Don’t Despair. Hope is the Chanukah and Christmas Message…so don’t let the light go out!!!
A note from Rabbi Michael Lerner
Honestly, do you know anyone who has not been struggling with some form of pessimism, despair, or even Trump-caused-depression?
Sad truth: there are lots of reasons to be upset!
The Trump Administration has at times looked like it is heading toward nuclear war. It has promised to underfund Obamacare and make it collapse so that it can then step in with the Republican alternative, in the process cutting off care for 24 million people. It has intensified efforts to expel migrants and refugees, including “the dreamers” who came to the U.S. as children and now face mass deportations. It is filling the judiciary with right-wing extremists.
The Republican tax hoax may finally achieve what conservatives have sought for many decades: defunding government so that it cannot restrict environmental polluters or require basic safety for working people or take measures to protect those most hurt by the operations of the competitive marketplace, undermining social security and medicare, and making it hard for state governments to adequately fund education and/or social services for the poor.
Oy. All this sucks. And it needs to be challenged. But in order to make any serious impact, the liberal and progressive forces need to win decisively at the ballot box, and that is unlikely until the Democratic Party, the Green Party, the progressive foundations and think tanks, and tens of thousands of local activists and public opinion shapers change ourselves in important ways.
Bernie Sanders campaign put forward some progressive programs that need to be presented to the American public—universal medicare for everyone, dramatic raise of the minimum wage to $15/hr or higher, a massive job program to rebuild our infrastructure, childcare and elder care fully funded, and yet the Dems have failed to endorse and promote these. But these programs, important as they are, will not be enough. In fact, even if they adopted our strategy for foreign policy (homeland security through generosity as manifested in our Global Marshall Plan replacing the current strategy of security through domination www.tikkun.org/gmp ) and our method of introducing democracy into the economy (our proposed ESRA—Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution www.tikkun.org/esra) it would not be enough
The Dems and Greens, the liberal and progressive movements and think tanks and activists need a psychologically sophisticated approach to the needs of the American people. Many Americans have felt dissed by the liberal and progressive forces (even while many in these movements have no clue about what they do to communicate the disrespect that many Americans feel they are receiving from “the Left”).
Many Americans want more than material well-being; many want to feel their life is connected to some higher values than “making it” economically. So they turn to religion for support for a life of higher meaning and for a community where they are valued. What many report encountering from the Left is a deep disrespect for religion of any kind (and many of our allies in left-wing churches confirm that when they are in secular leftists circles they too experience a religio-phobia that permeates the culture of the Left, not only from Michael Moore and Bill Maher and not only from academia, but from ordinary grassroots liberal and progressive activists–unconsciously, but most prejudices are conveyed unconsciously.
More recently, there has been a tendency among some activists to reframe the centrally important struggles against racism and sexism in a way that suggests that all men and all whites are privileged, benefitting and wanting to keep and support these poisonous societal distortions. This kind of discourse not only produces resentment (“these liberals have no idea of what my life is like,” we hear from many white working class men) –it is also false. Many whites and many men voted for Obama, believing (as it turns out, sadly mistakenly) that an African American as president would pursue policies that would overcome the legacy of slavery and subsequent racism, and a progressive president would also seek to overcome the culture of sexism. an outcome that whites and men voting for Obama understood would be of benefit to them as well since racism and sexism have split the working class and made it harder to create a united movement that could overcome many of the other evils of the competitive marketplace. Dismissing all men or all whites becomes a guaranteed path to pushing them away.
Of course, the struggle against Trumpism, with its deep sexist and racist and Islamophobic and homophobic elements, is not going to be easy. But until the liberal and progressive movement explicitly and repeatedly repudiates the public perception that Hillary Clinton claimed that those who voted for Trump were a “bundle of deplorables,” and acknowledges that we have been projecting elitist and put-downish perceptions of people who are not yet on our side, there is little chance that progressives will win enough of a majority in the midterm elections to overturn the horrific policies of the Trump Administration and their “willing executioners” in the Congress.
Though midterm elections in the US usually produce a Congress dominated by the opposition to whoever is U.S. president, they’d need a 2/3 majority to overturn Trump policies. And even if they had that, there is less chance of Dems overturning the worst decision of the Trumpites because the Dems appear to be doing the same thing they did in 2006 and 2008, selecting Congressional candidates who are the most centrist candidates on the theory that that is the only way to win an election rather than choosing candidates who really support a progressive agenda. The result: even when they win they don’t really win, because they have a Congress which appears to be progressive but actually wont support a progressive agenda because they chose centrist candidates whose views were not so different from those held a few decades ago by the centrists in the Republican party. It never occurs to the people with power in the Democratic Party to follow the winning strategy of the Republicans—take a coherent stand for your own ideals and fight for them, in the process eventually educating the public to their perspective. Oy, again.
Yet there are also signs of hope. The huge upsurge of protests against the Trump policies has energized many young people in a way that they were not in the past three decades. The “lamestream” media, famous for being without opinions except the need to maintain neutrality (thus ensuring that they would lose a large audience to Fox News where the newscasters have overtly right-wing opinions and vigorously, often outrageously, present them), has started to become more of a voice for mildly progressive ideas. And the huge outpouring of energy and outrage expressed in the *MeToo movement has mobilized many women who previously thought of themselves as “apolitical” and hopefully will create a climate in which no men will act in the future in the oppressive and exploitative way that some men (not all) have acted in the past.
Changing the culture of the Left as a prerequisite to outreaching to the nonracist, nonsexist, nonhomphobic, non Islamophobic,nonAntiSemitic parts of the population that supported Trump or didn’t vote in 2016 is going to take a lot of work. We’ve started doing that work at Tikkun and through the training for activists that Cat Zavis, the executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, has been offering. Perhaps you or someone you know might want to take it—check it out at www.spiritualprogressives.org/training.
Keeping hope alive is precisely what Chanukah (which starts with the lighting of the first candle Tuesday night, Dec. 12th this year) and Christmas are all about.
Chanukah celebrates the victory of a liberation struggle in Judea 165 B.C.E. when a tiny guerilla army of farmers and religious activists beat the powerful occupying army of the Hellenistic Syrian regime. All the “smart money,” the sophisticated “realists” said that such struggle was ridiculous and had no chance of winning. Like Passover, Chanukah celebrates the rebirth of hope that the seemingly powerless can overthrow the oppressive forces and systems of the powerful. Keep hope alive that this can happen again in our own reality.
Christmas celebrates the birth of a child who became the symbol of hope through the ages to billions of people who were faced with economic and social \ oppression. Many Christians clung to the belief that this child, crucified as an adult by the Roman occupying army in Judea, would return and establish a new global reality of peace on earth. That hope gets renewed for many around Christmas.
We don’t have to be reminded that each of these religious traditions eventually got screwed up. The Maccabees became a corrupt Hashmo’a’im dynasty that would open Judea to Roman rule. The Roman crucifixion of Jesus became the excuse to vilify and murder Jews, women (supposedly witches), and people of color around the world and to justify class oppression. All true. And so our hope is not narrowly about electoral victories. Even when Trump and his coterie of haters and oppressors is no longer in power, we will still have much more to do to replace our current global system of inequality and oppression with its attendant racism, sexism, etc..
Chanukah and Christmas celebrate the possibility of a different kind of world. The Chanukah lights of the Menorah and the Christmas lights at the darkest moments of the year are a testimony to our capacity to hope. Don’t let the light go out!!!
Don’t give Trump a victory by falling into despair. Our motto: you never know what is possible till you struggle for what is desirable (and that struggle takes many, many, many years).
And don’t let Tikkun’s light go out either.Many people appreciate Tikkun, are happy that there is this voice in the world, yet do not realize that we need financial help to stay alive.
We are in grave danger of not having enough financial support to keep publishing the print magazine through the year 2018.
Please make a generous tax-deductible donation so that we can continue to promote our hopeful vision to the world—at www.tikkun.org/donate or by sending a check for more than you normally think you can afford to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave, # 1200, Berkeley, Ca. 94704.
We need to raise $250,000 in donations, so anything you can do (including sending this appeal to people you know, linking to it on your social media, will be greatly appreciated. And if you know someone with enough money to make a $10,000 donation, or even a $1,000 donation, please show them this communication and personally ask them to donate to Tikkun. Or speak to anyone you know inside a charitable foundation or even a family foundation—we really need that help and need it now.
Many blessings for a peaceful, joyous, love-filled, environmentally sane and personally health and fulfilling New Year 2018!
Rabbi Michael Lerner firstname.lastname@example.org