“… And for the sin which we have committed before Thee for allowing our hearts to become hardened.”
Of the long list of breast-beating sins we recite communally on Yom Kippur, this one resonates for us on the eve of the holiest day of the year. In the last few days too many of us read of the latest fatal terror attack in Jerusalem, felt a moment’s regret and then turned the page. We watched a presidential candidate with brutish bravado stalk his opponent on stage, blaming her for his sins, and then heard the pundits say he did relatively well. We continue to tolerate a level of discourse in our society, and within our own community, that seeks to debase and demean those with whom we disagree. Despite the shock, we somehow get used to seeing videos of unarmed blacks being shot by police officers, reinforcing our racial divides.
How is it that our society has reached such a low point? When did we get to this level of insensitivity, even callousness, and how do we improve ourselves and our culture?
On the domestic front, surely the long presidential campaign has lowered the bar for tolerable public discussion. When Donald Trump was one of more than a dozen would-be Republican candidates for the White House, his initial forays into savaging his opponents, calling for a ban on Muslims in the U.S., announcing his intention to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out the killers and rapists, were met with astonishment. But as the outrageous statements continued — mocking a military hero like John McCain should have been enough to disqualify him among Republicans — Americans became somewhat inured to his behavior. Some wrote him off as a buffoon, more a form of entertainment than a political force. Watching him in debate was like watching a gross reality TV show — who knows what he’ll say next? How can we turn away? The longer he was tolerated, the more difficult it became for Republican leaders to stand up to him. And now, after all the exposed falsehoods, refusal to apologize for outrageous racist and biased statements against minorities and women, after witnessing his lack of discipline, substance and self-control, after seeing him lash out at critics and former allies alike — even his loyal vice presidential candidate — we are faced with a pivotal moment in American history.
Never before has a candidate so ill-equipped for the demands of the Oval Office — in temperament, experience, character, compassion and humility — been so close to its doors. By all measures it appears that the large majority of American Jews, liberal and Democratic to begin with, will not vote for him. Ironically, the one group among us most favorable to Donald Trump is the Orthodox community, known for its piety, modesty in terms of sexual contact and respect for leaders with spiritual and intellectual authority. Yet Trump, who represents the antithesis of those values, is said to be favored by a significant percentage among the Orthodox. How can that be? Some are less pro-Trump than anti-Clinton, deeply distrusting her in general and worried that she will be a continuation of the Obama presidency they opposed, especially its stance on Israel. Trump’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal gained him support, as has his pledge to back the Netanyahu government fully and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. But the candidate has offered no new plans to deal with intractable conflicts other than to say “trust me,” tapping into the anger and frustration of dissatisfied voters.
Most seasoned political and strategic experts in Israel are more comfortable with Clinton, who showed strong support for the Jewish state as a U.S. senator, has in-depth knowledge of the region – its leaders and its problems – and is more openly compassionate toward Jerusalem than either Obama or Trump. Experts have always insisted that a strong U.S. means a strong Israel, and they worry that Trump would be a loose cannon whose recklessness could incite even more instability and anti-U.S. attitudes, and violence around the world. Hillary Clinton is no amateur when it comes to public service. Well before her experience as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, she was known for her deep knowledge of issues and empathy for the underdogs of society. She has faced Trump’s torrents of invective, like calling her “the devil” to her face, with self-restraint, dignity and tenacity. She, too, is a flawed politician. But her faults pale in comparison to the consistent boorish behavior and mean-spirited ramblings of Trump, who has proven to be an embarrassment even to Republican leaders.
This newspaper has not endorsed political candidates in the past. But this election is an exception. It’s not just about politics. It’s about character, competence and compassion. It’s about values that are American, and rooted in the Bible: Seeing all men and women as created in the image of God, having empathy for “the other” among us, recognizing the power of community, building bridges rather than walls.
We endorse Hillary Clinton not only because Donald Trump presents a danger to this country but because we believe she shares that biblical vision and strives for those goals. For the past year we have seen a Trump who believes his own lies, whose campaign is based on instilling fear in Americans, doubling down on divisions among us, describing virtually every aspect of society as broken, corrupt, defeated. He is too self-centered to listen to others, see beyond his own interests, or appreciate the need for self-reflection.
In his long career Trump has embodied only the first half of our sage Hillel’s famous adage: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?”
We deserve more — for ourselves, and for others. We who have allowed our hearts to be hardened to the anguish of a Syrian refugee child, multiplied by the tens of thousands, need to open ourselves up to what we can accomplish as a caring society. Donald Trump is incapable of fulfilling such a vision; Hillary Clinton has the ability and promise to do so. That’s what can continue to make America great.