Although I am no rabbi, America desperately needs inaugural prayers. Here is the benediction I would offer, if invited to Trump’s swearing- in (and I wouldn’t boycott).
O God, as we invoke Thy name, on this day consecrating national unity, we note that even belief in You no longer unites us. Still, just as we hope everyone will hear this invocation as an invitation to access our inner godliness, we hope Americans will again see the red, white and blue fibers of proud history, shared liberty and common destiny connecting us, beyond the issues dividing us.
As Jews, we say “God Bless America” for welcoming us as fellow citizens, equal in every way. This is the American miracle, accepting the tired, the poor, valuing all people as seeds of our future, not harbingers of decline. American nationalism is uniquely absorbent, a patchwork quilt creating E Pluribus Unum, one out of many.
Reading the Book of Exodus this Sabbath, Jews will relive our liberation from Egypt, this wondrous template of revolutions for freedom. Moses inspired America’s revolutionaries. The escape to the Promised Land inspired African-American slaves. We too need liberation – from consumerism’s excesses, from popular culture’s idolatry, from politics’ polarization, from social media’s nastiness.
We extol America’s founders for building this democracy with the biblical building blocks of liberty, equality and individual dignity, epitomized by that Torah verse adorning the Liberty Bell proclaiming “liberty throughout the land.” The framers saw no contradiction between “Jewish” and “democratic”; they fused yesterday’s wisdom with the sensibilities of their day– we should too.
Jewish history teaches two essential lessons: first, the sin of sinat hinam, perverse hatred of fellow community members, destroyed our Second Temple, exiling us. Second, what sustained us – and eventually brought us home – were common values, a shared sense of mission. Democracies don’t just bond for self-protection; liberal nationalism anchors us and propels us to improve the world.
Finally, as Jews, we salute America’s friendship with democracies worldwide, including Israel. We toast America’s bipartisan support for Israel, reflecting shared values and the mutual benefits cementing this relationship. Healthy democracies need issues uniting Left and Right – that is Israel’s longstanding gift to America. May it continue, for both countries’ sakes.
As Americans, standing in democratic awe, we mute partisanship momentarily.
We note how terrorists bond us in anguish – we vow to bond in national pride too. Let us be motivated by love, not fear, by mission, not mourning, by hope and not despair. Let us reach the highest heights of idealism and goodness together rather than just fighting evils abroad – or each other at home.
We honor our outgoing president, Barack Obama, for gloriously uniting us when he was elected. Whatever our partisan differences, we rejoiced that this land that once enslaved blacks was now led by one. And we thank the remarkable Obama family for their public service – and public spirit.
We welcome Hillary Clinton to this podium. We thank her for validating this peaceful transfer of power, demonstrating that we don’t boycott the people’s choice. Winners and losers gracefully shake hands and move on, fulfilling Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural proclamation after the vicious election of 1800: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
We don’t dodge passionate debates when necessary but don’t ignore common ties. We will debate every presidential action vigorously, but as good patriots we also cherish and defend our system’s integrity, from the electoral process to rituals like this one.
And as we beseech defeated Democrats to act gracefully, we ask victorious Republicans to act humbly. If after the Civil War Abraham Lincoln could offer “malice toward none... charity toward all,” so can we.
We bless President Donald J. Trump, who now transitions from combative campaigning highlighting differences, to the patriotism of the presidency seeking commonalities, too. As he joins America’s presidential pantheon, we wish him George Washington’s stability, Jefferson’s love of liberty, Lincoln’s nobility, Franklin Roosevelt’s magnanimity, Ronald Reagan’s fluency, George H.W. Bush’s dignity, Bill Clinton’s dexterity, George W. Bush’s constancy and Obama’s integrity.
We entreat you, Mr. President, on this hallowed day: heal this country, appeal to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” leading wisely and generously.
Remember, as FDR did in 1937, the forgotten Americans, the “ill-clad, ill-housed, ill-nourished.” And mobilize the patriotic self-sacrifice John Kennedy aroused in 1961, when he said “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Be strong enough to scare our enemies so you need not crush them, and courageous enough to be gentle enough to rally our friends at home and abroad in common cause.
President Trump, stretch to be the best person and the best president you can be – and Americans will stretch with you; we know that leaders who shrivel into small-minded, divisive demagogues diminish their followers too. Sing the song Ronald Reagan sang in his second inaugural, rhapsodizing about “the American sound... hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair.”
We pray, Mr. President, that you will save America from becoming a Republic of Nothing, lacking anchoring morals, consensus ideals. Forge a new consensus making America a Republic of Everything – open, welcoming, pluralistic – but also a Republic of Something, with core ideals, motivated by a renewed covenant offering every American a good life and maximum liberty, while pursuing genuine happiness in ways that improve America – and inspire the world. Amen.The author, a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting professor at the Ruderman Program at Haifa University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.
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