Plenty of grey in a black-or-white America

As America goes to the polls on Tuesday, those grey areas, and that nuance, is sorely lacking — at least in the public discourse.

November 7, 2018 07:51
3 minute read.
Trump Netanyahu

Netanyahu and Trump meeting at UN Security Council. (photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)


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“Try not to talk about Trump,”a couple of people who organized speaking events emailed me before I left on a week-long lecture tour in the US this week. “Hes’ just too divisive.”

I wrote back that it is simply impossible to talk about Israel’s diplomatic, strategic and political situation without relating to the US president.

It is also possible, I replied, to talk about the good that Trump has done for Israel — changing the tone of the conversation on Israel, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, moving the embassy to Jerusalem and changing the parameters of peace making — without embracing every aspect of the man.

Life is complex, things are not not all black or white. There are grey areas, there is nuance.

As America goes to the polls on Tuesday, those grey areas, and that nuance, is  sorely lacking — at least in the public discourse.

If you support Trump, then you are a racist. And if you don't support Trump, then you're a lefty socialist. The discourse on the radio, on TV, in the papers, on social media is shrill and uncivil.

Before flying Sunday to Birmingham, Alabama;,  Huntsville; Hartford, Connecticut; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania  and other points east and west, I read much about America’s “sour” and “poisonous”mood.

On the road, I met people — Jews and  Christians — more concerned than sour: concerned about the divisions in the country,  concerned about the shrill debate, concerned about the de-legitimization of the “other” camp, and concerned about the violence.

At speaking events in Birmingham and Huntsville, the talk was more about Pittsburgh, then about the elections.

At an event at the historic Temple B’nai Sholom, a reform synagogue in downtown Huntsville,  a police patrol car was parked outside, and two armed policeman stood at the corner.

I have spoken over the years at numerous venues, and from time to time hired  security guards — often times off-duty or retired policeman — would stand watch. This was one of the few times I remember fully uniform officers on duty standing guard. A sign of the times after Pittsburgh.

The talk among the more than 100 people inside, and indeed of the rabbi in his introduction before my lecture, was more of what happened in Pittsburgh than whether the Democrats will wrestle control of Congress from Trump and the Republicans in these midterm elections.

The talk was about what happened on the steps the synagogue on Friday night when some 1,000 people Jews and non-Jews gathered for a prayer vigil.

And amid all the talk about how Israel is losing the support of adherents in the US to the progressive streams of Judaism, Rabbi Eric Berk, the rabbi at Temple B’nai Sholom, gave an invocation speaking of his love for Israel. Proof, again, that things are not black and white, and that widely held assumptions are often not representative of reality.

Pundits, around election time, like to talk about the mood of the nation. But it is difficult to put your finger on the pulse of any country, let alone a country as vast and variegated as the United States, with its 330 million people.

Often people on both sides of the political chasm will try to boost their own credentials by saying they speak for, or they represent, the “real America.”

But what is “the real America?” Who reflects it? The New York Times or the Birmingham News? CNN or Fox?  Los Angeles or Huntsville? And what is the real America really thinking.?

Late Tuesday evening the world will find it. These elections will give an indication, a snap shot at this particular point in time of America’s mood; a true snapshot - a real picture, not a portrait painted by people pushing one agenda or the other.

And don’t be surprised if the picture that emerges will have plenty of grey, because life is not binary — good or bad, black or white. Nor is Trump. Nor are the Democrats. Nor is America.

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