I Was Wrong

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that "Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed."

Let's resolve to do that, but in the Donald Trump era, we also need to live life in radical outrage. We cannot fall into complacency or forget for one zeptosecond that we elected the most unqualified, morally unfit president in the history of the republic.

Maybe if Democrats vigorously oppose Trump every step of the way, if the ACLU challenges every unconstitutional executive order, and if Trump does not blunder into a nuclear war, we can get through this. Better things have happened to people less deserving. But we can't count on it. Under George W. Bush, who looks like Pericles compared with Donald Trump, all that happened was 9/11, the loss of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in a needless war in Iraq, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Now we have an even less qualified Republican president who lost the popular vote. We might not be so lucky this time.

Donald Trump wasted no time confirming our worst fears by appointing Steve Bannon as White House Chief Strategist. Ben Sales explains that "Before joining Trump's campaign, Bannon was the chairman of Breitbart News, a site steeped in conspiracy theories that has featured the white supremacist, anti-Semitic ideologies of the so-called alt-right."

On Wednesday, 169 members of the House, led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), sent a letter asking Trump to rescind Bannon's appointment. Although Republican members of the House were invited to sign Cicilline's letter, none did so.

The Anti-Defamation League said that while it is not aware of any anti-Semitic statements made by Bannon himself, "Under his stewardship, Breitbart has emerged as the leading source for the extreme views of a vocal minority who peddle bigotry and promote hate."

The Conservative Jewish movement called on Trump to rescind Bannon's appointment because Bannon, "as head of the Breitbart News site, trafficked in white nationalism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and misogyny."

Jane Eisner reminds us that we have to fight anti-Semitism from the right as hard as we fight anti-Semitism from the left, and that "it's possible to be Zionist and anti-Semitic at the same time. Some, like Bannon, see in Israel a (white) nationalist, anti-Arab country worth supporting - over there. Here, in America, they may accept, even respect, individual Jews, but their ideological aim is to cleanse the country of its multiculturalism and restore privilege to white Christian males."

Some of our friends who were livid about Rev. Jeremiah Wright are doing backflips to defend Steve Bannon instead of urging Donald Trump to repudiate Bannon as unequivocally as Barack Obama repudiated Wright. The Republican Jewish Coalition, Alan Dershowitz and Morton Klein lined up behind Bannon and Trump, squandering what little moral authority they had to criticize anyone else for anything.

But in fairness, as Alexendra Petri points out, "We have no proof that [Bannon] is threatening, other than his words and actions, the voices that he has given a platform to, and the ugly philosophy he has allowed to spread. We cannot possibly know what is in his heart. So, you know. Who knows."

Many elected officials and organizations have issued statements worth reading, including the NJDC, JACPAC, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Rep.-elect Brad Schneider (D-IL).

I would love to include links to statements issued by Republican members of the House or Senate, but not one has criticized Bannon's appointment. It's almost as if you can tell by party affiliation whether a sitting member of Congress will have the courage to stand up to Trump, even on an issue as morally unambiguous as this.

And it gets worse. Civil rights groups slammed the appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as Attorney General. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said that "if you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man." Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called on Trump to rescind Sessions' nomination.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) blasted the appointment of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

So what should we do? Liel Liebowitz advises that we "treat every poisoned word as a promise" and that we:

Refuse to accept what's going on as the new normal. Not now, not ever ... When an inexperienced, thin-skinned demagogue rides into office by explaining away immensely complex problems while arguing that our national glory demands we strip millions of their dignity or their rights, our only duty is to resist by whatever means permitted us by law. The demagogue may boost the economy, sign beneficial treaties, and mend our ailing institutions, but his success can never be ours. Our greatness, to use a tired but true phrase, depends on our goodness, and to succeed, we must demand that our commander in chief come as close as is possible to reflecting the light of that goodness. There's no point indulging in the kind of needlessly complex thinking that so often plagues the intelligent and the well-informed. There's no room for reading tea leaves, for calculations or projections or clever takes. The only thing that matters now is the simple moral truth: This isn't right. 

Or as Jonathan Chait writes,"To submit to a world where we say the words President Trump without anger or laughter is to surrender our idea of what the office means."

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