For the past half decade I have steadfastly refused to take a side blindly in America’s growing political and cultural divide. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in political parties. I just don’t believe in being brain-dead. If I’m a Republican and my side does something I can’t agree with, I believe in stating as much. I would expect the same from Democrats.
But I now understand that insisting on using my brain has held me back professionally and politically. If you want to succeed in America today, you need to have a political lobotomy. Long gone are the days when a brain is a terrible thing to waste. Today, it’s positively an impediment.
A friend of mine is running for elective office. He was once extremely distinguished in his professional field. Today he runs around saying that the 2020 election was stolen and takes pictures loading AR-15s. Another friend is a renowned political commentator who recently told me that the COVID-19 mask mandates were the same thing Hitler did in Nazi Germany.
My friends on the Left are no better. They tell me Trump is Hitler, Israel is the Gestapo, and all Republicans are racist white supremacists.
Now, I do not claim to be a great intellectual. But I am proud to have a brain, however inadequate. Yes, I know it’s not Einstein’s brain, and I could probably never be counted among the ranks of, say, neurosurgeons or rocket scientists. But it’s my brain. And I want to use it.
But as an American today, I may as well sell it on eBay or find some other way to get rid of it.
If I purged myself of using my brain, I could get on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC more. If I stopped using my noggin, I’d sell more books, and I’d be invited to give more speeches.
My brain has become a serious obstacle to professional success.
Go through all the major American political issues, and if you dare think them through, you’ll see that your brain is holding you back as well.
Donald Trump is either the American Messiah or the American Putin. There is nothing in between. If we were to, say, be somewhere in the middle, believing that he has some incredible policies like reducing the corporate tax rate, stopping Bashar Assad from gassing Arab children, and reforming criminal justice, but disagree on his inability to concede the 2020 election, we would have zero audience.
Likewise, if we believed that it’s appalling to say that President Joe Biden is senile – that is pretty darn cruel – but disagreed vehemently with his energy policies or his Iran deal, we would likewise have no audience.
You see, even that limited amount of thinking is not only not rewarded in today’s America; it will ensure your own public marginalization.
You’re in America, for God’s sake. Choose a side already. Get off the fence. You’re either with Fox or with CNN, either with The New York Times or with The Wall Street Journal, either with Joe Scarborough or with Tucker Carlson. And you believe either that Trump is the end of American civilization or that he is its last great hope.
Of what possible use is a brain in a country that extreme?
AND THEN there is American culture.
I’ve spent the last few weeks responding to vicious attacks against Israel by Bella and Gigi Hadid. Last I checked, they are attractive young women – supermodels – with nearly zero geopolitical qualifications. So why am I responding to them?
Because in brain-dead America, the only qualification required to malign a great democracy is tight-fitting clothing.
Whom do we Americans look to for our opinions? We look to our influencers. And who are our influencers? Easy. It’s the people who get the most attention – i.e., the most Instagram followers. And who has the most Instagram followers? Equally easy. The ones who are youngest, fittest, sportiest, and wear clothing that is the most revealing.
Netflix has a new documentary about Marilyn Monroe, arguably the greatest sexual icon of the 20th century. I immediately knew many things about her. That she was married to Joe DiMaggio and then Arthur Miller. That she starred in The Seven Year Itch. And that she seductively sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John. F. Kennedy. But I had no idea what her views were about the Middle East conflict.
There is a reason for that. Fifty years ago, I’m not sure anyone would have cared. But in brain-dead America, it’s our athletes, singers, supermodels, and celebrities whom the youth look to for political opinions.
WHAT IS the solution for the American lobotomy? How do we stop this decent into American intellectual self-destruction?
First, I believe that all candidates for public office have to sign a pledge before they run that if they lose the election, they have every right to challenge the results through all the proper legal channels. But once they are exhausted – the courts, recounts, etc. – they have to concede the election or be barred from ever running again, lest we permanently destroy people’s faith in American elections.
And I’m not only pointing a finger at Republicans here. Plenty of Democrats called Trump a fake president for the entire four years of his administration.
Second, we need proud and passionate people who run for office with real values, who join a party but put their values first. All the frauds we see running these days – whether Democrats or Republicans – should be exposed as frauds with no clear set of beliefs. And we the voters have to reward people who actually believe in something rather than giving immense power to people who read a poll in the morning and state their beliefs in the afternoon.
Third, we need to elevate writers, authors, broadcasters and influencers who are not insane, who have a brain, who make sense, and who passionately and logically argue their positions, whether liberal or conservative. I’m talking people like Republican Peggy Noonan, who last week made the convincing and terrifying argument in The Wall Street Journal that Vladimir Putin might actually use tactical nuclear weapons. Or former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman, who spoke at Touro College three weeks ago and made so much sense that I was reminded that it was only a few years ago that American political discourse still had a brain.
For Passover this year, I served as scholar-in-residence in San Diego for Upscale Getaways at a program of about 700 people. I delivered 10 speeches, including a spirited discussion and debate with my dear friend Dennis Prager on the topic of which political party, Democratic or Republican, best captures Jewish values.
As a committed Republican, Dennis was adamant that it was the latter.
Yet I, who once ran for Congress as a Republican, was adamant that the answer is both and neither. There are times when Democrats best capture Jewish values, as did FDR when he instituted Lend-Lease to arm Britain against Hitler, while the Republicans at the time were staunch isolationists. And there are times when it’s the Republicans, as their staunch support for Israel under president Trump demonstrated. And sometimes, neither party captures Jewish values, as we saw with decades and decades of both parties refusing to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, until it became official government policy under Biden in 2021.
Which is exactly why we need two political parties, respectfully opposing each other and serving as a check and balance on each another, to have a great democracy. Who today would want to live in one-party China or, worse, one-party Russia under Putin?
The first Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, said that in order for a bird to fly, it requires two wings pushing against each other, antithetically, for propulsion.
Democracy is the same. And a country works only when both parties acknowledge the need for the other, without demonizing the other.
If only an increasingly brain-dead America would stop denying this simple and self-evident truth, we might just see the soaring eagle that is America take full flight again.
The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” is the author most recently of Kosher Hate. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.