In Praise of the American People

In Praise of the American People  by Rabbi Michael Lerner

Every time right-wing forces in ascendency manage to grab hold of Congress or the presidency, liberal and progressive commentators, editorialists and blogs are filled with analyses blaming the outcome on the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, or stupidity of “ordinary Americans.” They are usually wrong, and these analyses usually provide grist for the right-wing media mill’s insistence that the Left is irredeemably elitist. Indeed, in my own research on the psychodynamics of American politics, I found that it was these kinds of put-down statements, which are widely noticed across all segments of the society, play an important role in convincing many Americans that the liberal and progressive world may want their vote, but nevertheless have contempt for them. Those feelings are intensified when people encounter the strong left-wing religio-phobia that takes for granted that people who believe in God are intellectually stunted, morally distorted, or psychologically seeking a substitute father-figure or otherwise drowned in some form of pathology that hopefully will be cured when they spend more time hanging out with the supposedly more enlightened and intellectually sophisticated liberals and progressives.

It’s amazing when a majority of Americans can overcome the resentements generated by this kind of elitism and unite with these same lefties to vote for policies and politicians who are implicitly challenging the current distribution of wealth and power.

So it would do well for the political Left to put a lot more energy into publicly celebrating the fundamental goodness and decency shown by the American public in the November 2012 elections. Though Republicans shamelessly sought to manipulate every form of existing prejudices against “the other” (and their list of “others” to demean grew so large that candidate Romney was caught telling his inner circle of supporters that these “others” now constituted 47 percent of the total population), and did succeed thereby in getting tens of millions of Americans to vote against their own economic interests for candidates and programs that would only strengthen the ability of the 1 percent to benefit at the expense of the 99 percent), an even larger number of Americans rejected that pandering to prejudices and saw through the smokescreen.

What is particularly striking is that the American people were able to rally to the values of what we in the Network of Spiritual Progressives call “The Caring Society — Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth” despite the fact that neither Obama nor the Democratic Party articulated these values clearly. Indeed, for the past four years the Obama Administration had over and over again compromised these values for the sake of getting along with the Republicans and the corporate-dominated media. Not only had Obama failed to use the economic crisis he inherited in 2009 as a springboard for a progressive economic program (what was needed was, and still is, a new New Deal that would have saved home owners from becoming homeless, imposed a minimum wage that was a “living wage,” Medicare for everyone, massive new building projects to provide mass transit and environmentally sustainable housing sufficient to eliminate homelessness, equip all homes and businesses with alternative energy sources, create a national bank that would fund socially and environmentally sane loans to individuals and small businesses, and hired hundreds of thousands of new child care and elder care helpers and schoolteachers), he had never even used the power of his bully pulpit to define a progressive agenda worth fighting for.

Indeed, both Obama and Congressional Dems consistently moved away from progressive ideas to embrace funding for wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan), narrowing of civil liberties, embracing “cap and trade” approaches to an environment that needs instead a strong carbon emissions tax to reduce the dangers from global warming), relying on test scores to guide the educational system toward the distorted goal of keeping America number one (rather than teaching that we are all interdependent, that we should be seeking the wellbeing of everyone on the planet and that education should aim not only at minimal skills but also at enhancing our love of knowledge, wisdom and awe and wonder at the grandeur and awesome nature of the universe and of each other).

Yet the inherent yearning of all people for a world based on love, kindness and generosity came to the fore and triumphed. Despite the misleadership of Obama and many of the Dems, Americans voted for them in record number, correctly understanding that as vacuous or misguided as much of the liberal campaign rhetoric had been, and as disappointing as Obama had proved to be — not because he couldn’t overcome Congressional conservatives, but because he almost never articulated a coherent vision of where we as a people need to move, much less policies that would embody that vision — the majority of American voters chose to make the election about something substantive, their own commitment to a world of social justice, environmental sanity, peace, generosity, and kindness (in short, they voted for The Caring Society), and thus to vote for candidates who were closer to these goals than the Republicans.

Let a pollster ask Americans what they “really” want, and given the alternatives typically framed by the media and by the politicians, they’ll probably say “jobs” or some other narrowly material or self-interested outcome. But sit down with those same people several times over the course of several weeks, establish trust and comraderie, and you’ll hear a very different set of desires and needs, much more atuned to the ethical and spiritual aspirations that I once described as “a politics of meaning” or what I now call “spiritual politics.” Turns out that Americans, like everyone else on the planet, are willing to sacrifice material well-being to serve higher ethical goals, if they think that others are willing to do the same. They are just as hungry for a life, a social order, a family, and a community that have some higher meaning beyond narrow self-interest as they are for material economic security. And they suspect that they could have both if others would join them. Indeed, they’d even be happy to have other countries around the world similarly enjoy both material and spiritual well-being. That remains the hidden secret of American politics, and the underlying driving force that led so many to vote for Democrats, despite the fact that the Democrats themselves rarely realize this about their own constituencies.

So how about if this coming July 4th we dedicate some time to singing the praises of these Americans. We are part of a people that has a deep yearning for many of the same ethical and spiritual goals as you have — and it’s time to rejoice in that and celebrate the core goodness and decency of Americans.

 

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun www.tikkun.org, chair of the interfaith (and atheist-welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org , and author of 11 books (most recently: Embracing Israel/Palestine — a Strategy for Middle East Peace). He welcomes those who wish to build on this perspective to contact him directly at RabbiLerner.Tikkun@gmail.com

 IF YOU THINK THAT RABBI LERNER WAS EXAGGERATING LIBERAL ELITISM, READ THE
COMMENTS POSTED AFTER HIS ARTICLE WENT UP AT HUFFINGTON POST.COM.:

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Stoopid American

Trooth, justice, and the American way …
8 hours ago ( 9:48 PM)

A thoughtful article, but I’ll point out a few things:

1. It’s very hard to give the American public credit when Fox News and its ilk spew out such venomous and laughably false propaganda as they do, and are rewarded for it with the biggest news ratings of any network.

2. The GOP has shifted far to the right, but so has the Democratic party, which now sits dead center. There is no major party that represents true liberalism; certainly Obama does not. So I’m not sure how we elitist liberals are even part of this equation. The fact that Obama, a centrist, only got 50% of the vote over today’s GOP should tell you that the American public has shifted right as well.

3. I reserve the right to criticize ignorance when I see it, even if it isn’t politically correct or politically advantageous. My opponents on the right would have it no other way.

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jrmjake1

10 hours ago ( 7:52 PM)

Rabbi here is the problem for Israeli and American Jews.

Democratic allegiance is UNLIKE Republicans views in supporting Israel. I read and grasp things very well and most Democrats, especially the young, fell as though Israel is in violation of holding hostage a nation (or two) of people’s, acquiring or confiscating land, and disallowing freedoms for people who want to express their views even if they are Anti-Semitic.

Democracy seeking Justice is a wonderful thing however history be damned because it is a new age of beliefs. Old is out and New is in.

If the Jewish nation can stand alone against the world and their enemies; you might just have to do it because Democrats DO NOT support Israel with the conviction Conservatives and more specifically Republicans do.

1 hour ago ( 4:23 AM)

First of all, neither Democratic nor Republican attitudes (or what you call allegiance) is monolithic. If you are a pollster and have polled the various populations and their attitudes and beliefs about Israel, please state the numbers. Otherwise I cannot take what you wrote seriously.

13 hours ago ( 4:57 PM)

right

13 hours ago ( 4:38 PM)

The Republicans sit Shiva and Lerner sits shibboleth. And for this I left Poland?

This user has chosen to opt out of the Badges program

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13 hours ago ( 4:11 PM)

We used to keep us with with American politics and campaigns over the Web from our home in France.

In the summer of 2008, after listening to some Republican campaign speeches over the Web, my sons came downstairs one Sunday afternoon, telling me that I had better get upstairs. There was something I had to see. My daughter, then six years-old, had tossed away our American passports. She explained in French (as she refused to speak English), that we couldn’t use them anymore because we weren’t REAL Americans. She argued that had to be true because she had heard the people running for president saying that people from the East Coast weren’t REAL Americans and everybody had cheered. (We are from NY.)

Those politicians weren’t Democrats, but the Bible-believing Republican yahoos from the South and the Midwest.

It was that summer that the kids decided that they never wanted to return to the US. My middle son began telling people that we’re Canadian.

Go back and re-read what you wrote, rabbi.

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teragramus

what glasses am i wearing today
16 hours ago ( 1:05 PM)

because of the way the public consciousness has shifted so far to the right over the last forty years, a lot of people claim that this is an ‘extreme’ liberalism.

I don’t think so, I don’t think we’ve seen extreme or spiritual liberalism, not yet, not by a long shot

Maybe it does deserve some representation, and yes, probably not in the majority

And don’t expect it to come from the Democratic Party

17 hours ago (12:34 PM)

The plutocrats aligned with the religious right. Americans said no to a two class society and more and more are saying no to the religious right.

17 hours ago (12:17 PM)

In other words, Rabbi, the majority of American people voted to uphold the “Christian-Juedo” ethics espoused by the losing political party.

I’m amazed that Republicans haven’t figured that out yet.

Americans, regardless of religion,or no religion at all, believe in the “ethics” of all the world’s great religions: charity, kindness, empathy, honesty, peace, and inclusion, not exclusion.

15 hours ago ( 2:07 PM)

But the Republicans don’t really “espouse” the traditional spiritual ethics, charity, kindness, empathy, honesty, peace, and inclusion. They are mostly CINOs, Christians In Name Only. I was one of them.

Republicans have fallen in love with money, stuff, wealth. Sell what you have, and give to the poor, said Jesus. No way, not me! said the GOP. They’re just a gaggle of lazy flakies who always want something for nothing. And they’re sinners, that’s why they’re poor, God’s punishment for their wicked ways!

2 hours ago ( 3:51 AM)

You are silly….”inclusion” is a world belief….REALLY?

That’s why tribal wars have existed since there were more two men on the earth…….charity….snicker…..liberals think charity is taking care of people with 1%er money.

Your comments are great for a laugh…

17 hours ago (11:58 AM)

Would like to see voting based on education (constitutional, historical, economics, social), logic, common sense and not just on what feels right or good or sounds good. Check out history to see what goodness and decency mean in the long run……and let’s debate things like that.

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shankapotomus

The problem is the news they don’t tell you.
18 hours ago (11:40 AM)

Social Justice another name for Marxism.

17 hours ago (12:18 PM)

Need some cheese with that “whine”? Marxism is nothing like “social justice”. Do a little research.

15 hours ago ( 2:13 PM)

“Social Justice” is another naming for real Christianity, the teachings of Jesus.

“Whatever you have done to even the least of these, my brothers, my sisters, you have done it to me.” – Matthew 25

And the same principle echoes in the teachings of the Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and in every ethical philosopher, except Ayn Rand, whom the Republicans have embraced with open arms.

Treat others as you would wish to be treated, if you stood in their shoes. The Golden Rule. The essence of love, friendship, civilization. If you were young, old, poor, unemployed, disabled, sick, injured, mentally ill, how would you want to be treated?

2 hours ago ( 3:52 AM)

James 1:27….REAL religion is ______________.

Look it up.

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nltldoc

19 hours ago (10:04 AM)

Rabbi,
When the American “greed is good” mantra is rejected; your belief in the “…the core goodness and decency of Americans.” might seem truthful…..until then let’s start another war on something or another.

21 hours ago ( 8:30 AM)

I am not a sociologist and have no “data” to back my perception of what happened this past election. I have only my singular experience on which I have come to base a small measure of real hope for this country.

What I saw was a lot of money being spent on evocative, but ignorant TV ads. My mailbox was regularly stuffed with fliers paid for by wealthy campaigns and aggressive PR types. And under this I felt the rumblings of a public that was feeling its power to affect change and to be heard.

In spite of attempts to suppress voting by legislation to require picture IDs and limiting voting times, people worked and got out the vote. I had phone calls and people showed up at my door to remind me and to check that I had voted. I could feel people who had been put and/or held down working hard to be heard and to insure the democratic process. Even my polling station was better organized, professionally and smoothly run. People were focused.

How that plays out is yet to be determined; but the notion that Americans don’t care about democracy and aren’t willing to participate in it clearly has been undermined by this election. If given the opportunity, Americans do care, will participate and cannot be bought or so easily manipulated by big business and big politics. I think it is grounds for hope and the beginning of change….

2 hours ago ( 3:54 AM)

This election came down to two things….women want abortions available on every street corner and somehow Obama “saving” the auto industry was viewed as a good thing.

Americans got what they wanted and deserve.

21 hours ago ( 8:18 AM)

You define a very narrow version of what it means to be liberal or progressive. Your description of “liberal” thinking reminded me of the description of liberals by Glenn Beck. Your idealism is as unrealistic as is that of libertarians and, if that’s the case, then I am not a liberal. And, trust me, I AM a liberal.

You paint us into a nonexistent box.

Then your article concludes with a completely different, but equally extreme conclusion that people just want to get along and have love and happiness. That jobs and whatever else has been bandied about during the election is not the real issue, but rather, we all just want to be happy….

. Yes, we all want to love one another and have a global spiritual connection. And, yes, the vast majority of Americans hare happy to give up a bit for the greater good. But even I, as a liberal, was cringing when you were listing all the things you think our government shoould be doing. And who’s gonna pay for it ALL? I don’t want a 50%+ tax rate like that in Europe. Do you?

Your stated liberal agenda is extreme and if you think all liberals want this or that we stand with you in your extreme condemnation of Obama’s accomplishments so far, then you are wrong. With your agenda you make me condemn liberals. It truly is socialism and I don’t think all those who voted for Obama want socialism.

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HJLester

I like being called a LIB.
20 hours ago ( 9:10 AM)

Terribly sorry, but your self-assertion that you are a liberal, then your disagreement with what the Rabbi said on the basis that it is “socialism” is disingenuous. Read about social democracy. Here’s a start:

Social democracy is a political ideology that includes promotion of universal social rights to universally-accessible public services including education, health care, workers’ compensation, child care, care for the elderly, etc.

This is overwhelmingly what we voted for. If we have to be taxed a little higher, so be it.

20 hours ago ( 9:27 AM)

A little higher taxes? Correction, a lot higher taxes.

And, I am a liberal. If I don’t meet your preconceived notion of a liberal and I don’t fit into your little box doesn’t mean I’m not liberal.

What the Rabbi preaches is the liberal end of liberalism.

If the Rabbi’s agenda were what we voted on and Obama was the candidate, he would have lost.

Understand also, we are still a 50-50 prospect in this country and extreme liberalism or conservatism will not exist.

The course of nature is an equilbrium, a balance.

You are just as extreme as the republican rightwingers.

15 hours ago ( 2:20 PM)

JoeCourage

What if we had a 50% tax rate, but we had single-payer health care for all, nobody was denied medical care, dental care, or vision care, they needed, just because they were poor? What if we had single-payer education for all, so nobody graduated from college or medical school or technical school with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt? What if we spent a lot more on rehab for inmates, and cut the recidivism rate by 50%, and the crime rate by 50%?

What if we had the money to get a million homeless people, many of them addicts and mentally ill, into permanent housing, however modest, with the mental health care and addiction treatments they need?

America is a great country for the rich, prosperous, successful. It’s pretty grim at the bottom.

 
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