Last week, in his column called “America’s culture of jealousy and destruction and how we can triumph,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach writes about what is wrong with America.
It is our culture of jealousy, our consumer-obsessed society, our need to “tear down the other in order to achieve happiness,” he writes. According to the rabbi, we are taught that we must be the “alpha of the species, or we are nothing.” We are victims of ubiquitous manipulation (by whom it is not clear). We are judgmental and unforgiving.
His prescription: The book of Genesis, which teaches us to be satisfied with what we have; to practice humility, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and appreciation, and love for our fellow human beings. We should be less concerned with honor and with material goods.
I agree with much that Rabbi Boteach says. We do need to be better human beings, more caring for the other, less materialistic. But there is so much more that is wrong with America now that he completely misses.
We are still a nation that can’t free itself from its racist core. The United States was born as a racist society, and though we have come a long way, racism still is very much alive in this country. White nationalism, which was a core belief of many of our “founding fathers,” always has been a part of our ethos. It emerges from the shadows from time to time, as it has now.
This nation was built on immigration. We are all (with the exception of native peoples) the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Our forbears came here seeking refuge and freedom. But now we turn our backs on those seeking the very same thing for themselves. At our southern border, children are torn away from their parents. We imprison them. We treat them like criminals, when all they are seeking is refuge from danger.
We are a nation whose founding document contains the words, “we hold these truths to be self–evident that all men are created equal.” But we now are told that there is no truth, or that there is your truth and my truth. We are told by our leaders that the free press is the enemy of the people. The free press is our best guarantee for the continuation of our democracy.
There is such a thing as truth. It is based on facts. On evidence. On reality.
We are told that our allies are not our friends. The leader of this country praises dictators, autocrats, practitioners of mass atrocities (North Korea), murder of enemies of the state (Saudi Arabia, Russia), and a variety of undemocratic leaders.
We have a leader who listens to no one but his own ego, who has shown that he cannot accept the advice of anyone who disagrees with him. And he is the commander and chief of our armed forces!
I am very afraid for our country right now. I am afraid like I never have been before. Never before has our democracy been so threatened by a leader. I always have believed that our political leaders (with few exceptions) have had the best interests of the nation in mind. I have disagreed with policies of both Republican and Democratic leaders, but I trusted that our system of checks and balances that keeps our democracy healthy would get us through stormy times.
Not so now. I am very afraid for our country.
I hope and pray that our democracy is strong enough to get us through this very dark time.
And I ask Rabbi Boteach: Are you afraid for our country?
Rabbi Aryeh Meir is an active member of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, a member of the New Israel Fund, the Teaneck Environmental Commission, and the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet.