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What Next? Moving Forward After A Divisive Election
Stunned. Subdued. Zombie-like. Whether true-blue Democrat or ruby-red Republican, you likely didn’t get a lot of sleep on election night, the results of which were a shocker no matter what side of the aisle you count yourself on.
The upset victory of Donald Trump left our nation reeling — with happy surprise for Trump supporters to profound sadness for those hoping to elect the first woman to the U.S. presidency.
This election season was like no other in our history, nasty and divisive with campaign rhetoric that exposed the ugly underbelly of American society. Even supporters of Trump, who were able to look past his less respectable words and actions, can’t deny that the racists, anti-Semites, misogynists and xenophobes in our country came out from the shadows and into the light of day. Words and ideas expressed that were once “disqualifying” became normalized.
On Thanksgiving, it’s likely that someone who voted differently than you did will be sitting around your holiday table. How do we all move forward now and heal with respect for one another?
THE SIDE THAT’S GRIEVING
Many supporters of Hillary Clinton are truly grieving, trying to come to terms with the fact she lost the presidency despite winning the most votes.
“It’s OK to grieve,” said Rabbi Ariana Silverman of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and Temple Beth Israel in Jackson. “We are not mourning the death of a specific person, but we can still learn from some very wise Jewish traditions. After a funeral, you get shivah, seven days for the community to support and surround you.
“You can’t say Kaddish without a minyan,” she added. “Don’t withdraw into yourself. More than ever, you need community with you.” In the days after the election, Silverman held a community conversation at the Downtown Synagogue.
Rabbi Alana Alpert of Congregation T’chiyah in Oak Park and Detroit Jews for Justice opened her home to community members the night of the election.
“I needed to be in community — to feel connected to other terrified hearts,” she said.
The following night, dozens of people of all ages gathered in her living room. “There was a lot of hugging and a lot of tears. We talked about the state of our emotions, about fear and grief. Some are scared for their friends who are queer, undocumented, black and brown, and some are scared for themselves as they hold one of those identities in addition to feeling threatened as Jews,” Alpert added.
“Each of us spoke the name of a person we love who is especially vulnerable and sung them blessings of courage. We sang ‘Kol haOlam Kulo,’ Rebbe Nachman’s teaching that the whole world is a narrow bridge and the essential thing is not to fear.”
Other songs and prayers Alpert was drawn to were “Lo Yisa Goy” — nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and “Min haMeytzar” — from a narrow place I called out to God.
“Toward the end we shared one word: something we hoped to feel in the coming days. I heard words like safety, clarity, community and commitment.”
Silverman took inspiration from Rebbe Nachman’s quote as well. “Another way to interpret his quote is to ‘not freak yourself out,’” she said. “We must face what lies ahead. We now have an even greater Jewish responsibility to speak out against hatred, apathy and injustice directed at the most vulnerable of our neighbors. Fear causes us to make bad decisions. Not a great place from which to start.”
Immediately after the election, Jen Lovy of West Bloomfield said, “The election is a tragedy that evoked some of the same emotions felt after 9-11. But, unlike 9-11, no lives were lost. We need healing — 100 percent. We need time. There’s always the initial shock.
“There are those who are ecstatic and think Trump is what the country needs, but it’s very divisive and a lot of people are taking it personally,” she added.
“On Facebook in the first 24 hours after the election, those who were quiet are now coming out, and there are some shockers. I’m surprised of some who are aligned with this candidate. They are not bad people; it’s a statement against the status quo. But it’s hard not to take it personally because of what Trump stands for.”
Rabbi Steven Rubenstein of Congregation Beth Ahm is reminding people that “there is a danger in assuming all the people who voted for Trump support everything he has said or done. I don’t think that’s true. We support candidates for a variety of reasons.”
Rubenstein held a forum after services Saturday morning where congregants of both sides could express their feelings about the election.
According to Silverman, “Separating someone’s opinions from the person themselves is so important. Even if you fundamentally disagree with someone, recognize their humanity. This needs to be brought back to the core of how we interact.”
THE SIDE THAT WON
Rabbi Daniel Syme, rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth El, who said the results of the election “devastated his soul,” said he is able to respect many Trump voters.
“Someone told me that his parents were Holocaust survivors, so he voted for the candidate he thought would be best for Israel: Donald Trump. That was his only issue. That I can respect.”
Many Trump voters were appalled at some of the things he said during the campaign. “I was equally disgusted with both candidates,” said one such voter. “I felt the need to protest the Iran Nuclear Deal that was spearheaded by Democrats, which I feel threatens Israel. I know Trump has sometimes treated women like a pig. But I am scared for the future of Israel. I don’t know what to expect from him, but I would have been more scared with Hillary.”
According to another Trump supporter, “In my case, and in many of my friends’ cases, it wasn’t just that we felt his support of Israel was much stronger than Clinton’s, but there was so much else going on. We hated that Hillary Clinton was so dishonest. In so many ways she acted as if she was above the law.”
Regarding Trump’s anti-women rhetoric, this female voter said, “We lived through Bill Clinton’s presidency. He was accused of many horrible things that he did with women … So the whole woman thing about Trump was kind of a wash.
“It’s important for us to interact with each other.
The way to move forward is not to stay
in our own echo chambers.”
— Rabbi Ariana Silverman
We were not proud of his behavior. And while I’m not sure I agree that the Billy Bush thing was just locker room talk, the truth was if he were preparing to become president his whole life, he would have been a lot more careful not to engage with the press in such talk like your average politician.”
She added, “Most Trump supporters are sick of the mainstream media and, most of all, Hollywood telling us how to think … They made him look so objectionable and Hillary so saint-like that those who were against him became terrified of him.”
She added that her support for Trump was based on policies she objected to that took hold in the Obama years — open borders, globalism, being more forgiving to international enemies. “I felt Democrats were not standing up for America and values that were important to us.”
According to Syme, “Both candidates were deeply flawed. People said, ‘We know her. We don’t like a lot of things she’s done. Trump has said some horrible things, but we might as well give him a chance.’ So they ignored misogyny, racism, anti-Muslim sentiment and gave him a chance … Now we will see.”
THE ELECTION AFTERMATH
“Even though there are many Trump voters who are not racists, it’s Trump’s message and rhetoric to me that says our country is divided,” said Syme’s close friend Rev. Kenneth Flowers of Greater New Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit, an African-American congregation. “Let’s not sugarcoat it. There is racism and sexism and bigotry. That’s reality. We can no longer act as if it no longer exists.”
In the week following the election, that became apparent locally as middle school students in Royal Oak chanted “Build the wall!” and a Muslim woman in Ann Arbor was forced to remove her hijab by a man who threatened to set her on fire if she did not.
In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center has counted hundreds of instances of “hateful intimidation and harassment” following the presidential election: Black freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania found violent and racist messages on their phones; #Go back to Africa” and “Make America great again” were written on a toilet paper dispenser at a high school in Minnesota; and the words “Sieg Heil 2016” and “Trump” — with a swastika substituted for the T in Trump — were spray-painted on a building’s glass window in Philadelphia.
Many across the country have taken to the streets to protest Trump’s election, some demonstrations becoming violent.
“As a community organizer, my instinct is to get to work,” Alpert said. “But as a rabbi, I know that we have to grieve, to take time to feel our feelings, before we can really face what is coming.”
After the election, Rev. Flowers sent Rabbi Syme a text that inspired him: “The power of prayer and our faith in God brought us through slavery and the Jim Crow era — prayer and our faith will also bring us through this. As God delivered my Jewish brothers and sisters from Egypt and from the Holocaust, he will bring you through this, too.”
If you’re having a hard time getting through your post-election blues, Dr. Daniel Rosenbaum of Counseling Associates in West Bloomfield said that the anxiety and depression you’re feeling are a function of uncertainty.
“The election resulted in a lot of uncertainty for everyone. Healing takes a lot of time and effort on both sides.”
Rubenstein said he continues to tell people — especially those who are frightened by the results of election — that he has a lot of confidence in our system of government.
“All of us, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, who have concerns about Trump’s rhetoric and social policy should take advantage of opportunities we have as Americans to speak out against things that are troublesome to us.
“There are many Jewish values that will come to bear in these conversations … having to do with the way we speak, the importance of community and our responsibility of making our society what we think it should be,” he added.
Tammy Betel of Farmington Hills, a Hillary supporter, wrote on her Facebook page last Friday, “I have hope that these past 20 months, although maddening and frightening, were just campaign rhetoric. Hope that our new president will not follow through with his promises. Hope that his supporters, the ones who wear bigotry and hatred outwardly, will be calmed by Mr. Trump.
“He is our president-elect. I respect the office of the president. Whether he gets our respect will be up to him and whomever he selects to work with him.”
Rev. Flowers said, “We will work with the president. I will do everything in my power to work with him providing he doesn’t hurt oppressed people or the disenfranchised. I will not support those types of policies. We must continue to build bridges but hold him accountable.”
Rabbi Alpert of Detroit Jews for Justice said, “We will resist whatever efforts there are to ‘normalize’ the situation. There can be no business as usual in the face of rising fascism. We expect to be welcoming a wave of new activists committed to fighting for racial and economic justice. The Jewish community must not remain neutral.”
As the shock of the surprising results of the election fade, we need to begin conversations — with our children, our neighbors and our fellow citizens. Some of those conversations will be difficult. For example, how do you explain to your children that someone who acted like a bully on the campaign trail is now the leader of our country?
““There is a danger in assuming all the
people who voted for Trump support
everything he has said or done.”
— Rabbi Steven Rubenstein.
“Parents can talk to their kids directly about the things said and done during the campaign that they object to,” Rubenstein said. “Some of the rhetoric has been particularly problematic this campaign. It’s up to us to teach our children what we think about it.”
We also need to get outside of our own bubbles and try our best to hear and understand other people’s perspectives. “Part of what happens is we self-segregate,” Silverman said. “When we no longer talk to people who are different from us, it is very easy to demonize them.
“After all, the Talmud is a discussion of people who disagree — all done with respect. It’s important for us to interact with each other. The way to move forward is not to stay in our own echo chambers,” she added.
Last week, Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield led a discussion about the need for listening and respect in our conversations. After the presidential election, he said, he felt it was an appropriate topic.
“The election has been a wake-up call; now we have to listen to each other,” he said. “To safeguard the ideals of our country, we have to be able to talk and listen to one another … We haven’t had a dialogue in a long time.”
By Jackie Headapohl, Managing Editor