There's a strange divide in the United States today. On the one hand, Pope Francis is visiting us for the first time. He urges us to welcome Syrian immigrants, who are seeking a better life as they flee their country en masse in terror. He encourages us to be loving and accepting of those who are different. He brings a message of peace.
On the other hand, as Thomas L. Friedman notes in a searing New York Times column today, Donald Trump, the front-runner of the Republican candidates, launched his presidential campaign with the following statement:
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. ... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Dr. Ben Carson, another leading contender, claims "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation."
Several (But Not 50) Shades of Grey
I don't mean to suggest that one side of the divide is pure goodness and the other pure evil. Both the left and the right have been critical of the Pope. Some on the left take issue with his stand on issues of particular importance to women. Some on the right are critical of the Pope's views on the economy and the environment.
By the same token, Mr. Trump is far from the devil incarnate. Jeffrey Hayzlett, author of the new book Think Big, Act Bigger and a former judge on "Celebrity Apprentice," told me about the intense loyalty that Trump engenders among the people who work for him. "Donald Trump cares a lot for his children and for the people on his staff," Hayzlett said. "He really does. If he were so bad, would his children still work for him? And the other people who work for him have been there forever."
Democrats too have issues worth criticizing, which I will do in a future article. Character flaws are a non-partisan affliction.
The Cowsills vs. The Sex Pistols
If you, like me, are of a certain age, you'll remember the TV show Love, American Style. Or at least you'll recall its catchy theme song, written by Charles Fox and Arnold Margolin and performed by The Cowsills (the real-life inspiration for The Partridge Family).
And then we have The Sex Pistols, the quintessential punk band, whose music and stage performances were at the other end of the emotional spectrum. When I saw them in 1978 at Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio, Texas, lead singer Johnny Rotten got pelted with detritus from the audience and then sneered, "You're the idiots for paying to see us." And that's the mildest statement he made.
As we reflect on how our country, and others around the world, should deal with the knotty issue of immigration, it's worth asking, "What should guide our decision making? Love or hate? Acceptance or fear? Compassion or revulsion?"
Courage, as I discuss in my book The Good Ones, is one of the ten crucial qualities of high-character people. It's also one of the hardest to cultivate. Today, on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, I'm reminded of a saying from the Torah: "All beginnings are hard."
It's time for a new beginning.