On Unity

A message about unity feels a little at odds with the divisive sickness holding our republic and much of the world in its grasp. The chestnut, “United we stand. Divided we fall,” may be more important today than at any time in our ever-evolving experiment in democracy.

Last Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in American history, delivered a compelling speech calling for unanimity amid the alarming rise of antisemitism in our country.

Schumer’s words resonated with me. Beyond his stature as a political figure, he is a passionate advocate for justice and equality, a genetic trait wired into our family’s mindset for generations.

Autocrats feed on trepidation to consolidate personal control at the expense of freedom. Identifying a group of humanity as evil; a threat to “our values,” is the low hanging fruit fed by would-be tyrants to the fearful.

A misguided portion of our populace has been seduced by hate. It begins with big lies, wrapped in cellophane layers of half-truths and outright falsehoods. These can deafen us to reason, blind us to truth and lead us to support dark forces only interested in enriching themselves and grabbing power.

The greater challenge is the pursuit of unity. Seeking common ground is hard. Lasting peace requires identifying those beliefs we all share and working through differences to create a, “nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men (and women) are created equal.”

From the founding of the NAACP to the pivotal moments of the civil rights movement, Jewish activists stood shoulder to shoulder with their fellow citizens in the fight for equality and justice. It’s a legacy etched in the timeline of American history, from the Zakim Bridge in Boston to the sacrifices made during the Freedom Summer of 1964.

Schumer reminds us how bigotry against one is bigotry against all. It fuels his not-always-popular efforts to protect minority groups.

The deep-seated fear within the Jewish community is rooted in centuries of persecution most of us cannot comprehend. The chants invoking the destruction of Israel evoke historical wounds. Schumer questions whether others can grasp the vulnerability experienced by Jewish Americans.

The dream of our Founders is a pluralistic, multiethnic democracy, welcoming all who share our cherished freedoms of speech, religion, and the press. They designed the historic balance of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government to protect us from despots, dictators, and would-be kings.

We stand at a crossroads where forces for a singular point of view who fear they can’t win at the ballot box are quietly changing the system with frightening Orwellian efficiency to preserve their power.

Schumer concludes, “We are stewards of the flames of liberty, tolerance, and equality.” If evil is to be defeated, it will be up to us to defeat it.

The commitment to defy the course of history and to stand against all forms of ethnic and cultural hate is more than a political stance. It must become personal mission.

All genocide is a cancer. Eventually it consumes all who feed it.

Exhaustion with the daily culture war dramas amplified by social media may lead some to stop participating in the process. This is the secret hope of bad people who would destroy our democracy for their benefit.

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham provided the wisdom channeled by Mr. Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.”

May we remain vigilant, do our homework, and act on our conscience for the greater good… at the ballot box and every day of our lives.