Pardes 360: What it’s Going to Take to Truly Make America Great Again

Posted by Daniel Roth on November 9, 2016
Topics: Rodef Shalom, Resources for 9Adar, Rodef Shalom Resource, Pardes 360

“Utter shock.” “Terrified.” “Never experienced anything like this before.” “Apocalypse now.” These are just some of the deep emotions and expressions of despair that half of America is experiencing right now.

“Thrilled!” “Finally!” “Confident,” “hopeful,” “proud.” “Never thought I’d live to see the day!” “A messianic moment.” These are just a few of the sincere emotions and expressions of victory that the other half of America is waking up to today.

So where do we go from here?

I find a glimpse of a direction in the worldview of the founding fathers of American democracy. Thomas Jefferson and others entrenched their faith in the future and health of democracy in the fundamental principle of constructive conflict, known in Judaism as “disagreement for the sake of heaven.” Without embracing this core principle, America may indeed face the ultimate cause of self-destruction, known in Judaism as “sinat chinam” – factional baseless hatred. In contrast, what can truly make America great again would be for us all to roll up our sleeves and work hard to strengthen our culture of constructive conflict.

So how do we do this? Well it starts, in my opinion, with asking ourselves the following two questions:

1. How many of us, both Clinton and Trump supporters, regularly interact and maintain strong social ties with one another? My feeling is that that happens less and less, as we physically and socially separate from the other, creating higher and thicker virtual walls between our communities. Yet one of the key ingredients that made up the constructive “disagreement for the sake of heaven” between Bet Hillel and Bet Shamai some two thousand years ago was, despite their vast ideological and political differences, they maintained strong social ties, even continuing to marry one another and break bread together. If we want to ensure that our conflicts stay constructive, we must shift the trend of many Clinton supporters not even knowing any Trump supporters, and vice versa.

2. How many of us only read and truly trust one news agency and look down with disdain and contempt on those outlets and feeds associated with ideologies not aligned with our own? The rabbis of the Talmud insist that we work hard to know how to argue every issue 49 ways one way and 49 ways the opposite way; and to be very careful not to arrogantly claim all “50 levels of wisdom” and absolute truth, leaving none left for our opponents. In order to engage in constructive conflict and disagreements for the sake of heaven, we need to be aware of the 49 experiences and “facts” we read in our news that shape the bias of our identities and truth, and be deeply, proactively curious to understand the 49 opposing experiences and “facts” that shape the identities and lenses of those who interpret the world differently.

The result of only socializing with those who think like me and only reading news that supports my worldview is that we risk becoming ideologically entrenched and gridlocked, completely detached from the parallel realities of our opponents, thereby making necessary “cross the aisle” pragmatic problem-solving virtually impossible.

These are without a doubt extremely challenging times. However, in my opinion, they are not so simply because of who won and who lost the election. They are challenging because this fundamental principle of democracy is being eroded. Jewish tradition teaches us to never despair when things get difficult, but rather to do deeper cheshbon nefesh (soul searching), and then work hard to make things better. We must see this historic election as a wake-up call to us all to work harder in reaching out socially; to know those who see the world differently from us and not just call each other names; and to read with an open mind the news we don’t agree with. If we heed this call and do not despair, we can still strengthen our culture of constructive conflict, thereby making America truly great again.

Pardes360 is a series of responses to world current events by Pardes faculty in 360 words (or sometimes a few more). The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not reflect an institutional stance. To read other Pardes360 articles, click here.

About Daniel Roth

Daniel is the director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution. He holds a Ph.D. from Bar Ilan University‘s Program for Conflict Resolution, Management and Negotiation writing on Jewish models of conflict resolution, peacemaking, and reconciliation. Daniel has been teaching advanced rabbinics, Bible, conflict resolution and other subjects at Pardes for over fifteen years. Click here to read more.

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