I have a secret to share: Your political affiliation does not define your character as a person. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, recently said at an event in New York City that our political affiliations are becoming increasingly a part of our core identities. The percentage of people who said they would be upset if their child married someone who disagreed with them politically has risen dramatically in recent years. If your political orientation is a core part of your identity it becomes almost impossible to find middle ground or to be able find the good in people who sharply disagree with you.
The current presidential race has reached new lows in bringing out within everyday people the very worst in ourselves. We are surrendering to our feelings of hopelessness, despair, anger, fear and hatred. We are quick to blame but slow to seek reconciliation. We are quick to scorn but slow to seek mutual understanding. It would be very easy to blame this all on the rise of one particular presidential candidate. Indeed, Donald Trump has contributed greatly to this deterioration but let us be clear; it did not begin with him and it is not going to end with him.
We have been going down this dark path for a long time and there is plenty of blame to spread around. The global community is changing rapidly. The rise of Asian and African markets, the spread of high speed communications, changing demographics, the growing wealth inequality and a host of other elements have contributed to a political landscape that rewards quick enemies, easy solutions and vitriolic and coarse language.
We can and we must rise above the politics of fear and of hate. We can do so much better. The story of America is the story of hope triumphing over desperation and of innovation prevailing over stagnation. This is a country that became home for people from every corner of the globe and from every walk of life. We have faced demons of fear, mistrust and xenophobia before and at times we have made tremendous errors as we embraced those urges. Yet, we overcame them and we must be committed to continuing to overcome the remaining vestiges of the dark side of our national formation as well as the current negative political climate.
The Jewish holiday of Purim will be with us soon. The narrative of Purim presents us with an extreme example of what happens in a diverse society when the forces of fear and hatred take hold. The story of Purim as presented in the Book of Esther is unique for the Bible in that it never mentions God once. It is a story of people encountering and confronting the challenges that lay in front of them. In such a situation absent the immediate intervention of God, what could any one person do? This was the question of Esther to her uncle Mordechai as she struggled with what her impact could be. His answer reverberates down to this day: "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place... and who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)"
You never know the difference you could make in changing the toxic discourse we face in our political climate right now. A single interjection of hope during a conversation around an office water cooler or not giving in to the urges of hatred when composing a comment on Facebook could make a real impact. Let us rise above the politics of hatred and embrace a new politics of hope. This new direction can start with you.