I grew up in liberal, mostly Jewish circles in New York City. One of the messages I got again and again was that without the support of ordinary Germans, Hitler would not have come into power. It’s not only leaders, but the regular citizens who direct the course of history.

As a result, it was our job to make sure that history not repeat itself. And we did that by being vigilant ourselves of our values and our actions.

As a Jew I was on the “right” side of history. But as an American, a white person, a member of the educated middle class, I have often been worried that I am on the “wrong” side of history: do I stand up for the values that I really hold?

It takes not just a few rogue individuals but a nation of citizens to set the stage for violence, bigotry and gross inequality. This is what we see unfolding in Trump’s America. And let’s not get too complacent here: it’s not just Trump. The entire Republican party signed onto a tax bill that takes from the poor and gives more to the rich; that robs 13 million—and counting—of health insurance, many of whom are children; that steals protected national land; that, in an age of increased climate crisis, drills for yet more oil in Alaska.

We have seen time and again that trickle down economics doesn’t work—over the past two decades, as the top one percent has grown richer, wages have remained stagnant for the bottom 50 percent.

But the reality of contemporary economics was hardly an issue: pushed through in the middle of the night without even being brought to debate, this bill was never about helping anyone. It was about pushing a certain ideology through as quickly as possible—by an entire party.

I hope that the Republican party does some serious looking at itself and that Republican voters do some serious soul searching: is this the change you were hoping for? 

And yet, still, as a Democrat, glad as I am that not a single Democrat voted for the egregious bill, I can’t say that Democrats are off the hook either.

Americans of both parties value wealth and money inordinately. Wherever we go, in our media, our advertisements, our pop culture, our business practices, our schools, we see the value placed on wealth.

And it is this value placed on money—on both sides of the aisle—that also in part allowed a bill like this to pass. Because the message we are given again and again is that great wealth is good.

Our newspaper articles are bordered by ads for Jaguars and Rolex watches. Our politicians and the elite of our society –on both sides of the aisle—live in ever bigger houses and dine in ever more expensive restaurants. Their children go to private schools—like the one I attended as a child—and they summer and live in communities that are ever more economically homogenous.

I think it’s time we re-examine our value system. What if when we compliment someone on their bigger new house, if also see in the house the tax breaks that went into paying for that house and that also affect other people’s health insurance? What if we also see the depletion of natural resources that went into making and running that house?  It’s time to stop seeing the peaceful evening at the fancy restaurant and the 46 million hungry people in America as distinct.

So many working class Americans vote against their own interest because they align with the American dream of wealth; emotionally, they align with the “winners,” the rich in our society.

And so many Americans who have more than enough vote to get yet more because, again, our value system reinforces the belief that more is better.

I have to admit that I am not immune to this value system. Surrounded by friends who have bigger houses, fancier cars, more disposable income, I have my moments of envy. But why? It’s not only more space would be nice, it’s also that I worry what people think of me. I want to be respected. And money in our culture gains respect.

But that is a dangerous equivalence. And one that leads us to yet more and more inequality, more and more injustice.

So when we protest the tax bill we also should also look inside of ourselves: how do we unwittingly perpetuate inequality, injustice and environmental destruction in our own value system? The public world that we have is a reflection of what we as a society believe.

That public world is in crisis, and it’s time to take some serious action on every level  to re-align with a more just, equitable, compassionate vision of what it means to be a citizen.

After all, what America does is a reflection of what America values, and it’s time to re-align our values—to remember that what matters isn’t money but people.

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Nadia Colburn is a founding editor of Anchor Magazine and is a certified kundalini yoga instructor and serious student of Thich Nhat Hanh. Nadia is the founder of Align Your Story, which offers online and in person coaching and teaching. See more at www.nadiacolburn.com.


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