The Cuckoo Coup
What a year America has had. To add to the scourge of COVID-19, we have seen the self-destruction of a president and we are witnessing a serious degradation in the values of American society. There is no humility, no grace, no dignity, and no sense of humanity. It is an era of lies, distortion, avatars, selfies, selfishness, fake identities and fake personalities, clicks and flicks, notoriety, and bullies. And above all, intolerance of different opinions.
In politics, the choice in the United States has been between the loud voice of braggadocio and arrogance on the right, and the howling, hypocritical self-righteousness on the left. We saw it in the abuse during the Senate confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, including from the Vice President-elect. If this “Cancel Culture” carries on in such a divisive way, the country’s glory days may soon be over, slipping further in world esteem. Not that the rest of the world is in any way unaffected either; as Shakespeare’s Cleopatra said, “There is nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.”
I have no interest in defending Donald Trump, his style, or his persona. Whatever the president claims he intended or not, the demonstration was hijacked by violent extremists and hate-mongers. They lacked the intelligence, planning, and strategy to mount a real coup. Awful as it was, it did not exceed the damage to life and property of the extended and widespread riots this past summer that were encouraged by so many politicians. Yet it certainly has put paid to Trump’s reputation and legacy, despite those good things his administration achieved.
Troubling, too, was the lack of security and preparedness, which no other country in the civilized world would have allowed to happen. This may be explained as the result of the summers’ protests. And imagine what might have happened had a handful of jihadis taken advantage of the situation. The failure is typical of the same lack of foresight that has allowed hackers from Russia, North Korea, and China to penetrate American security and commerce. No president in the past twenty years has dealt effectively with these issues.
Trump’s worst mistake after the election was not his complaining about corruption and voter fraud. There have always been instances of cheating, gerrymandering, and voter fraud, and this election was no exception. Had the president not refused to concede and had he not stirred up anger, but simply focused on those allegations, he might have retired with dignity and even come back in time.
This result has been coming, one way or another, since Trump took office. Four years ago, supposed believers in democracy refused to accept a defeat graciously. They inaugurated an era of vendetta and disrespect, vilifying a democratically elected president simply out of pique and resentment. As we saw, the checks and balances and the courts were capable of thwarting and blocking his worst efforts. But the assault from almost every quarter was not just a debate over issues; it stemmed from hatred. Of course, Trump himself invited it — but one expects adults to know that you don’t play with a bully at his own game.
I detest violence, wherever it comes from. But I believe the Democratic leadership, together with its chorus in the media, failed morally in supporting the violence of this past summer. It encouraged the violence we saw in Washington. Many of the offenders in the Washington attack are either in jail or soon will be, which cannot be said of all the earlier rioters. Order has been restored, and all right-minded citizens across the parties agree it was egregious. But the inquisition remains in full cry and doubtless will continue until the blood-lust has been satisfied.
President-elect Biden has declared that he wants to heal the divide, and I believe him. I wholeheartedly agree with an agenda of dealing with the climate, reforming health care, education, gun laws, capital punishment, penal reform and taxing the rich. Even if I disagree about many of the methods tried in the past to deal with inequality that have only exacerbated the problems and thrown good money after bad.
But beneath Biden, in the Democratic party, is a group of mean, small-minded, and petty people who will now exacerbate the existing divide in the country. After all, over 74 million Americans voted for Trump, rather than the left. Many of his policies resonated with them, and they resented the sanctimonious, anti-religious dogmas of the politically correct bullies.
I also deplore the suppression of free speech and censorship, and the allowing of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies to decide who and what we can follow online. For years these corporations have allowed vicious hatred, antisemitism, conspiracy theories, and violent threats to flood the internet — and yet all of a sudden they have selected one target for exclusion. This is the same path as censorious dictatorships like China, making even left-leaning groups like the American Civil Liberties Union concerned.
I had hoped the Democratic party would be gracious in victory, and try to heal the divide. But if the pious trolls of the party continue, they will only do the opposite.
Despite this, the Mishna says that we should pray for the welfare of whichever government we live under. I pray for the welfare of Biden. In my old days in the United Kingdom, we used to say a prayer every Shabbat for the Queen, asking the Almighty to put a spirit of wisdom and understanding into her heart and the hearts of all her counselors, to conduct the affairs of the State in peace and prosperity for all its inhabitants. We used to make fun of the prayer as kids, knowing that the reality often fell short of the sentiments. But at least we were reminded of the hope every week.
This is a sick and dysfunctional society. If it refuses to help itself, at least we can pray for it.
The author is a rabbi and commentator living in New York.