violence at his rallies (“Knock the crap out of them.” “I’d like to punch him in the face.”). On locking up his opponent (“You’d be in jail”) or inciting violence against her (“If she gets to pick her judges — nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is.”). On refusing to commit to respecting the outcome of a democratic election, and recklessly suggesting that it would be “rigged.”
May this land, under Your providence be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom — helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more.”
An influence for good throughout the world? Think of Trump on NATO, threatening to abrogate treaty obligations unless countries ante up, and that he would only defend the Baltic states against a Russian invasion if they have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” Think of Trump’s cozying up with Vladimir Putin (“at least he’s a leader”). Think about Trump on standing up to Turkey or other regimes repressing democracy and human rights. “I don’t know that we have a right to lecture,” he told the New York Times. “When the world looks at how bad the United States is and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.”
Neither shall they experience war any more? Think of Trump recklessly suggesting that South Korea and Japan — maybe even Saudi Arabia — should be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Think of Trump’s boastful assertion that “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.”
Now Trump has been elected, which means he will be exercising, in the words of the prayer, “rightful authority” — authority that the voters granted him, even if he would not have accepted the outcome had it gone against him.
Whether Trump’s tenure will be just is another matter. That remains a dangerously open question about which we can only pray for our country, more fervently than ever. And hope that our other leaders, in Congress and the courts, will be strong enough to safeguard our ideals and free institutions during the potentially perilous course of the Trump presidency.