Is this columnist yearning for a campfire around which the American people hold hands and collectively sing “Kumbaya”? No, I’m not naive enough to either expect or wish for that to happen. But there’s no ignoring the existence of an exceptionally corrosive atmosphere under which debasement flourishes.
Nowhere is that disturbing condition more in evidence than in our politics. And Washington is ground zero for the animosity, clashing and gnashing of teeth that is roiling public life.
Let’s sidestep how it got started. Instead of tracking down instigators, how about giving thought to those who are keeping it going? Culprits can be found at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to Capitol Hill. A principal contributor to public unseemliness, however, is the one who should be bringing the country together: the president of the United States, Donald Trump.
He is a chief executive who plays to divisions. Instead of uniting, he polarizes, seemingly with delight.
His disrespect for immigrants and people of color is deliberate. He keeps the flame of Islamophobia alive with demonizing and inflammatory rhetoric. Trump is a 21st-century George Wallace and Joseph McCarthy rolled into one.
Turning him around will take a miracle.
What will it take to produce a surprising reversal in the behavior of the demagogues who populate Congress and the pundit class on talk radio and cable television?
Can anything conquer the vitriol?
Well, who would have thought a mass exodus from Egyptian bondage was possible? Or that death would not have the last word? Or that a night in prayer and next-day fasting could lead to a cleansing of sins? Three miracles.
Dare we not hope for and seek such a radical transformation in American politics?
Are we in need of a savior? Or is the saving up to us? Or is it maybe a little bit of both?
Besides asking and looking for divine intervention, consider the possibility that the burden of bringing about comity also rests with us.
It starts by neither defending nor rewarding bad behavior.
There is nothing the least bit acceptable in spreading the accusation that the true allegiance of American Jews is to worldwide Jewry and Israel.
That kind of trope is not spoken out of ignorance. It is done with malicious intent, notwithstanding the speaker’s expression of wide-eyed innocence. The only allowable response is to call it what it is — anti-Semitism — and call out those who resort to that kind of slanderous stereotyping.
Likewise, there is no defense of policies rooted in xenophobia. Anti-immigrant messaging is a staple of this White House. To deny that hostility to migrants is embedded in the administration’s immigration policies only aids and abets the sowers of discord.
Disrespect runs rampant among the political left and right. Both blocs zealously convert their agendas to the level of religious dogma, treating opponents within their own parties as heretics for not going along. Civility is lost on them.
It may be quite a reach to try to create heaven on Earth. But it’s not too much to confront and react forcefully to acts of incivility and demonstrations of disrespect — regardless of the source’s rank, station or party affiliation.
Who knows, in this season of celebrations, the reaction may well be miraculous.
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